World Sailing's landmark decision to select a Mixed Two Person Offshore Keelboat event for the 2024 Olympics and the recent announcement to hold an Offshore World Championship for mixed double-handed sailing in October 2020 has encouraged the RYA and Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) to combine their efforts to develop double-handed offshore sailing in the UK.
Double-handed entries for RORC's iconic Rolex Fastnet Race have increased from 36 boats in 2017 to over 90 entries in 2019, with 63 of those entries racing under IRC rating system, demonstrating a strong desire by people to sail double-handed offshore.
Initial indications from World Sailing is that for the Olympics they will not be selecting one particular class of boat until late in the Olympic cycle and that the intention is to focus on the discipline rather than the equipment. The RORC's Season Points Championship provides the perfect playground to develop the skills required to sail double-handed in existing boats of approximately 10m LOA. All of the RORC races have double-handed divisions and an overall series prize in addition to the IRC Two-Handed National Championship in September which consists of the Cherbourg Race one weekend followed by a weekend of inshore racing. There will also be awards for the top mixed double-handed team to encourage mixed entries.
RYA Director of Racing and former Volvo Ocean Race skipper Ian Walker is excited at the prospect.
"We do not yet know the exact format or equipment for Paris 2024 but that doesn't mean we cannot get afloat and start improving our double handed offshore skills," said Walker. "I hope that this will create an opportunity for some younger sailors to team up with boat owners or to represent their clubs and we will be watching these events and seeing what talent is out there. Britain boasts some exceptional offshore sailors, both men and women, competing at the highest level, but we are kidding ourselves if we think we are even close to the depth of the French offshore shorthanded sailing scene."
RORC CEO Eddie Warden Owen is also very keen to see double-handed sailing grow within their existing events:
"The RORC's Season Points Championships has seen consistent growth in double-handed sailing and we have prizes for both open and mixed double-handed teams. This year we have included a double-handed division in our 'coaching whilst racing' RORC Easter Challenge which, with the RYA's support, we will be providing specific double-handed coaching and advice from Nikki Curwen."
The RYA currently support keelboat activity through support of the British Keelboat League in addition to the National Match Racing Series and the British Keelboat Academy. Keelboat Manager, Jack Fenwick is looking into how to further support double-handed offshore sailing in the UK:
"The first World Sailing Offshore World Championship is going to be held in 2020. I am sure there will be tough competition between nations to qualify for this event and just as tough a battle to represent Great Britain. We will be keeping a close eye on those British sailors participating in the RORC Two-Handed series as well as any British teams competing in overseas events. Our first priority is to see how we can support anyone looking to get into double-handed sailing with some coaching clinics."