Fourth Ker 40 for the Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup
After they fielded three teams in pre-global economic meltdown 2008, but were absent two years ago, the Netherlands returns to the Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup this July with Team Benelux, comprising two Dutch boats and one from Belgium.
While this might sound like a compromise team, this is anything but the case. All are top competitors in their home waters and regularly race aboard and all three, for example, participated in the Rolex Fastnet Race last year.
The Benelux big boat will be Harmen Jan de Graaf's latest Baraka GP, a Ker 40. This brings the tally of Ker 40s competing in Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup up to four, with Keronimo and Magnum III in GBR Red and White respectively and the Hong Kong team's Peninsula Signal 8.
Baraka GP will be joined by Robin Verhoef's J/111 Xcentric Ripper and from Belgium, François Goubau's First 47.7 Moana.
The de Graaf family's racing campaign started five years ago with a Swan 53, before upping their game with the acquisition of a Swan 42. Unfortunately one design sailing in the 42 in North Europe didn't materialise to the degree they had hoped and the de Graafs became hungry for a boat more competitive under IRC. This they hope to have found in their new Ker 40. The latest Baraka GP has just arrived in the UK from her builders and her crew are descending en masse in Hamble this weekend to prepare the boat. If the stars align correctly they hope to make the final day's racing at the IRC National Championship on Sunday.
While the de Graaf family as a whole raced on their Swan 53, not it is just father Harmen Jan and sons Dirk, Olivier and Mees, plus some friends who have been competing on the Swan 42, are now transferring to the Ker. For the de Graafs, this will be their first Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup, although several of their crew have competed in it before.
"It is going to be really tough when we sail it for the first time," says eldest son Dirk of getting to grips with their new boat. "We will have to learn how to sail it, but we are good sailors and we are a very good team."
He adds of the Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup: "Our biggest national event in Holland is the North Sea Regatta, but if you compare it with English sailing... Dutchmen are mad about sailing but Englishmen are even more mad about it! So we are very much looking forward to it. We think it is going to be one of the greatest events we have ever sailed."
Although she doesn't have the highest rating, Moana will be the longest boat in the Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup. She is a 2000 Beneteau First 47.7 and, like Baraka GP, her crew is a family affair with François Goubau racing with sons Laurent and Mathieu and wife Michèle Gelhausen. The Moana crew ranges in age from 22 to 58 and they will have a professional on board in Alfred Van Rijckevorsel, a sailmaker at Evolution Sails.
The Goubau family has been racing Moana competitively since 2005, including every Rolex Fastnet Race since that year, when they finished third in IRC Zero. In 2010 they won the Dutch IRC National Championship.
Finally, Robin Verhoef acquired his J/111 Xcentric Ripper last July and since then has campaigned it extensively. He and John van der Starre entered the Rolex Fastnet Race last year finishing third in the two-handed class. This year they have competed in SPI Ouest France and the North Sea Race.
"It is a great boat with a lot of potential," says van der Starre of their J/111. "It is a short period we have had the boat, but we have a very good feeling about it."
For the Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup they are re-extending their bowsprit to its full length (previously reduced to remain within IRC Two in Holland). "We are going maximum length and maximum speed, because, in the Solent, it is very important that downwind you have all the power you can get," says van der Starre.
As to their chances in the big event, van der Starre says the Benelux team is hoping for a top three result. "We are all very keen and motivated. We are not coming to be in last place. We are all very experienced sailors and we always get top places - we do and Baraka and Moana is the best boat from Belgium. But I realise the competition is tough. I hope we can say we had a tough fight and we did the best we could do and we finished in the best place we could."
Sailing on Xcentric Ripper will be Dutch yacht racing legend Bouwe Bekking, who is also Captain of the Benelux team. Having competed in three Commodores' Cups previously and in countless Admiral's Cups, Bekking is extremely familiar with the complex waters of the Solent and the Channel, but is also well versed in team events and its common flaws.
"You will always have one boat not as good as the other two and people will be pointing the finger, and then not giving a damn on the water, so I have to keep the whole team positive," he says. "And there are other things you can do with the preparation, etc with people thinking for the team instead of just for themselves."
As to the Benelux line-up, Bekking says that Moana is a weapon in medium conditions. "In 15 knots it just has a killer handicap, it goes well upwind and downwind they pull the pole back and they sail dead downwind. I think that boat will struggle a little in the light air, but they were racing in Holland three weeks ago and they did okay in 7-8 knots of breeze. And they know the boat very well."
Bekking also has confidence in the Baraka GP crew. "They have been sailing the Swan 42 and the Ker is a similar type of boat, so it will be interesting to see how they get to grips with it. If it is light air or big breeze I think the Kers in general will do well."
As to the Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup itself Bekking says it is good that it is there. It's an amateur event and if the Benelux team puts in a good performance then it inspires more teams in the future, perhaps back up to the three teams the Dutch fielded four years ago.
"It is really good competition from small to big. It will be really interesting for the people who race there."