Double bullets for Tokoloshi
Traditionally the RORC Easter Challenge has been an event for full oilskins and thermals to counter the freezing cold and driving rain. For the first day of the RORC’s annual European season opener, conditions were more like August, albeit with the wind cooled by the still chilly Solent. With this afternoon’s first race held in six knots, followed by a puffy breeze gusting at times to an unforecast 12 knots during race two, combined with a building flood tide, it was a tricky day for the tacticians, but with the unseasonal sunshine there were no complaints.
In a class dominated by Ker designs it was the Mark Mills-designed King 40 Tokoloshe of South African Mike Bartholomew that posted two bullets in IRC One. Rob Gray and Sam Laidlaw’s perennial Farr 52 Bob, the biggest boat competing, led the way around the race course with a sufficient enough advantage in both races to finish the day with two seconds.
One of the pre-race favourites following her Rolex Commodores’ Cup win last year, Antix, the Ker 39 of Irishman Anthony O’Leary, had a disappointing first race. “There would be a lot of beeping,” said O’Leary when asked to describe what went wrong. “We had a terrible start. After that there was no place to recover, but the second race was fun and it was a lot more pleasant than the last two Easter freeze-outs. It was bloody cold and wet last year...” Antix, which has had no changes made to her since her Rolex Commodores’ Cup victory, is currently lying sixth overall in IRC One.
In IRC Two it is even closer with three boats within a point of one another at the top. Tied in first with Andrew Williams’ Prima 38 Max ‘Ed Out!, is Andrew McIrvine’s First 40 La Réponse. “We got tied up on the first beat in the first race and we tacked into more tide against and more wind, but we made a good recovery,” recounted the RORC’s Commodore, “but the Prima had the best of it.” McIrvine was pleased his newly formed crew is starting to gell. They plan to compete in all the RORC races this year, culminating in the Rolex Fastnet Race. “It was a lovely day sailing. You couldn’t ask for better. It is like the middle of summer.”
Proving his skill is not solely in racing giant multihulls or singlehanded IMOCA 60s round the world, Brian Thompson is leading IRC 3 with his crew on the J/109 Toe In The Water. However Thompson’s crew, that includes several recuperating servicemen, is just one point ahead of Chris and Hannah Neve’s much campaigned Lymington-based First 35 No Chance, their team having three Rolex Commodores’ Cups behind them.
Chris Neve, sailing with the experienced Phil Lawrence on mainsheet, was particularly pleased with their performance in today’s second race when they port tacked the fleet and went on to win, despite putting in a penalty turn at the top mark when they tacked too close to another boat.
Leading the J/80s is Douglas Neville-Jones, a relative newcomer to the class, who co-owns his boat with Erivale III owner Mike Greville. Their reason for having the boat is to teach their sons and daughters. “The young ones usually just get sidelined and don’t get to understand what’s happening,” explained Neville-Jones. “Do this [the J/80] and you get involved and that makes a huge difference, because they actually learn about why you are going this way or looking for shifts. Otherwise if you are on the weather rail of a big boat and the guys at the back are discussing whether they are on a shift or not – you aren’t aware of that at all.”
Throughout the day the coaching squad, led by Jim Saltonstall, has been out on the water in force, helping crews with their boat’s tuning, their sail handling and manoeuvres, etc. With the rule preventing ‘outside help’ being dropped for this regatta, the coaches can get on board and help. Much video was taken and this was analysed in the Cowes Yacht Haven Events Centre post racing.
“It is incredibly useful,” said Mike Moxley of the coaching. His HOD35 Malice is mid-fleet in IRC Three. “Barry Dunning, who has come in to give us a bit of coaching, is always incredibly useful. He is very perceptive. You can see things going on with the sails 50m away that you can’t see on board. He has taken trimmers off and put someone on the boat who has coached us directly. So good on RORC – it is very useful. Otherwise you always get good competition - there are some very good helms here and it is always hotly contested.”
Racing continues tomorrow with three races scheduled with the first warning signal due at 0955 BST.