On the evening of the 10th September 2013 competitors gathered at the RORC London Clubhouse as it hosted the final race prizegiving of the season. Prizes and medallions were presented for the Rolex Fastnet Race as well as for the Cherbourg Race, the last race of the domestic season.
Whilst the Rolex Fastnet Race has a prizegiving at the end of the race, it is traditional to host the second London prizegiving for those who were unable to attend the first. To add a twist to the proceedings last night, the only trophies left to be presented were for both the first IRC yacht over the finish line and the last!
The final race of the RORC domestic season, the Cherbourg Race this year proved a tough and technical upwind battle for the fleet as, faced with squalls and spring tides, the competitors were kept firmly on their toes from start to finish.
Managing the big storm cells and the 30 degree lifts and headers associated with them was central to how boats performed. The wind would increase from 15 to 30 knots very quickly and many of the fleet were caught out with ragging sail as the squall passed through. Reflecting on the race, owner of Magnum III, Andrew Pearce, recounted that "...as each cell hit us the same thing happened, each one bringing with it stinging rain and thunder and lightning. At one stage I counted 6 different storm cells around us with lightning going on all around interspersed with the most incredibly clear starry skies."
Coping well with the conditions, Andrew and his crew on Magnum III were delighted to round off their excellent season with their first ever line honours, leading their main rival, Piet Vroon's Ker 46, Tonnerre de Breskens 3, over the finish line.
However across the board the British and Dutch boats were beaten on corrected time by the French. Fittingly, the race results were dominated by local entrants from Cherbourg with two class wins and strong results in IRC Overall. In particular was local favourite Bruno James whose Sunfast 3200, Le MC do de Cherbourg, was virtually the smallest boat in the fleet but nevertheless claimed 1st place in IRC Four as well as an excellent 2nd in IRC Overall, crossing the finish line among many of the IRC One and Two boats.
The Royal Ocean Racing Club's Cherbourg Race is the penultimate race of the RORC Season's Points Championship with next month's Rolex Middle Sea Race bringing the championship to a conclusion. The sprint from Cowes to Cherbourg will be the last race across the English Channel and for many competing yachts it will mark the end of the nine month series which started in February.
The overall winner of the RORC Season's Points Championship will have accumulated the most number of points over the season. Piet Vroon's Ker 46, Tonnerre de Breskens 3, is the current overall leader and is likely to win the Championship for the third time in four years. Edward Broadway's Ker 40, Hooligan VII, is in second place but only just ahead of Andrew Pearce's Ker 40, Magnum III, which closed the gap after scoring well in the Rolex Fastnet Race.
Competitors enjoyed a fitting finale to the Rolex Fastnet Race with the prizegiving for the world's largest offshore yacht race being held on Mountbatten Green.
With a backdrop of the Citadel and Plymouth Hoe, the setting where history has it that Sir Francis Drake first spied the Spanish Armada while playing a game of bowls, prizegiving attendees were treated to their own piece of Fastnet history. Almost completely unchoreographed, proceedings coincided with the arrival of the gaff pilot cutter, Jolie Brise, the winner of first ever Fastnet Race in 1925 and still the only boat to have won the race on three occasions.
Since 1977, Dauntsey's School in Wiltshire gained use of the boat and in 2003 finally acquired her. According to her skipper Toby Maris, Jolie Brise last competed in the Rolex Fastnet Race during the 1990s and prior to that not since prior to World War Two.
"We are making very good progress towards the things we want to achieve," Maris said en route to the Rock. "The students have been having a very good sail, we want to complete the race and finish ahead of Duet and we want to enjoy ourselves. It will be an iconic moment when we get around the Rock."
However the 50 tonne pilot cutter is some way from being a state of the art racing yacht. "It is like taking a soggy 50 tonne log upwind!" Maris jokes.
Jolie Brise's fly-by up the Cattewater, en route to the Rolex Fastnet Race hub at Plymouth Yacht Haven, was followed by a magnificent display by the Aerostars Aerobatic Display Team.
While the Rolex Fastnet Race's top prize is the Fastnet Challenge Cup and Rolex chronometer for the first of the 302 boats competing under IRC Rating, another significant battle will be between the most high profile monohulls and multihulls, gunning for line honours into Plymouth.
Leading the charge among this year's record breaking entry (currently standing at 350 in total) will be two of the world's fastest offshore racing monohulls, the maxis Esimit Europa 2 and Mike Slade's ICAP Leopard. Of these the European-flagged Esimit Europa 2 is the clear favourite: Both boats are fitted with canting keels and are 100ft long, but she is some 40% lighter than ICAP Leopard.
