Waterford Harbour yacht Fools Gold skippered by Rob McConnell was the winner of the second race of the IRC European Championships in Cowes yesterday.
In IRC Three, Dane Michael Mollmann and his immaculately sailed X-37 Hansen put in a 3-1 today, with the Irish team, helmed by Roy Darrer, on the A-35 Fools Gold winning the day's first race.
"Apart from the Danish leaders, we're the only team to have a race win in the bag. Unfortunately, the second race did not go to plan but we're quite happy so far", McConnell told Afloat.ie
McConnell's crew, limited to eight, will be similar to the team that won the 2017 Sovereign's Cup and also the IRC Welsh Championships. 2004 Olympian Tom Fitzpatrick is tactician, Darrer is helmsman, Skipper McConnell is mainsail trimmer, Graham Curran is trimmer number one, Dougie Power is trimmer number two, Brian O'Donnell is mastman, Lisa Tait is in the Pit. Chris Frost is onboard as navigator for the Solent event.
The Danes now hold a three point lead overall, while in second overall is the J/112e J Lance 12 skippered by France's Didier Le Moal, Managing Director of the J/Boats European builder J Composites. They scored a 2-4, although Le Moal admitted: "We are not used to downwind starts." Le Moal's crew, that for this event includes reigning Solitaire du Figaro champion and Volvo Ocean Race navigator Nicolas Lunven, has sailed together for many years, and in fact, Le Moal remembers sailing the first Commodores' Cup here back in 1992 with a French team.
"Apart from the Danish leaders, we're the only team to have a race win in the bag" – Rob McConnell, Skipper, Fools Gold
The Azores high-pressure system encroaching on the UK is bringing summer to the Solent, but making life awkward for the race officers at the Royal Ocean Racing Club's IRC European Championship and Commodores' Cup.
The much-anticipated race around the Isle of Wight got away on time at 0930 BST from the Royal Yacht Squadron line. But just under two hours later the wind died and the race was abandoned, although not before several competitors had kedged. With the boats returned to Cowes Yacht Haven, patience won out and the gradient breeze somehow managed to overcome the thermal. This allowed for two round the cans races to be held in the central Solent, the wind even creeping into the teens towards the end of the second race. The two inshore races were held near the Brambles Bank with reaching and running starts respectively.
While there are three classes competing this week, there are also numerous 'races within races'. In IRC Two the King 40 sisterships Cobra and Nifty enjoyed near match racing in today's first race, finishing first and second respectively. For the Blair family, this was payback - in yesterday's race they had been forced to watch the massive lead Cobra had pulled out evaporate as they fell into a hole. "It was frustrating because we showed what we could do," recounted skipper Stevie Beckett. "So we have just been biding our time." Unfortunately, in the second race the whole fleet compressed as the backmarkers brought in the new breeze, causing Nifty and Cobra to finish fifth and ninth respectively.
Their loss was the First 40s' gain with RORC Admiral Andrew McIrvine's La Réponse winning today's second race ahead of sistership Adventurer, being campaigned here by Scot Jock Wishart. These two now lead IRC Two.
"We had a very good day," admitted McIrvine, albeit trying to forget the start of the race he ultimately won, when La Réponse's spinnaker accidentally found itself hoisted by a corner other than the head. "We managed to get into some not very good positions, but it was when we overtook Nifty that we knew we were doing well. The boat was going fine, especially downwind when we are always quick." It was possibly the lengthy downwind against the tide to the finish in building breeze that helped La Réponse claim today's second race.
In IRC One, the FAST 40+s, Michael Bartholomew's former GP42 Tokoloshe II and James Neville's HH42 Ino XXX continue to set the pace. Tokoloshe II claimed her second bullet in race one, but the FAST 40+ grip was broken in race two when the Mat 1180 Gallivanter prevailed; Tor McLaren and his young crew enjoying great racing this week against their sistership, American Christian Zugel's Tschuss.
After Tokoloshe II the most consistent performance of the day came from Andy Williams' team on the Ker 40 Keronimo, posting a 2-3.
"A difficult day on the water, but we are very pleased," said Williams. "All of the fleets are tight and the courses and the downwind starts were interesting - a bit hairy in the corners with lots of boats coming in together."
Celtic Team clings on in Commodores' Cup
The Celtic Team, managed by renowned Scottish adventurer Jock Wishart, today established a lead in the Commodores' Cup, although this was despite the First 40 Adventurer, Wishart is campaigning here, suffering a set back when the Southampton Water pilot boats prevented her from passing ahead of a container ship as it navigated its way out of the Solent. While Adventurer was the team's top scoring boat yesterday, today it was the turn of Keronimo. The Ker 40 has a long illustrious history in the Commodores' Cup, from its first outing when it won as part of the GBR Red team in the hands of Jonathan Goring in 2012.
Crewman then, as well as this week was Scottish sailmaker and mainsheet trimmer, Kevin Sproul. "It's brilliant," said Sproul of the boat that from year dot is recognisable from the 'HH' it has emblazoned on its bow. "It is a good boat and they have a really good crew and they sail the boat well. Relatively speaking we haven't put a foot wrong."
Although Sproul is on mainsheet, he has been contributing to the tactics and said it was a good call to abandon today's race around the Isle of Wight. "We ended up having two good races and finished in 15-16 knots - proper breeze. But it was an odd day - the wind was further north than we thought. And what was good for the tide wasn't necessarily good for wind, especially on the last run - we ran along the edge of the Brambles Bank in shallow water and then got more pressure and were able to dive down and that was a massive gain, just staying with the tide."
The Celtic Team now holds a six-point lead over Lastminute. EU, the team comprising the IRC Three leader Hansen, Robert Bickett's newly acquired Club Swan 42 Fargo and the J/122e Juno of Christopher Daniel. La Réponse's outstanding day has elevated their GBR - RORC team (that also includes Tom Kneen's new JPK 1180 Sunrise and Ed Fishwick's Sun Fast 3600 Redshift Reloaded), from last place to fifth overall.
Today the forecast is again light and the intention is to try for two inshore races. Whether one or two races is held will determine the schedule for the remaining four days of this IRC European Championship and Commodores' Cup.
IRC Report by James Boyd