The brand new J/111 Arabella, belonging to Dun Laoghaire's Niall Dowling joins Royal Cork's Anthony O'Leary sailing Antix for this weekend's season opener on the Solent for the Royal Ocean Racing Club's Easter Challenge.
Summer looks set to come early as the RORC 2011 sailing season opener gets underway on the Solent this Friday with the first races of the club's annual RORC Easter Challenge and mostly sunny weather and light to moderate winds forecast. Racing is set to take place over three days, concluding on Easter Sunday.
The RORC Easter Challenge stands alone in the club's calendar as aside from enabling competitors to brush the cobwebs off after the winter break, it is also set up as a training regatta complete with on the water coaching.
"It is unique, because while it is a proper regatta and people take it seriously, they want to win it, we change the rules to allow outside assistance," says RORC CEO, Eddie Warden Owen. "So it is a training regatta, with an opportunity to be coached while racing."
Among the coaches will be Warden-Owen, Jim Saltonstall, Barry Dunning along with representatives from several leading sailmakers. They will be following the fleet in RIBs and the rule change allows them to jump on board boats, or take crew off boats to demonstrate what they could be doing better. The J/80s taking part will have their own specialist coach.
At the time of writing the entry stood at 61 boats, which Warden Owen says he is satisfied with given the Easter break is unusual this year with the royal wedding taking place the following weekend, and many expected to be taking the entire week off.
Late entries among the 61 include RORC Vice Commodore Mike Greville and his newly re-keeled Ker 39, Erivale III and Rolex Commodores' Cup competitors Chris and Hannah Neve on their First 35, No Chance.
While Rob Gray and Sam Laidlaw's Farr 52, Bob is the lone entry in Class Zero, the competition is looking good in Class 1, where in addition to Erivale III, the line-up features Irish 2010 Rolex Commodores' Cup winner Anthony O'Leary and his Ker 39 Antix, Nick and Annie Haigh's much campaigned DK46 Dark and Steamy, the Niklas Zennström-backed Farr 45 Kolga, crewed by the UKSA, as well as UK-based South African Mike Bartholemew and his King 40 Tokoloshe.
"I think getting the on-water coaching, and seeing the sail trim from views you can't see from on board the boat, plus the videos afterwards with Jim Saltonstall - that is all valuable input," says Dark and Steamy's Nick Haigh. As to the racing in Class 1 Haigh says: "I think it is going to be a competitive fleet. My wife and myself are looking forward to it."
Mike Bartholemew's views echo those of Haigh. "I think it is very beneficial because you have got some of the local super experts giving tips and advice. It is a great thing," he says of the coaching, adding that there are possibly as many as six boats capable of winning Class 1.
The RORC Easter Challenge line-up will also feature round the world sailor Brian Thompson, recently returned from making an attempt on the record for the non-stop lap of the planet aboard the French maxi-trimaran, Banque Populaire. For the RORC Easter Challenge, Thompson will be trading his 40m long 45 knot ride for the more sedate pace of a J/109, skippering Toe In The Water. This is one of two boats being fielded by the Toe In The Water charity, which takes injured servicemen and women sailing as part of their recovery process.
"They are such a nice group of people that you meet and they have obviously gone through a difficult period after Headley Court, where they do their rehabilitation, mixed up with the amazing core crew of volunteer sailors who are a mix of civilians and military. You meet a big variety of people," says Thompson, who has been involved with Toe in the Water from its outset.
While there is a strong line-up of J/109s, all eyes will be on the brand new J/111 Arabella, belonging to Niall Dowling. Other new hardware on the race course will be MAT 1010, a Mark Mills design, freshly arrived in the UK from her builders, MAT in Turkey. At the Easter Challenge she is to be campaigned by Louise Morton and the crack crew from the Quarter Tonner Espada, plus, over the weekend, the added talent of Volvo Ocean Race winning navigator, Jules Salter.
Racing gets underway at the RORC Easter Challenge on Friday with a first warning signal at 1255 BST when two races are scheduled, followed by three with an earlier start time of 1000 on Saturday and another two on Easter Sunday.