However Esimit Europa 2's skipper, German three time Olympic medallist Jochen Schümann, observes that the 100ft maxis don't have the greatest record on this course. Rambler 100 broke her keel and capsized just after rounding the Fastnet Rock in 2011 while, in her previous life as Neville Crichton's Alfa Romeo, Esimit Europa 2 was forced to pull out while leading the 2007 race.
"We are unbeatable unless we break the boat," admits Schümann, adding that Esimit Europa 2's ideal conditions are light to medium. "From 12-14 knots we are fully loaded and then we start reefing and slowing down the boat. In more wind than that the VO70s could be faster reaching or downwind than we are. In heavy breeze, it will be a really tough competition."
Schümann competed in the Rolex Fastnet Race during the 1990s aboard the ILC40 Aerosail and on the IMS50 Rubin XV. He is a big fan of the event: "350 boats - it is great. It shows what sailing can provide from racing to cruising, big boats to smaller boats. Only the very best boats and crews can win, but it is good to have such a strong competition in terms of numbers."
Organised by the Royal Ocean Racing Club, 86 yachts in the Channel Race experienced thunder, lightning and all manner of wind conditions, which produced a complex 100 mile race in The Solent and offshore along the south west coast of England. Local weather effects made even the most detailed weather forecast useless and those teams that reacted correctly to the fluctuating conditions were well rewarded. The course took the fleet east out of The Solent then west past St. Catherine's Point and onto Poole, followed by a reciprocal course downwind around the south side of the Isle of Wight with a finish off Gilkicker Point.
Pascal Loison's JPK 10.10, Night and Day, was the overall winner of the Channel Race. The French team have excelled winning class in their last three RORC races. However Pascal was not on board for the Channel Race, his son Alexis and Joel Ahrweiler were the crew. Sensationally Night and Day won the overall prize, IRC Three and the Two Handed Class.
"My father is a great teacher!" smiled Alexis. "It was a difficult race with many sail changes but the boat is very good in all wind angles and conditions and I think we sailed very well. Like me Joel is a Figaro sailor and we have sailed together for many years. For the Fastnet I will be sailing with 'le professor' (referring to his father) and the start date will be my 29th birthday, so I hope we can really celebrate when we arrive back in Plymouth."
The Course for the 2013 Channel Race has been published. In light of the present weather forecast, we have chosen a course at the lower end of the distance specified in the Notice of Race. Please find the course document including Amendment No 1 to the Sailing Instructions below:
Course: Cowes - Round Marks - Solent Finish 24-36 hrs
Start: 1000 Saturday 27 July 2013
90 yachts are expected to start in the Channel Race this coming weekend, the tenth race of the RORC Season's Points Championship and the last RORC race before next month's Rolex Fastnet Race. Weather conditions are predicted to change with an uncertain weather pattern and thunderstorms likely.
Racing in IRC Canting Keel is the IMOCA 60, Artemis, skippered by British Jules Verne winner and multiple solo round the world sailor, Brian Thompson. "The Channel Race is part of our build up to the Fastnet," commented Brian. "We will be fully crewed and part of the crew will be injured servicemen from the Toe in the Water charity, the Channel Race is a perfect opportunity for testing out the boat and the crew under race conditions and I am really looking forward to sailing in home waters. I love sailing with the Toe in the Water team, I consider it a very special experience and one that fills me with a lot of satisfaction."
Mike Slade's Farr 100, ICAP Leopard, took Line Honours and was later declared the overall winner of the RORC Cowes Dinard St Malo Race, lifting the prestigious King Edward VII Cup. "Absolutely marvellous!" beamed Mike Slade. "This year Leopard has set course records in the Transatlantic Race and Round the Island and won two races outright in IRC. We have been doing the St Malo race for 20 years, but we have never won this magnificent trophy before. Well done to all the Leopard team and thank you to the RORC for organising a great race."
Loic Fequet's Multi 50, Maitre Jacques, took Line Honours in the Multihull Division, claiming the Dinard Trophy for the second year in a row. "We had a great battle with Leopard. We were in sight of each other from the Solent to the finish, it was a difficult race with a lot of concentration required by the crew," commented Loic Fequet.
Whilst ICAP Leopard and Maitre Jaques managed to stay in the breeze, the rest of the fleet experienced super-light conditions with many yachts opting to retire. Those who persevered had strong tides to contend with and resorting to kedging was a common occurrence for the majority of the RORC fleet. Those that completed the course also had to persevere and maintain concentration through two nights at sea with little more than zephyrs of wind during those hours of darkness.