IRC Nationals first timer takes top prize

IRC Nationals

The Royal Ocean Racing Club's 2019 IRC National Championship has been won out of the blue by a first timer not from the Solent. The 22 boat IRC Two fleet was led from the outset by Stuart Sawyer's J/122 Black Dog, rounding off the series today with a final bullet to win ultimately by 15 points from the Blair family's King 40 Cobra.

Today was the third in this three day event where the race committees ventured out into the Solent uncertain of whether they would get racing in. Today it was grey, with sub-10 knot winds and drizzle, and yet two windward-leewards were held on the Hill Head plateau enabling PROs Stuart Childerley and Steve Cole to compete the full schedule on their respective courses.

While the form was firming up in most classes, oddly the opening race saw a new winner in every class, partly caused by a significant shift on the final run. In IRC 1, it was the turn of French owner Dominique Tian on the Ker 46 Tonnerre de Glen to prevail, while in IRC 2 it was Performance 40 season leader Christopher Daniel's J/122E Juno. The IRC 3 (and HP30) bullet went to Malcolm Wootton's modified Farr 30 Pegasus while Jubilee and Whooper were both upstaged in both today's races by the Southworth's Quarter Tonner Protis. Even in the FAST40+ class Tony Dickin's newly acquired Carkeek 40 Mk3 Jubilee managed to break the unbroken string of bullets of Peter Morton's Girls on Film.

Nonetheless, after the mathematics were applied, Black Dog was determined to be the worthy recipient of this year's IRC National Championship title.

"We haven't sailed that much this year, so when we came up we said we'd be aiming for the top five and we'd be delighted by top three in our class. To win overall is incredible!" said Stuart Sawyer, his Black Dog also securing the Performance 40 prize. While the team has been sailing out of Falmouth on several boats for the last nine years, Sawyer admitted that they feel isolated racing in Cornwall. Previously they campaigned their J/111 around the Solent, but coming from Cornwall this proved too difficult so, according to Sawyer, he sold it and bought the J/122 "to take it easy. But then after we won Dartmouth Royal Regatta last year we thought we had to come here to see how we'd do..."

Compared to racing in Falmouth, there was more of a chop than a swell to deal with on the Solent but also the tides were far more complex. For the event the regular crew was assisted by North Sails' Shane Hughes plus a copy of the Winning Tides book. "And you are constantly having to change gears, but my crew has been amazing - I have never seen them hike harder," said Sawyer who also paid tribute to the late J/Boats dealer and Solent racing guru Paul Heys: "The one person who would have loved to have seen this is Paul. He would have bene so chuffed to see both a Cornish boat and a J Boat do this."

In IRC 1 all four boats won races, but ultimately it was Tony Langley's highly polished Gladiator crew, including the likes of Iain Percy and Jules Salter, that prevailed. Despite being a prolific TP52 owner, simultaneously campaigning three boats, this was Langley's first IRC Nationals. "I love it - it is nice to come home," he said. "It was good to have some boat-on-boat action with Tala this weekend. We knew we had a bit on because she is a bit faster. They sailed it well." The UK Gladiator was also Langley's first. "I have quite a soft spot for this boat. We have won the Round the Island and Cowes Week and St Tropez last year on her and now this."

The closest competition for Black Dog's overall IRC Nationals win came from David Franks' J/112e Leon. Her otherwise perfect scoreline was broken twice today, by Pegasus and then in race two by Bruce Huber's Xanadoo, one of two sisterships to Leon competing. "He got his boat this year to come on to give us some competition, but now he is starting to bite our neck," observed Franks, who was the IRC National Champion with his previous boat Strait Dealer in 2012.

One of the tightest battles occurred in IRC 4 where Nigel Goodhew's Sun Fast 3200 Cora and defending champion Giovanni Belgrano on Whooper both suffered disappointing days enabling the Southworth-powered Protis to leapfrog them into second overall. However winning overall by five points with a consistent 2-2 today was Christopher Preston's J/109 Jubilee.

"It was great fun," observed Preston. "We were very pessimistic about whether we'd all be racing at all today, but then the wind came in and the race committee got it going at the right time and we had two very nice, interesting races with the turn of the tide in the second which made it tactically interesting. It was a much better day than we had dared hope."

As to why Jubilee won, Preston attributed it to being "well prepared with a good crew who sail well together. It helps being at the top end of the rating bracket with a boat that is extremely good and a wide envelope to windward. We had consistently good starts and boat speed that enabled us to use our tactics, which was a big advantage." It was also possible that today's lighter breeze didn't suit Whooper.

Dominating the FAST40+ class was Peter Morton's Carkeek 40 Mk3 Girls on Film. "We had a pretty good weekend with seven firsts and a second," acknowledged boat captain Nick Butt, who reckons he has done most IRC Nationals since the event started. Owner Peter Morton was not on board today, and the only point they dropped was in today's first race. "We weren't where we wanted to be at the start," said Butt. "We went around the first mark second and it got really light on the second beat and the fleet compacted. Then coming down the run we got mixed up with all of the classes on the shorter course, so there was a lot of bad wind and we were all compacted again. So Jubilee got us by seven seconds."

The HP30 fleet raced in IRC 3 and was won, with the exact same scoreline as Girls on Film, by Locke family's Farr 280 Toucan. With the absence of his father Glyn this week, son Anthony was in charge together with brother Alex. "It was a great regatta," Anthony said. "We were really pleased with the organisation. It felt like we sailed well and we had great racing with all of the HP30 boats. Today was heavily challenging - very puffy and the pressure was up and down a bit. The race committee did a good job getting two races in because I didn't think it was going to happen." Generally of the three day event he said: "We had a bunch of situations where things went our way - which was great. The other boats were sailing really well and it was really great racing. It was fantastic HP30 racing." Toucan currently leads the HP30's 2019 championship.

Prizes were presented to the class winners this afternoon at the RORC Cowes clubhouse.

Full results can be found HERE: www.rorc.org/racing/race-results/2019-results

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    Eddy Lekens, Ice for his sailing friends, started sailing at the age of 9 and soon started racing with keelboats with his parents. He is the founder and owner of ClubRacer, one of Europe's most popular sailing websites. Eddy Lekens was in 2004 awarded for "best offshore sailor of The Netherlands" for his results with the Audi sailing team. His other passion away from sailing is being a omnichannel ecommerce consultant.

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