You can pay for new sails. You can pay for keel fairing and a good bottom job. You can pay a specialist to try and optimise your IRC rating. Any of the above will help you to get around the race track faster in a more successful manner. But none address the real issue - that boat speed gains, ultimately translating into performance on the race course, can come just as readily if you spend time not money. You can change the set-up and trim of your boat, and spend time on the water testing that while practicing to improve your crew’s skill-sets, boat handling and techniques. The fast track way to do this is by employing a coach – the reason why Olympic sailors and America’s Cup teams have them full time. However, competitors at the RORC Easter Challenge (Friday 19th-Sunday 21st April) - be they RORC members or not – can receive coaching for FREE from some top names.
This coaching is laid on by the Royal Ocean Racing Club to improve general sailing skills, and thus the tightness of the racing, both in its own fleets and more broadly. As a result it attracts crews from the continent too, notably this year the de Graaf family’s Baraka GP from the Netherlands and the Goubau’s First 47.7 Moana from Belgium.
Many crews use the event effectively to kick start their new season, to make both themselves and their boat race-ready after the winter break.
While the coaching may be FREE, it comes from some top names, notably ‘the guru’ Jim Saltonstall whose influence helped drive many of the top names in British yacht racing, like Ben Ainslie, Iain Percy and Chris Draper, on their way to their present success. Another integral part of the coaching effort is Eddie Warden Owen. He may spend more time in a suit these days as the RORC CEO, but he has been one of the UK’s top sailors and also has a long CV coaching, including America’s Cup teams such as Team New Zealand and Desafio Espanol. They are assisted by professional keelboat coach Mason King.
Once again North Sails is a partner of the RORC Easter Challenge and various sailmakers from the Gosport loft will be both helping with the on-the-water coaching, while others will be sailing on key boats in the fleet.
“For RORC Easter Challenge competitors, the coaching is optional,” says RORC Racing Manager Chris Stone. “You can just pitch up and treat it as a normal yacht race. Or you can ask the coaches to come over and look at something when you’re out on the water. But better still, before the event let us know if there is anything specific you’d like the coaches to look at.” This is could be seeing how well a change in trim is working or a new technique for manoeuvres, or checking new sails.
For those unfamiliar with the event, the coaching comes in two significant parts. On the water the event is almost unique in having RRS 41 ‘Outside Help’ relaxed. This permits coaches can climb on board to demonstrate something and/or crew can step off on to a coaching RIB to check trim… mid-race.
Post racing on the Friday and Saturday nights at the RORC’s Cowes Clubhouse, the coaching team will examine lessons learned during the day, backed up with video from the race course. New for 2019 is that due to the breadth of the fleet and the introduction of a doublehanded class, the debrief session for the whole group will be followed by sessions for smaller groups, with, for example, Nikki Curwen leading the one for doublehanders.
The coaching is geared up for the complete range of experience. For example the classic 1939 Laurent Giles sloop is skippered by Giovanni Belgrano, head of PURE Design & Engineering, one of the most respected marine structural engineering companies. As a two time IRC Nationals winner Whooper’s crew is one of the more experienced taking part.
"We will be going through the pain of trying to manoeuvre round the tight short courses to shake-off the rust, aiming to define our routines, and refine the settings to get up to pace for the season - always looking to improve. Coaching provides crucial feedback, and shared in an event is practical and efficient," explains Belgrano.
A repeat visitor is the J/109 Mojo Risin', campaigned by Rob Cotterill with a crew, largely from London Business School Sailing Club. The boat is heavily campaigned and she managed to finish 16th among almost 400 boats in last year’s RORC Season’s Points Championship.
“It is a great regatta,” says Cotterill of the RORC Easter Challenge. “We treat it like a mini Cowes Week and spend a lot of time on the debriefs, which are really useful. We’ll also be trying to get attention from the coaching boats. Last year they were able to compare how we were sailing against another J/109, Jubilee, looking at the trim differences, etc. which was really useful. We are all amateur sailors and this helps us to learn fast. The more help we can get, the better.”
As usual the RORC Easter Challenge will conclude with a prizegiving mid-afternoon on Easter Sunday, where chocolate eggs in extreme quantities will be given out among the prizes.