Sunday, June 17, 2018

IRC European Championship Update

J/112E sailing IRC European ChampionshipJ/112E J-LANCE 12 Leading
(Cowes, England)- The Royal Ocean Racing Club has been hosting a stellar fleet of thirty-three offshore IRC racing teams from nine countries (Belgium, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Ireland, Netherlands, Poland, Turkey, USA) at their Cowes, Isle of Wight station for the 2018 IRC European Championship.  So far, the event has been a great “test” event for many of Europe’s top offshore teams that are planning to sail in the IRC/ ORC World Championship that will be taking place in The Hague, The Netherlands in a few weeks time.

The hot twelve-boat IRC 3 Class includes two J/Crews; Fred Bouvier’s stellar French crew on the J/112E J-LANCE 12 and the local British team on John Smart’s J/109 JUKEBOX.  So far, J-LANCE 12 has proven to be a consistent winner, currently leading their class after five days of racing on the Solent and the classic Round Island Race (the famous 60nm original America’s Cup course around the Isle of Wight).

Day One- Sunday
With such a light forecast, the Royal Ocean Racing Club's on-the-water officials, led by PRO Stuart Childerley, did well to complete one race on the opening day. Unfortunately the 5-7 knot north-northeasterly wind, all but disappeared just prior to the final IRC Two and Three boats finishing. After sending the fleet back to port, the PRO called it a day just before 1500 BST.

The cunning Danes saw off some of the top IRC Three competition when they locked out several boats the wrong side of the committee boat at the start. That included the hot French team on the J/112E J-LANCE 12, skippered by J Composites boss Didier Le Moal. Hansen was one of the first to tack after the start and benefitted from being able to lee-bow the tide, like other boats that ventured right.

They closed on the back end of IRC Two at the leeward gate and then tacked to the right again, where the lee-bow effect was less with the flood tide subsiding. Lady luck continued to smile on J LANCE 12, finishing just before the breeze started properly shutting down - the French J/112E stages a remarkable recovery after their second tier start.

Day Two- Monday
The Azores high pressure system encroaching on the UK is bringing summer to the Solent, but making life awkward for the race officers.

Today's much-anticipated race around the Isle of Wight got away on time at 0930 BST from the Royal Yacht Squadron line. But, just under two hours later the wind died and the race was abandoned, although not before several competitors had kedged.

With the boats returned to Cowes Yacht Haven, patience won out and the gradient breeze from the ENE somehow managed to overcome the thermal. This allowed for two round the cans races to be held in the central Solent, the wind even creeping into the teens towards the end of the second race. The two inshore races were held near the Brambles Bank with reaching and running starts respectively.

In IRC Three, J/112E J-LANCE 12 skippered by France's Didier Le Moal, scored a 2-4.  Skipper Le Moal admitted, “we are not used to downwind starts." Le Moal's crew, which includes reigning Solitaire du Figaro champion and Volvo Ocean Race navigator Nicolas Lunven, has sailed together for many years. And, in fact, Le Moal remembers sailing the first RORC Commodores' Cup back in 1992 with a French team.

J/112E sailing IRC Europeans- Cowes, EnglandDay Three- Tuesday
Light winds and strong tides may have made for a difficult first half of the regatta, but Hampshire Tourist Board conditions graced the Solent. With a southwesterly wind that peaked at around 15 knots countering a powerful ebb tide, PRO Stuart Childerley set a 'classic Cowes Week' course, with around the cans courses set for the westerly breezes in the central and western Solent, with a finish for all three classes off The Green in Cowes.

As a result, there was an ultra-challenging start with two-knot spring tides pushing the boats across the line. As one person described it, “it was the type of start where if you got it wrong you were going home, not something you would ever want to attempt again."

The two horse race in IRC Three was in danger of becoming a three horse one, with the X-37 Hansen having a difficult day, scoring a 12th, despite a worthy effort at a port tack start. This result the Danish team has immediately thrown now that the first discards have come into play. Meanwhile IRC Three had another winner today in the French First 40.7 Pen Koent of Emmanuel Le Men and his crew from Val-André in northern Brittany.

