Having done the last two versions of this event I feel I have a decent level of knowledge to comment on the racing and the classes progression. Firstly well done to the organisers for staging a great event at Kinsale Yacht Club and well done to the Principal Race Officer Anthony O'Leary for running it so well. Finally, well done to Phil Plumtree and the Swuzzlebubble team for winning the regatta with a race to spare. This is the third win for Swuzzlebubble in three events, each with a different owner. More about this later.
Day One—Nigel Biggs' new Checkmate XV111 just led from Paul Pullen's Miss Whiplash on countback. Swuzzlebubble lay one point back and Mike and Richie Evans,The Big Picture, lay a further point behind. David Cullen's Checkmate XV was a few points further back and it seemed likely that these five boats would be the feature boats in the event. All had professional sailors aboard and one of these boats had three professional sailors. Swuzzlebubble had an eighth place on this day which she would eventually discard but it was clear that she would be the one to watch as she was the top rating boat by some margin and was using that extra speed to get out in front allowing her to sail her own race.
Day Two—Strong Southerly winds were forecasted for the following few days and so the organisers took the decision to delay the coastal race until later in the week and use day two to get in as many short WL races as possible. In the end four good races were sailed in moderate to fresh testing conditions. Swuzzlebubble counted two wins and two second places to shoot into a large lead over David Cullen's Checkmate who also scored two firsts. One point back was Checkmate XVIII and The Big Picture lay in fourth, a few points back. Big loser of the Day was Paul Pullen's Miss Whiplash who had four very average results and fell out of the running. It was now clear that the first four boats (Swuzzlebubble, Checkmate XV, Checkmate XVIII and the Big Picture) were pulling well clear of the pack and the winner would be from this group. Occasionally, other boats such as Paul Wayte's beautiful newly optimised Headhunter, Johnny Swan's Harmony and Philippe Pilatte's General Tapioca would come to the fore, but it was the first four that generally filled the top three results in each race and were pulling well clear.
Day Three—Wednesday was postponed due to excess wind and many enjoyed a long lunch in Kinsale's Fishy Fishy restaurant accompanied by some very nice wines.
Day Four—Strong Southerly winds greeted the competitors and three races were planned including the none–discard coastal race. Swuzzlebubble took a first and a second in the earlier Windward Leeward races to extend her lead and the two closest followers, the two Checkmates each counted a poorish race to allow Swuzzlebubble be on the cusp of winning the regatta outright if she had a decent last coastal race. The Big Picture had consistent top results to lie in fourth. The final race of the day, the coastal race, ended in Swuzzlebubble taking a fifth, though a relatively poor result for her, it was enough to ensure Swuzzlebubble could not now be caught and did not need to sail the final race on the Friday. 1.5 points now separated the Two Checkmates with Dave Cullen in the marginal lead. Big Picture finished the Coastal race in second place and lay in fourth overall and could neither fall to fifth in the last race on Friday, nor get up to third. There was then a large points gap to General Tapioca and Headhunter.
A successful Class dinner was held in Actons Hotel on Thursday night which went on late into the night, for some.
Day Five—Swuzzlebubble decided not to sail on the Friday. First and fourth places were already finalised (Swuzzlebubble and The Big Picture). Nigel Biggs needed to finish ahead of Dave Cullen and have a boat between them to finish in second overall. 17 to 20 knots greeted the fleet and PRO O'Leary signalled an around the buoys race consisting of two rounds and a finish off Charles Fort in Kinsale. Nigel Biggs got the best of the start and was ahead most of the race. However, Dave Cullen was in a bunch close behind that included the Big Picture. By the last mark Nigel Biggs rounded in the lead, followed by three other boats flowed by Big Picture with Checkmate XV behind her. Big Picture pulled through to second and Checkmate XV to third across the line. Big Picture with her lower handicap had a chance to snatch the win and deny Checkmate XVIII second overall but fell short by nine seconds and so the race finished with Checkmate XVIII winning followed by The Big Picture, followed by Checkmate XV, thus giving second overall to Nigel Biggs and Third overall to David Cullen. Fourth overall went to the Big Picture, fifth to General Tapioca and sixth to Miss Whiplash.
Progression of the class – Three newly optimised boats were among the 21 entries this year. The larger fleets of Half–Tonners are based in France, the UK and Belgium and if the event were in one of these locations it is likely entries would be closer to 30. During the regatta an agm was held to discuss some important points that appear to be affecting the class. These were;
1 Should the class limit the number of professionals on each boat
2 Should the class, like they do in the Quarter ton Class, put an upper handicap limit on yachts taking part.
3 Should the class allow asymmetrical spinnakers.
1—Limiting professionals. A poll of Half Ton members will likely be done to either limit the professionals on each boat to either one or Two. It was felt generally that professionals help to coach the crew and generally are good for the class, but too many and the professionals can effectively sail the boat themselves, thus little improvement happens when the pros depart.
2—Limiting the upper Handicap limit. Swuzzlebubble has been a problem child in this class since Peter Morton did a no–expenses spared restoration of this very long half tonner. This included a taller, ultra high Modulus Carbon Rig with more sail, a deeper keel and other top mods. This led to her being approx. 25–points higher rating than most. Consequently she can go for a conservative start, sail for a few minutes and then her speed allows her to cross the fleet and sail the remainder of the race without other interference. The remainder of the fleet are close on rating and end up very close to each other at all marks, taking wind on downwinds, etc. This is costing the bulk of the fleet a minute or more per race, and often that is about the margin that Swuzzlebubble wins by. She is being well sailed, but she has a great advantage. In the Quarter ton class they stopped this issue early and now most quarter tonners are within 10 points of rating of each other. It is being suggested that an upper limit of .965 be introduced. Swuzzlebubble would be able to get to this by reducing sail area and adding some weight which would lessen the advantage she currently enjoys, especially in light to medium conditions. A proposed poll of the class is being organised on this.
3—Allowing Asymmetric sails. This appeared not to be so straight forward. Some owners already have them (but can't use them at the Half Ton Cup). Allowing them might mean owners have to buy one or two asymmetric kites, perhaps add a sprit and in the end may not even use them at a Half Ton cup. Others would prefer to stay without them as most of the racing is windward leeward anyway. This will also be balloted.
Summary – Having sailed four Quarter Ton Cups and now two Half Ton cups, The Half Ton class is now easily as competitive as the quarter tonners. The racing is excellent, very close. The camaraderie within the class is very strong. I can see more restorations being done in this class and numbers rising for their Half Ton Cups. Next years event will be in Nieuwpoort in Belgium in mid–August and I suspect that there may be up to 30–boats will arrive for that. The inaugural IRC World Championships is being held just up the road in The Hague in Holland a month before the Half Ton worlds so there are many half–tonners considering doing that as well as a warm up event. The boats are of a size that they can, if required, be transported by water, though most will trail behind jeeps.
Mark Mansfield is a four–time Irish Olympian, a helmsman in the Star Class from 1992–2004. He is a World Sailing 'Group 3' Sailor.