Light winds and strong tides may have made for a difficult first half to the Royal Ocean Racing Club's combined IRC European Championship and Commodores' Cup, but Hampshire Tourist Board conditions graced the Solent for day four of racing where Ireland's sole entry, Fools Gold, in IRC three stays fifth overall.
With a southwesterly wind that peaked at around 15 knots countering a powerful ebb tide, PRO Stuart Childerley set a 'classic Cowes Week' course, which for IRC One comprised a 25.7 mile long romp around the cans in the central and western Solent, with a finish for all three classes off The Green in Cowes.
The competition was made all the more interesting with variations in the courses between the three classes early on that left all but the biggest in IRC One racing alongside boats in the smaller classes. Plus there was an ultra-challenging start with two knot spring tides pushing the boats across the line. As Tor McLaren, owner of the MAT 1180 Gallivanter described it: "It was the type of start where if you got it wrong you were going home - not something you would ever want to attempt again."
Once again the two FAST 40+s, Michael Bartholomew's former GP42 Tokoloshe II and James Neville's HH42 Ino XXX led the charge, with the faster Tokoloshe II sailing to her rating to win the race overall. Yesterday's round the cans winner, Robert Bicket's Club Swan 42 Fargo, ended up third with Gallivanter fourth.
"It was a brutal race, but it was also one of the best days we have had with the boat," continued McLaren, whose largely youth crew on Gallivanter, which includes two 19-year-olds, has been fighting their equally-rated sistership, Christian Zugel's Tschuss this week. "It's been like nautical boxing: They kept coming back to give us another punch."
Sadly today's racing didn't go well for everyone and Andy Williams' Ker 40 Keronimo in particular suffered with a bad spinnaker wrap on the first run, followed by a low tide grounding on Egypt Point within sight of the finish. "We were in among seven other boats and everyone was trying to avoid everyone else," admitted Keronimo's Kevin Sproul. "Everyone had their heads in the boat a bit too much - we waited five seconds too long to gybe." Fortunately no one was injured in the incident that saw the boat stop dead from 10 knots. Both keel and rudder struck solidly and tonight Keronimo is out of the water being surveyed for damage at Hamble Yacht Services.
King 40s and Beneteau-built First 40s are quite different boats but were travelling at near identical speeds around the IRC Two course in today's conditions. In fact once Roger Bowden's King 40 Nifty had edged ahead, about the only position change came when RORC Admiral Andrew McIrvine's First 40 La Réponse rolled sistership Adventurer, campaigned this week by Jock Wishart.
As McIrvine explained: "We were absolutely neck and neck with Adventurer: Going down the runs, whatever we did we couldn't get past them until we got to one of the gybe marks when they tried to luff us and we sneaked inside. From there we extended. Then on the last beat, for some reason, we seemed tweaked up much better and extended again. It remained nerve racking all the way down the last run because we had to cover them. They are really similar boats.
Ultimately La Réponse won the race by one minute seven seconds from her sistership, despite a last ditch attempt at distraction tactics by Wishart's crew on Adventurer. At the end of day four she trails the IRC Two leader Nifty by just two points.
The two horse race in IRC Three is in danger of becoming a three horse one, with Michael Mollmann's X-37 Hansen having a difficult day, scoring a 12th, despite a worthy effort at a port tack start. This result the Danish team has immediately thrown now that the first discards have come into play. Meanwhile IRC Three had another winner today in the French First 40.7 Pen Koent of Emmanuel Le Men and his crew from Val-André in northern Brittany.
"We had a very good start -the type of start you do once every 10 years," mused Le Men. "We tacked very quickly at the buoy and on the first run we were first and after that we were with J Lance 12 and Shaitan, changing places. On the last run we were still with J Lance 12, but she gives us some time with her rating. Our boat is quite old - it is good for windward-leewards in not too much wind. The new boats go quicker in waves and heavy wind."
J Lance 12 had managed to edge in front at the Hampstead Ledge weather mark and finished second overall, but tonight continues to lead IRC Three by two points from Hansen. Racing on board Didier Le Moal's J/112e is reigning Solitaire du Figaro champion and Volvo Ocean Race navigator Nicolas Lunven. "Today was a perfectly typical race in the Solent with 12-15 knots, strong tide, wonderful weather, beautiful land space," said Lunven. "The wind was against the tide, but the sea state was quite nice. I was expecting more choppy waves. It was the first race of the Championship with more than 8 knots. It was a very nice race."
In the Commodores' Cup the Celtic Team, comprising Adventurer, Shaitan and Keronimo is still leading, but whether this continues remains in the balance, dependent upon the extent of the damage to Keronimo and whether/how quickly she can be repaired after her grounding.
Today the IRC European Championship fleet will be sailing a race round the Isle of Wight. This will be on an anti-clockwise course scheduled to start at 0900. However, the forecast indicates this coinciding with winds gusting to 30+ knots.