The central Solent delivered on the opening day of the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s IRC National Championship. The westerly wind started off light but built to a solid 18 knots, the September sun even putting in an appearance, as the three class fleet progressed through two windward-leeward races and one round the cans.
Despite it being so late in the year, for many competitors this is their first event of 2020 thanks to the hiatus caused by the pandemic. For some this meant blowing the cobwebs away after a year away from sailing. The challenge has further increased as to improve social distancing on board, crews are only permitted to sail with 80% of their usual number.
Nonetheless, in two of the three classes boats ended the day with perfect scorelines in this their first event of the year. For co-owners John Howell and Paul Newell and the crew of Arcus, this was also their first ever day racing their newly acquired A-35 (previously the Ireland-based Fool’s Gold). To be leading IRC 3 so convincingly came as a shock. “We’re delighted – it was a great day of racing, in fact it couldn’t have been better,” said Newell. “We went through a number of different wind strengths and we used almost the entire sail wardrobe! If everyone else enjoyed the day as much as we did, then thank you very much race committee.”
Arcus’ crew mostly comprises Howell and Newell and their respective sons. They have all previously sailed on the Dehler 36SQ Alaris and on the First 40 Dusty P. With their A-35 they are trying to step up slightly, explains Newell. “We managed to mess up the last race as much as we possibly could, mostly in front of the committee boat, so to still get a bullet was a surprise. We are delighted with the result. We are lucky to have inherited some reasonable regatta sails to take it forward.” Upwind they are going well, he continues, but downwind they still have issues to resolve, mainly linked to unfamiliarity with the boat and having to adjust crew roles due to their sailing shorthanded.
Niklas Zennström’s Rán has become the benchmark boat within the FAST40+ class. Despite having not raced her since the end of last season, sailing this weekend with less crew and having changed to a lighter keel foil in the interim, the Anglo-Swedish team seemed to have lost none of its slickness or boat speed. Of the first race, main sheet trimmer and project manager Tim Powell admitted they hadn’t got the best start or first beat but had managed to dig themselves out on the run. “We got going in the right direction which allowed us to jump up the field.” They opted for the left, Isle of Wight side of the race track where they gained some tidal advantage and beneficial shift.
With Tony Langley’s TP52 Gladiator leading the charge around the race track, the second windward-leeward saw Rán win by her biggest margin. Of this, Powell observed: “The boat seems to be going well and in some conditions it is a bit better. We are lighter than we were last year because we have reduced some weight from the fin, and I think because of that, downwind in the second race, we managed to get up on the plane whereas the others weren’t able to.”
In the third and final race around the cans in the central-eastern Solent, Powell said they had made the biggest gains making an early call to hoist the Code 0 on one of the legs.
Rán is sailing with nine instead of 11 which has required both Powell and navigator Steve Hayles to lend a hand in the pit. “Now you have to sail with your eyes open and back people up,” Powell insists.
Conversely in IRC Two each race had a different winner – Robert Bottomley’s fast-looking Mat 12 Sailplane 3 claimed the first, Ian Schenkel’s Ker 39 Rumbleflurg won race 2 and Michael O’Donnell’s J/121 Darkwood took the final round the cans. At the end of play (and subject to a protest), Darkwood leads on countback from David Franks’ J/112E Leon.
Franks only came out of isolation today and will race Leon tomorrow. Today his tactician Graham Sunderland helmed. The IRC Nationals is their second outing of the year but as a team Franks and Sunderland have continued to race their beloved Etchells this summer. Unfortunately the maths of the crew reduction has not worked in their favour and they are sailing here with six rather than nine. Nonetheless they are enjoying it and are coming to terms with their new roles.
As to the conditions, the Winning Tides co-author Sunderland stated: “It was tough. It was never really up the middle and you weren’t certain if it was right or left. The left was high risk and the right was stable but average. It was a difficult race track.”
Racing resumes tomorrow when another three races are scheduled for the IRC Nationals in what the forecast indicates will be similar conditions to today. The event will also double in size with the start of the IRC Two-Handed National Championship which will run alongside for the remainder of the event.