Britain’s premature summer looks set to continue into this weekend for the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s Easter Challenge, running on the Solent from Good Friday until Easter Sunday.
The RORC Easter Challenge traditionally doubles as the opener for the club’s domestic season and as a ‘coaching regatta’. Aiming to try and raise the calibre of racing in the UK, the RORC lays on expert coaching for free for the entire regatta. This comes from some of the world’s top coaches, including Jim Saltonstall, MBE, who has played a significant role in honing the skills of so many successful British Olympians. He is joined by professional coach Mason King, plus Eddie Warden Owen, CEO of the RORC – who, aside from being an accomplished sailor has coached America’s Cup crews including Team New Zealand and Desafío Español.
They are supplemented by nearly the entire posse from North Sails UK: Frank Gerber and Jeremy Smart will be in the North RIB, while the rest will be racing, but all will be available at the post-race debriefs that will take place daily at the RORC Cowes clubhouse. North Sails is also providing drone footage from the day’s racing which will be shown at the debriefs and the clubhouse bar.
According to North Sails’ Sam Richmond the format of the post-race debriefs will be modified this year: “The aim is to make it more of an informal panel discussion rather than a straight lecture, and to keep it shorter and interesting. Hopefully the footage will draw people in, as Jim always does and the aim is for everyone to learn something technical without feeling like they’re at school.”
North Sails will also offer overnight repairs via their North Sails Certified Service experts in their Cowes Yacht Haven loft.
At present the line-up for the RORC Easter Challenge ranges from the Ker 46, Lady Mariposa, to a quintet of Quarter Tonners, including regular contenders, Sam Laidlaw on Aquila and Louise Morton’s Coutts Quarter Ton Cup winner, Bullit.
Stealing the limelight will be the five FAST40+ class yachts, including Sir Keith Mills’ Invictus. However nipping at their heels will be the two Mark Mills-designed MAT 1180s, Gallivanter and Christian Zugel’s Tschuss (one of two German competitors in IRC One, along with Soenke Bruhns’ M34, Hotspot).
Tor McLaren is campaigning Gallivanter and the RORC Easter Challenge will be the boat’s second regatta having only arrived from her Turkish builder a fortnight ago: “We are still very much in a sea trial stage – we have a few electronics and rig issues to sort out and we have got a lot of general tuning to do; getting to know the sails and how the boat performs, etc. The boat is going really well, she’s is over-delivering, but we have got a lot of work to do yet.” So, a regatta where free coaching is laid on, and particularly one with a large North Sails contingent available for advice, is most welcome at this early stage of Gallivanter’s development, being led by Andy Horrocks.
McLaren comes from a J/109 (Inspara), which he sold two years ago and a chartered First 40, Gallivanter. The program for the new Gallivanter will be a mix of inshore and offshore, including the Rolex Fastnet Race. Throughout, he has managed to keep together his young crew: “They are coming on brilliantly. It is going to be a steep learning curve, but it is a lot of fun. I have high hopes for us.”
IRC Two will comprise the 30-40 footers including a strong posse of First 40s, such as RORC Admiral Andrew McIrvine’s La Réponse to David Franks’ 2012 IRC National championship winning JPK 10.10, Strait Dealer, via several J/109s and Tom Kneen’s JPK 10.80, Sunrise.
Racing in IRC Three are the Quarter Tonners as well as Harry J. Heijst’s S&S41 Winsome, plus the smaller J/Boats, including three J/97s. Also in the mix are a pair of Sigma 38s, one being the British Offshore Sailing School’s Rumour of BOSS, campaigned this season by Team Challenge Racing – a mixed youth crew aged 17 to 25, led by 18-year-old Charlie Ellis.
“We are using it as a shake down,” says Ellis of his first RORC Easter Challenge. “We are squaring up against some other boats, so we can learn as much as we can. We are going to make full use of the North guys as well. We want to learn as a team and work on our communication.”
To help crews in such situations, for the Easter Challenge the RORC uniquely relaxes RRS rule 41 ‘Outside Help’. This, for example, would permit Rumour of BOSS to ship on board one of the Easter Challenge coaches, even for just part of a race.
Team Challenge Racing has on offshore programme this season focussing on the Rolex Fastnet Race with a view to continuing on to do the Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race in 2018.
Racing at the RORC Easter Challenge gets underway on Friday morning at 1055 with several practice starts.