Ireland's sole entry in the IRC European Championships has finished a creditable fourth overall in Cowes today. Waterford Harbour's A35 yacht 'Fools Gold' skippered by Rob McConnell was a consistent performer in the 12-boat division three fleet, maintaining fourth or fifth place for the duration of the week-long event.
The immaculately sailed J Lance 12 has been crowned IRC European champion for 2018. The French J/112e skippered by Didier le Moal seemed never to put a foot wrong in the latter stages of this week-long regatta run from Cowes by the Royal Ocean Racing Club.
"It's great - I didn't expect that," said le Moal of claiming the IRC Europeans title. "First of all we wanted to win our class, but this is fabulous. It concludes the wonderful week we've had. If you enjoy racing, we have been in paradise. The weather, sun, light winds, heavy winds, big tides - everything you could expect to enjoy from racing, we've had."
Winning today's first windward-leeward race, held in 15-20 knot winds, was the French team's sixth bullet out of ten races. For the final big breeze, double points scoring, round the cans race, the French didn't have the class win secured, so played it safe. "The wind was increasing a bit so we preferred to sail safely because we had a big lead. We just needed to finish, not last, but fifth or sixth to win," explained J Lance 12's navigator and team secret weapon Nicolas Lunven, the reigning Solitaire du Figaro champion. With the wind gusting into the 30s they avoided gybing the spinnaker, to avoid breakage.
In addition to Lunven, le Moal and Frederic Bouvier, who are respectively President and Sales Manager of J Composites, European builder of the J/Boats range of yachts, the J Lance 12 crew of Christophe and Cyrille Cremades, Jean Francois Nevo, Jean-Michel Roux and Cyrille Teston are all friends who have sailed with le Moal for years.
"It is our third season on this type of boat, so we know exactly how it works," continued le Moal. "We had a very, very good navigator - to be fast is one thing, but to be fast on the right side is perfect. We are not so good reaching, but upwind the boat is so fast, it helps you recover."
Today's final race in IRC Three was won by Ed Fishwick's Redshift Reloaded with Shaitan second, after an impressive conclusion to her regatta rolling J Lance 12 within metres of the line. Nonetheless Shaitan finished second overall on 50 points to J Lance 12's 20.5.
As in IRC Three, so in IRC One South African Mike Bartholomew's GP42 Tokoloshe won today's first race and held a commanding lead going into the finale. But in this she was less conservative than her French counterpart. "It was very lively and variable - a difficult day," said Bartholomew. In the last race, Tokoloshe blew out the tack of her jib and then couldn't unfurl the Code 0 on one of the reaching legs. This allowed James Neville's HH42 Ino XXX to overtake them, but ultimately this landed Andy Williams' Ker 40 Keronimo her first bullet of the IRC Europeans.
While IRC One and Three were all but decided going into today's final race, this was not the case in IRC Two. The day started with five boats within eight points of first. Winning yesterday's final race, Frans and Carla Rodenburg's First 40 Elke had pulled up to fourth place in IRC Two. On a roll, the Dutch followed this up with another bullet in today's first windward-leeward. At this point sistership Adventurer should have had IRC Two sewn up, but she suffered a deep result in the last race in which Tom Kneen's JPK 1180 Sunrise picked up her second bullet of the regatta.
Alex & Andy Moore's First 40 TiLT Racing picked up second in this race having split from the fleet to go south of the Brambles Bank, resulting in a photo finish with Elke. A third place for Elke on corrected time ahead of RORC Admiral Andrew McIrvine's La Réponse was enough to secure the Dutch victory in IRC Two by a single point.
Rodenburg and his crew were ecstatic on hearing of their win: "We didn't know how the second race ended up, but we were sure we were on the podium if we did well," he said. "We are not used to round the cans, but the bigger winds were good for us."
In fact Elke's winning margin would have been larger until they suffered a broach. "We were gybing and there was a gust of 32 knots at just the wrong moment," explained Rodenburg. "I have enjoyed the IRC Europeans very much. It is great racing here as the organisation is very good, the information from the Race Committee is great and they tell us what they are thinking, so we enjoy racing here."
Celtic Team Wins the 14th Commodores' Cup
Keronimo being top scoring IRC One boat today made up for the mixed-results from her Celtic Team team mates - Jean-Eudes Renier's JPK 1080 Shaitan and the First 40 Adventurer, chartered this week to Scottish adventurer Jock Wishart. They scored 12-4 and 4-22 respectively in today's races. This confirmed Commodores' Cup victory for the Celtic Team, who have led the RORC's biennial race for three boat teams with Corinthian crews (this year running in conjunction with the IRC Europeans). However this was with the lower margin than yesterday - 140.5 points to second placed GBR-RORC's 170, the British having had an outstanding day, with La Réponse scoring 2-8, Sunrise 5-2 and Redshift Reloaded 3-2.
Celtic Team leader Jock Wishart, who sailed this week on Adventurer, was emotional upon having his long-sought Commodores' Cup victory confirmed. "All the hard work has paid off, although I would have liked to have won IRC Two as well.
"It became more and more evident as we came through, that we had done a lot of work and thought it through. Some of the early races showed that our thinking was working out: The crew work was brilliant, consistently on the podium in all of the classes - it was consistency, consistency, consistency. This win is something I've been dreaming about for a long time. We were last in the previous Commodores' Cup and this time we almost ran away with it."
Chris Stone, Racing Manager of the Royal Ocean Racing Club commented: "The IRC Europeans and Commodores' Cup have been an overriding success and all the competitors are happy. The racing has been a complete test with the full range of strong tides, heavy weather, light conditions and sun and rain. There were a couple of stand-out performances and I congratulate J Lance 12 crew as worthy winners. Otherwise the racing was incredibly close at this third European Championship showing that IRC remains in great health."