Stars head for Loch Fyne
The Bell Lawrie Scottish Series starts on Friday when 192 boats are expected to line up for the first starts as the huge armada moves into four days of intensive inshore racing on picturesque Loch Fyne. For the first time since the event was run for the first time in 1973 along the lines of the Admiral's Cup and level rating Ton Cups, the historic regatta will have no offshore race at all.
Instead of starting from Gourock and Bangor, Northern Ireland and racing overnight to reach the pretty Kintyre haven, all of the fleet will muster on the three course areas ready for racing on Friday morning.
For the last 15 of these years Scotland's double Olympic gold medal winner will have been on duty on the Olympic racing circuit, usually at Holland's Spa regatta. Now, unshackled temporarily from that punishing regime, Shirley Robertson will sail at the regatta for the first time, skippering a Farr 45 Volvo RYA Keelboat Sailing.
She will be supported by a mainly youth crew who are members of the Volvo Youth Keelboat scheme, along with Alex Thomson, the British solo offshore racing skipper of the Open 60 Hugo Boss, and the young British match racer Paul Campbell-James, who was one of Robertson's tune up helms during the build up to Athens last year.
They sail in the showcase IRC Class 1 which is the strongest it has been in recent years. Three IC45s will race including Struan - chartered to Hong Kong-based ex-pats David & Grace Cullen and will be skippered by Shirley's husband Jamie Boag.
An accomplished skipper himself Boag has usually been in Tarbert as part of the strong Irish and Northern contingent who support the event when Robertson has been Olympic sailing. He has won his class numerous times in the IRC handicap divisions. This time they will be rivals.
"He has been winding me up for a few weeks already with what I just know is duff information, telling me what works and what doesn't on Loch Fyne, but I know it's mostly nonsense." She maintains, "There'll be good spirit of friendly rivalry between us. We've got some good young 'nippers' on the boat and we should be able to work it out not too badly. It would have been nice if we could have got some practice together, but that's the difference with this type of sailing."
The third of the IC 45s is Glyn Williams' 2002 Cork Week winning Wolf. Williams has won most of the principal trophies at Skandia Cowes Week and he sails with sailmaker Jeremy Robinson, a key part of last year's Sydney-Hobart winning crew.
Among the exciting new boats in this class, making their race debut, will be Richard Loftus' C10 45 footer Hotel California which has been designed by Mani Frers as a fast, stylish dayboat and Irishman Tim Costello's brand new Mark Mills-designed Tiormat, a purpose built IRC 40 footer.
The Swan 45 class also makes its debut at Tarbert for the first time. This fashionable class of elite cruiser racers may be small in numbers with four boats competing but it is brimful of talent. Scottish hopes rest with Keith Miller's Crackerjack which has 1992 Olympian Paul Brotherton as tactician. Miller is a past Swan European champion and is the prime mover in getting the Swan class to race in Scotland.
"Last year we had just two Swan 45s, this year it is four and hopefully in the future we can keep attracting more, because this is a regatta I am sure that owners will enjoy." contends Edinburgh businessman Miller.
The Swan 45 Fever has Britain's top match racer Chris Law on the mainsheet and 2003 Scottish Series winner Ruaridh Scott, who grew up in Tarbert, calling tactics while Charles Swignland's Piper at the Gates of Dawn is expected to have Athens' 470 Olympic medal winning helm Nick Rogers as tactician.
IRC Class 2 looks to be one of the toughest classesm with 24 boats competing including Hamish Mackay on the helm of the English Bavaria Match 42 Sidney. Mackay and his crew won the overall Scottish Series back to back in 2001 and 2002 and also won their class in 2000. They face up to two other past Scottish Series winning helms in John Highcock on John Corson's Bavaria Match 42 Salamander XVIII and Chris Bonar's BH36 Bateleur 97. The Elan 37 Quokka of Peter Rutter, one of last season's top performing boats on the south coast of England, makes the trip north after hastily replacing their mast which they lost racing offshore two weeks ago.
"We are very pleased with the response we have had so far to the change of format." commented the Clyde Cruising Club's Commodore Clive Scott, "We feel that we listened to what the competitors wanted to improve the regatta and make it easier to participate in and to make it more competitive and we are confident this will be borne out. Now all we need are some favourable winds."
Racing runs through until Monday afternoon when the top award, the Bell Lawrie Scottish Series Trophy is awarded to the top performing boat from the entire regatta of 14 different class.