Commodores' Cup trials and tribulations

Bear of Britain now the unofficial leaders but the selection system has its sceptics

Friday June 14th 2002, Author: Nigel Cherrie, Location: United Kingdom

Will the 2002 Rolex Commodores' Cup be as successful as this?

Big boat action on the Solent this weekend will center on the second round of the English Commodores’ Cup trials with sixteen teams squaring up for the four windward-leewards and one long inshore race run by the Royal Thames Yacht Club.

Kit Hobday’s Bear of Britain is now the unofficial series leader after she finished second in the Morgan Cup to the all-conquering Team Tonic, but Tonic co-owner Nick Hewson later withdrew his Farr 52 from the trials in order to race her in the Round Ireland classic later this month.

This leaves young gun Mark Campbell-James, helmsman on Bear in the hot seat and he is understandably happy. "It eases the pressure a lot as at the IRM National Championship Team Tonic and us were battling the whole way round the course and we were slowing each other down. If one of us got ahead we’d put a sneaky tack in," he said today as his team were preparing for the weekend.

"If we can get off the start line this weekend with no issues we should be fine. Our race will be decided by the Ker fleet, if they slow each other down or if one of them breaks away they might get us [on corrected], but we’re pretty confident." Their second place in the Morgan Cup gives Bear of Britain a handy four-point lead over Nick Haigh’s Farr 40 Too Steamy.

Of course, the big question is whether Bear could and would of overhauled Tonic if she had stayed in the contest. Campbell-James seems to think so. "Although they are definitely ahead of us at the moment, we feel we can catch them up over the next few weeks. By the IRC National Championship [the next trials] we hope to be up with them. They are only ahead because they are slicker in their maneuvers and that’s something that can be worked on."

If Bear does get the selectors’ nod for the English spot, only victory will emulate his last campaign as he helmed the Commonwealth’s team small boat to honours.

But the whole trials format does have its detractors. Peter Morton of Farr International won the 2000 series convincingly after subjectively selecting the Channel Island side.

"I have never been involved with a team that has been successful as a result of trials. I think the team needs to be organized properly from day one," Morton told madfor sailing.

His view is derived from eight unsuccessful and one victorious Admiral’s Cup (1989) tilts and of course the winning challenge came after the three-boat team were hand picked. "The only time you actually get a reasonable effort together is when you sit down and thrash out a good balance of people and I don’t think having trials that are points based is the way of getting the best team."

Morton goes on to point out that you have to look back 17 years for the last time a nation won the Admiral’s Cup after selecting their team through a trials series. The very nearly successful British Admiral's Cup effort in 1999 that faltered only at the last hurdle of the final race was pre-selected.

A Royal Yachting Association press notice outlined their selection policy as: The selectors will take note of the results and points gained in the trial races but will not be bound in any way to select all or any of the top six boats. Other factors that may be taken into consideration could include improvement or deterioration in boat performance, as well as incidents leading to protests during the trials.

Morton continues: "If you ignore the points and select the best boat, why not just select them in the first instance and don’t wear your sails out?"

"For the last Commodores' Cup with the Channel Islands team I just sat down with some people and sorted out three good boats and three good crews." The result was overwhelming. "We won it with a day to spare almost."

Morton is in the midst of gathering another team built on the same ethos, but would not be drawn on who he would represent although the boats will be his Mills 50 design Mandrake, Charles Dunstone’s Corby 41 Carphone Warehouse (formerly Nokia) and an unnamed Ker 11.3.

Internationally, this year’s series has attracted some quality overseas entries. The modification in the choice of handicap rule and the removal of the banding structure for team composition has certainly motivated a number of nations not present last time around.

Currently, the Royal Ocean Racing Club knows of six nations with well-advanced plans to enter and a further three countries working on teams.

Belgium were the first to confirm entry, with Moana (First 47.7), Cohiba (First 40.7) and Oxygene (IMX 40) owned and skippered by François Goubau, Yves Delacolette and Axel De Cock respectively.

The French have stated their intention to field two teams, yachts to include Clin d'Oreil (X442 - J.Y. Legoff), Courier Nord (IMX 40 - Gery Trenteseaux), Fastwave 3 (IMX40 - E.Fries), Lobelia (IMX 40 - M. De St Denis), Meta Baron (IMX 40 - J.Y. Chomette) and Stir Wenn (X442 - G. Salnave). Gery Trenteseaux is believed to be the team manager.

The planned Dutch team includes Checkmate 3 (BH41) owned by Peter de Ridder who is also team captain, Salty Dog (IMX 40) and Satori (Grand Soleil 40).

An Irish Team from Cork managed by Donal Mc Clement are well advanced with yachts, but have yet to make an announcement. Spain has also yet to submit yacht names.

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