Winter was halted momentarily this morning on the final day of at the RORC Easter Challenge when the sun broke through, raising the ambient temperature on the Solent above freezing for the first time this weekend. Combined with more 15 knot winds, Easter Sunday’s two races provided the perfect conclusion to the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s UK season opener and training regatta.
Scoreboard stars were once again David Franks and his JPK 1010, Strait Dealer in IRC Three. Their two wins today saw them conclude the regatta with straight bullets across the event’s seven races, a repeat of Strait Dealer’s scoreline last year at the IRC Nationals.
Franks attributed his success to his crew and also to the time they have spent sailing Etchells between RORC races. Many new crew were aboard Strait Dealer for this regatta, with regular hand, Graham Sunderland, joined by Ben Ainslie’s coach and keelboat legend David Howlett, ex-Team GBR squad sailor Bleddyn Mon calling tactics and several members of the British Keelboat Academy.
“In one design sailing there is nowhere to hide,” said Frank. “Even little things are immediately seen. That helps you in handicap fleet racing - even if you don’t get the instantaneous response, the skills you learn are transferable.”
The winner of IRC 1 also scored two bullets today - Sir Keith Mills’ TP52 5°West also claimed the overall prize in the big boat class in what is the first regatta for the TeamOrigin boss as an ‘owner driver’.
“The objective of the weekend was to get better and these guys are great coaches - when you have a crew of this calibre driving is easy.” admitted Mills, pointing to the small army that sails 5°West, led by three time Volvo Ocean Race sailor Robert Greenhalgh and including Laser gold medallist Paul Goodison on tactics.
“It has been a great end to a very cold weekend. It has been fantastic – a steep learning curve for me, but a lot of fun and it will be more fun when it warms up by another 10 or 20°C!” Mills plans to helm his TP52 in many more regattas in the UK this year.
The rising intensity of competition between 5°West and the Farr 52 Toe in the Water, and between the three Farr 45s and Ker 40s was best indicated in today’s final race when a dog fight on the line led to a general recall.
Between the speedy trio of Ker 40s, it was Andrew Pearce’s white-hulled Magnum III that came out on top, finishing second overall in IRC One, six points ahead of Edward Broadway’s Hooligan VII.
Despite Magnum III being the only Ker with the same owner as last season, Pearce was sailing with a new young crew and he bemoaned their lack of practice before the RORC Easter Challenge. “Unlike last year, we’ve literally only had two weekends training before the Easter regatta. With the new crew, it is a bit of trial and error, so I am very pleased with the way we have performed. This training weekend has turned into quite a hot, competitive weekend, so I am pleased about that.”
Runaway leader in IRC Two was the King 40, Tokoloshe, of South African owner Michael Bartholomew. With a 3-1 scoreline today, the Hamble-based crew podiumed in all seven races this weekend to finish 15 points clear of second. Holding this position, albeit tied on points with Anthony O’Leary’s Ker 39 Antix, was the top female skipper at the regatta: Jackie Dobson, helm of the Poole-based J/133, Jeronimo.
“I am really really pleased,” said Dobson. “Over the winter we’ve had the keel off, the mast down – we’ve had a lot of work done on the boat. We had a real battle to get the boat back together, with no time to practice, so we’re really chuffed. We never thought we were going to make it.”
Dobson was also doubtful about the freezing temperatures. “We were humming and harring about whether anyone would enjoy it because it was so cold, but everyone has absolutely loved it. And the coaching is brilliant. It is a great regatta to refocus everyone for the coming season and get everyone back working as a team together on the boat. Everyone gets a lot out of it and they are all fired up now for the rest of the season.”
In IRC Four, Peter Schofield’s HOD35 Zarafa dominated and like 5°West and Strait Dealer won both today’s races. The Lymington-based team finished 6.5 points ahead of Altura & Steamy, the First 34.7 campaigned by Neil Cash and Nick Haigh.
Well known RORC racer Haigh has previously sailed on Cash’s boat in Plymouth. “Neil is thrilled. It was far colder than skiing, but we’ve really enjoyed it.”
For the Plymouth crew it was a strong learning experience, assisted by RORC Easter Challenge coach Jim Saltonstall and his team. “Training-wise, we had a mix of people and we hadn’t sailed as a team before so it was great to learn about the trim and sail shapes and how to hit buoys in a lot of tide!” said Haigh.
Although they admit there is “room for improvement” with their results, one of the most enthusiastic participants at the RORC Easter Challenge was the team on Sebastien Delasnerie’s Dr Feelgood (again). The Paris-based crew has their A-35 berthed in Cherbourg and made the trip over for the training regatta, the first of many RORC races they plan to do this season, says Delasnerie. However of this regatta he admitted: “We didn’t train enough for the training regatta! But it was extremely helpful because this is the early race of the season. Cowes is very exotic! The people are extremely friendly. Even the customs guy was nice to us!”
At the prizegiving this afternoon in Cowes Events Centre, class winners were presented with their prizes, including a stockpile of Easter eggs.
More photos from Paul Wyeth/www.pwpictures.com