A strong line-up, ranging from TP52s, FAST40+s and Performance 40s, down to nimble HP30s and the cruiser-racers majority will take to the Solent this Friday for three days of intense competition at the Royal Ocean Racing Club's IRC National Championship. The event returns after a year's hiatus when the RORC hosted the IRC European Championship in the Solent.
Leading the charge around the race track this weekend in the four boat IRC 1 class will be the match racing 52s - Tony Langley's Gladiator and a boat new to the Solent this season. David Collins acquired the Botin IRC 52 Tala just prior to this year's RORC Caribbean 600. Formerly Interlodge/Steve Benjamin's Spookie, the boat is engineered to race offshore and was bought to do this, but can be remodelled for inshore racing. "We thought it would be fun to race Gladiator and partly to race the boat inshore," Collins explains of his participation this weekend.
As to how well Tala will do against the experienced Gladiator, Collins is realistic: "I would imagine they are more polished than we are. We're focussing on keeping the boat upright and getting round corners. I don't expect it to be anything other than challenge." However he is delighted with the boat. "It is lovely to sail. Having sailed boats before that are always compromised, to sail one that isn't is wonderful." Around half of the crew will be pro including tacticians Brett Aarons and Paul Wilcox.
Following IRC 1 are FAST40+ for whom this will be the third event of their 2019 championship. Six examples are competing with the form boat likely to be Peter Morton's Carkeek 40 Mk3 Girls on Film.
The most competitive class this weekend has to be IRC 2. At the top of the class will be a match race between Tor McLaren's Gallivanter and her MAT1180 sistership Leeloo of Dutchman Harold Vermeulen. Vermeulen raced at Cowes Week on his previous 48ft cruiser racer but this will be his first IRC Nationals and also his first time back on the Solent since acquiring a race boat. "I love sailing there. Also the opportunities for racing other performance-orientated boats in Holland is limited," says Vermeulen.
Competing in IRC 2, Tor McLaren's MAT1180 Gallivanter
The remainder of IRC 2 brings together the substantial Performance 40 class. The P40 class is open to boats with a TCC of 1.075-1.150 (plus 11.15m-14.1m length, 125-205 DLR and 2.7m max draft). The P40 class this year comprises of 17 boats and the IRC Nationals is the third event in their 2019 championship, where Christopher Daniel's J/122E Juno leads having won the first two events.
Daniel has owned Juno for the last four years and competed in last year's IRC Europeans. Their performance in that event, he admits, was disappointing, but they are turning this around now. "We have spent a lot of time over the winter training and refining processes on the boat and just developing it which is what is paying dividends now," Daniel explains.
While the King 40s - Roger Bowden's Nifty and the Blair family's Cobra - are also regular Performance 40 podium placers, Juno showed both a clean pair of heels at the Vice Admiral's Cup. Despite that Daniel warns: "It is very tight and competitive, so you take absolutely nothing for granted. IRC 2 will be a tough fleet: There is a good contingent of Performance 40s, all of which I treat with the utmost respect, then we have the likes of Fargo - a great boat - and Elke from Holland, which did well in the IRC Europeans last year and Moana, the 47.7 - she is a well-sailed boat too."
Juno is crewed purely by amateurs, largely friends and family, mostly under the age of 25, including three women. This weekend she will also face a match race as another J/122, Stuart Sawyer's Black Dog, is making the trip up from Falmouth to compete.
If the stars align as they did two years ago when Giovanni Belgrano's 1939 Laurent Giles sloop Whooper became IRC National Champion, then a low-rated boat might claim this weekend's IRC title. The very lowest rated this year is the Hustler 32 half tonner Hullabaloo XV, which owner David Evans has brought down especially from her base at Walton-on-the-Naze.
Built 41 years ago and owned by Evans for the last 21, Hullabaloo is one of a long series of boats of this size Evans has owned since the early 1970s. Over the years he has won most of the silverware available on the East coast and Hullabaloo XV is a regular competitor at the Classic Half Ton Cup. "We won the IRC East Coast Championship a few years ago, but there is a big difference in boats between the south coast and the east coast and as much as anything else I wanted to find out whether the IRC rule really does work. And to do something a bit different," he says of why he is competing.
Racing Hullabaloo XV will be a family affair, Evans joined by his brother George and sons Edward and Nicholas. As to the two light days forecast, David says he is not worried: "We don't mind it when it's light, so long as there is a bit of wind. She is quite heavy for a half tonner so once she gets some way on, she doesn't lose it and will carry you through light patches. Short tacking along the shore in light weather, it's not great. But in 30 knots upwind in a stiff breeze under full main and no3, she is phenomenal."