An outstanding long weekend of yacht racing, where the full program was sailed under brilliant sunshine in 10-20+ knot winds and a mix of tidal states on one of the world’s most challenging stretches of water – the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s 2022 IRC National Championship was a resounding success.
On the Solent, the fleet was divided into three classes with the fastest in IRC One being the Ker 46 Van Uden, skippered by Volvo Ocean Race veteran Gerd-Jan Poortman, while lowest rated in IRC Three was Kevin Downer's modified Fun 23 Ziggy. All were in with a chance as witnessed in today’s marginally lighter 10-15 knots conditions. Van Uden won a race in IRC One, while at the opposite end of the fleet, the teenage Greig City Academy crew on the Quarter Tonner Cote, the second slowest boat in the fleet, impressed everyone by scoring their first race win of the series against substantially more experienced competition. There could not have been a better advertisement how a diverse fleet is turned into level playing by IRC, the RORC-UNCL run rating rule.
Oddly this year, each of the three classes individually had a stand-out winner, but ultimately it went to the wire for the overall prize. Niklas Zennström’s FAST40+ Rán nearly lost it when she posted a third in today’s first race, the only blemish on her otherwise perfect scoreline. However in IRC Three, Rán’s rival for the overall title, Adam Gosling’s JPK 10.80 Yes! scored a fourth in this same race. In the longer round the cans racing that concluded the event, both scored bullets. The calculation then used to determine the overall IRC National Championship winner resolved with the 2022 IRC National Championship title going to Rán by the tiniest amount – 0.005 of a point – from Yes!
“It is fantastic!” commented Zennström. “We’ve won our class before [at this event] but never overall. We had an amazing weekend so we are very pleased. It was fantastic sailing with good wind and good weather and also really good race management – we have nothing to complain about at all.” The Skype founder was also enthusiastic about the new Grand Prix Zero class that encompassed all of the entrants competing in IRC One. “It has been really cool to have the other boats - the 43 and 46, etc - mixing it up. It works very well – with a few more boats, you get a critical mass on the start line.”
Rán ended the regatta nine points clear of Ian Atkins’ second placed GP42 Dark N Stormy, in turn seven ahead of the Dutch young team on Van Uden. While the Rán team has competed at the highest level in the Maxi 72s, TP52s and FAST40+, with old hands including Zennström, Tim Powell, Steve Hayles and Justin Slattery on board, it is otherwise a mix of young up-and-coming male and female sailing talent.
For example 30-year-old British Match Racing Champion Mark Lees calls tactics. “The boat is very good, but the team is the best I have been involved with. Niklas and Catherine [Zennström] have been fantastic supporting young sailors and female sailors. The old guard are brilliant - they have sailed together for years and are super experienced. They have been fantastic with us. We race hard, but there is a very good culture on board. I learn every day.”
In IRC Two, the Cape 31 majority prevailed, claiming the top four spots but with John Cooper’s Fanatic winning by 12 points from Tony Dickin’s Jubilee, in turn five ahead of Lance Adams’ Katabatic.
“This is our first race win, so I am more than chuffed,” said Cooper, who raced the IRC Nationals last year on his J/112e. “We’ve found in the Cape 31s that crew training is critical as the big losses are from making bad manoeuvres. Here we’ve had no pace issues. We had some fantastically tight mark roundings, but everyone got away cleanly. The Capes have been doing nicely under IRC. We are not so strong upwind but we win on the downwinds, so it balances itself out.”
Fanatic also has a fine crew including Class40 sailor Jack Trigger and brain box Tom Cheney, one of the architects behind the success of Tom Kneen’s 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race and RORC Season’s Points Championship winner Sunrise.
“It was good to be in the mix more and find some consistency, so we are very pleased,” said Cheney, a software engineer for Ben Ainslie’s INEOS Britannia America’s Cup challenge. “It was a busy race track and IRC Two in particular is hard because there is real mix of boats from fast planning 31 footers to the heavier displacement, symmetric 40s. In the medium breeze, when they are poled back and going straight to the leeward mark, we can’t touch them and it makes our strategy downwind hard, but it demonstrates how good the IRC rule is, with such different boats racing against each other and everyone able to have a good result.”
Former RORC Commodore and Admiral Andrew McIrvine’s Ker 39 La Réponse squeezed into fifth place in IRC Two, winning on countback from the Blair family’s King 40 Cobra.
Adam Gosling and the crew of JPK 1080 Yes! won IRC Three by seven points from John Smart's J/109 Jukebox, in turn four in front of James Chalmers' J/112e Happy Daize. Having lost the overall title (which Gosling previous jointly won on this same boat in 2016), they were gracious in defeat: “Rán sailed a really great regatta and they completely deserved to win,” said Gosling. “You only have to watch how they sail the boat. It is a master class….” As to his Yes! team’s performance he added: “It is the first time we have been back on a sail boat since Cowes Week last year. We were supposed to have done some training weekends but the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations won out instead! Given how many different boats won different races the IRC rule is working pretty well. And the fact that the Cape 31s can race competitively – when did we last have a one design class that is competitive under IRC?”
Next up is the IRC European Championship taking place in Breskens, the Netherlands, over 25-28 August.