"We had a very good start- the type of start you do once every 10 years," mused Le Men. "We tacked very quickly at the buoy and on the first run we were first and after that we were with J-LANCE 12 and Shaitan, changing places. On the last run, we were still with J-LANCE 12, but she gives us some time with her rating. Our boat is quite old; it is good for windward-leewards in not too much wind. The new boats go quicker in waves and heavy wind."

J-LANCE 12 had managed to edge in front at the Hampstead Ledge weather mark and finished second overall, and continues to lead IRC Three by two points from the X-37 Hansen. Racing on board Le Moal's J/112E is reigning Solitaire du Figaro champion and Volvo Ocean Race navigator Nicolas Lunven.

"Today was a perfectly typical race in the Solent with 12-15 knots, strong tide, wonderful weather, beautiful green waterfront views,” said Lunven. "The wind was against the tide, but the sea state was quite nice I was expecting more choppy waves. It was the first race of the Championship with more than 8 knots of wind! It was a very nice race."

Day Four- Wednesday
A third light, tricky day with strong tides saw a lengthy round-the-cans course in the central Solent just completed before the wind shut down. After a wait, the skies darkened, the temperature plummeted as a southeasterly wind filled in, lasting just long enough for a singleton windward-leeward to be held for the three classes.

A powerful flood tide off Osborne Bay, pushing boats down towards the pin presented some novel problems along the start line of today's first race. In the starts for each of the three classes, boats were called over early.

IRC Three has evolved into a two-horse race between the X-37 Hansen and Le Moal's J/112E J-LANCE 12. Today definitely belonged to the French crew on J-LANCE 12 that won both races. They now lead, one point ahead of the Danes that posted a 3-2 for the day.

J/112E sailing fast under spinnakerDay Five- Thursday - Round Island Race
Despite a scary-looking forecast and prolonged periods punching foul tide, the rescheduled race around the Isle of Wight proved a great success. This replaced the scheduled 24-36 hour long offshore, but all competitors nonetheless returned feeling severely tested to a summery Cowes, very different to the rain, near gale force gusts, four knot foul tide and reduced visibility of the morning's 0936 am start.

In IRC Three Le Moal's J/112E J-LANCE 12 completely dominated. Winning the race left her on 9.5 points to the second placed JPK 1080 Shaitan's 24 pts.

The performance by the IRC Three leader J-LANCE 12 was especially impressive, finishing among the IRC Two frontrunners. It was insanely close too; the Sunfast 3600 Redshift Reloaded was first across the line by mere seconds, but finished fourth under IRC.  The top four boats separated by just three and a half minutes with J-LANCE 12 winning by just 11 seconds on corrected time from Shaitan.

"Going around the island is our bag," admitted Redshift Reloaded owner Ed Fishwick. "The conditions were good for us. We saw 30 knots at times going down the Solent. It was lively - very shifty and gusty, making driving conditions tricky. We even reefed halfway down to the first turning mark at The Needles, which we rarely do. Plus, there was an amazing contrast in the weather, stormy and wet this morning, but champagne sailing from St Catherine's onwards, with winds in the high teens or low 20s."

They rounded the south side of the Isle of Wight glued to the shore to avoid the foul tide, but were in constant contact with their competitors. "It was great fun, very, very tight racing," continued Fishwick. "Ourselves, Shaitan and J-LANCE were within boat lengths of each other for miles and miles. They were pulling match racing-type maneuvers on us..."

A man who has raced around the island more than most is David Bedford, this week calling the shots on Shaitan. "It was a great day out. It always is. We saw 30 knots up the first beat," Bedford mused. Interestingly while Bedford was British National Match Racing champion back in 1989, Redshift Reloaded's Nick Cherry held this same title four times between 2006 and 2011.

Bedford said they stuck to their playbook, heading for mainland shore in the western Solent, then choosing the right time to return to the island side. They had nailed this and crossing a visible tide line put them into favorable tide. Like their competition, they then hugged the south side of the island.

Two more days of sailing!  The French on the J/112E J-LANCE 12 will have to wait patiently to see if their favorite Veuve Clicquot Champagne can start flowing sooner than later!  For more IRC European Championship sailing information Add to Flipboard Magazine.