Three bullets for Invictus on opening day
The RORC Easter Challenge, the Royal Ocean Racing Club's domestic season opener and coaching regatta, got off to an ideal start on the Solent today. Three races were held, the first of two windward-leewards off Lee-on-the Solent starting in a relatively benign 7 knot southwesterly. After gently easing the boats into the regatta, the breeze slowly built until it was gusting to 20+, which, combined with a lumpy wind-against-tide sea state, made for a challenging final round the cans race. This featured an America's Cup-style reaching start, eventually taking the 50 competing yachts back towards Cowes.
Star performer of the day was Sir Keith Mills' all-black Ker 40+ Invictus which scored three bullets in the five-strong FAST40+ class, racing within IRC One.
Sir Keith Mills came ashore buzzing: "It was lovely conditions - we got up to 16-17 knots downwind. It is always fun with a reaching start - some went for kites and we went for a Code Zero. 42° South overtook us right on the mark and we spent the race catching them up, which eventually we did. With these close races, and particularly in the FAST 40+ fleet, you can't afford to make a mistake because you get punished immediately. Crew handling is everything, but fortunately we have a great crew."
This is Mills' first event on Invictus since early last summer when he badly injured his arm leaving him unable to sail for the rest of the year. However he passed the tiller on to his son Alex, with whom he is sharing helming duties this season. Sailing the powerful Ker40+ is also becoming less daunting: "It is just like a big dinghy - it is very responsive and can be very tricky. When it's wind against tide you get knocked around a lot but it is great fun to sail."
Outside of the FAST40+ yachts, it was former RORC Commodore Mike Greville whose well-travelled Ker 39 Erivale III stood out, finishing the day four points clear of Roger Bowden's King 40 Nifty. Nifty is winning her match race with sistership Cobra by just a point, while behind them it is neck and neck between the two new Mark Mills-designed MAT 1180s, German Christian Zugel's Tschuss and Tor McLaren's brand new Gallivanter.
The biggest boat in the RORC Easter Challenge, the Ker 46 Lady Mariposa had a mixed day, winning the second race, but retiring from the final round the cans race.
Racing in IRC Two got off to a less than ideal start when Ian Smyth's 8 metre Miss U, didn't manage to live up to her name, severely T-boning Rob Bottomley's First 40 Sailplane during a pre-start port-starboard incident.
Top performer in IRC Two today was David Franks' Strait Dealer with a 2-1-2, leaving the Cowes-based JPK 10.10 leading by four points from Ed Fishwick's Sun Fast 3600 Redshift Reloaded, winner of today's first race.
"The more wind, the better we felt," said Franks. "It blew out the cobwebs a bit - we made a few crew errors but we weren't alone." Strait Dealer, a past IRC National Champion, is this year not only sailing in a new twin (rather than single) rudder configuration, but also with many new crew, although led, as ever, by Graeme Sunderland and again with several new recruits from the Cowes Etchells fleet, which Franks supports.
The most diverse group of boats is competing in IRC Three ranging from Sigma 38s to Harry J. Heijst's venerable S&S41 Winsome to the speedy modern J/70s and J/92s, but some of the best racing is between the five Quarter Tonners.
Today it was Aguila of past RORC Easter Challenge winner Sam Laidlaw that was not only top Quarter Tonner but leader of IRC Three after three races after winning today's final two races.
"It was great - fantastic sailing, we all had a good time," said Laidlaw. Aguila did especially well in the third race starting at the correct end of the line enabling her to fly a kite.
Louise Morton's past Coutts Quarter Ton Cup winner, Bullit, once against sailed by an all-female crew including 2013 Match Racing World Champion and Olympian Lucy Macgregor, suffered from an OCS in race one. However they were back on form for the subsequent races. Of the final race held in 20+ knots and lumpy seas, Morton said: "It was a bit lively - downwind in these boats is exciting, but getting the angles and gybing right and picking the waves - it's all really good for your sailing."
The day concluded with the vital debriefing at the RORC Cowes Clubhouse run by head coach Jim Saltonstall and the team from North Sails.