by William Crockett
Tough, competitive, high-profile; these are all terms synonymous with the Volvo Ocean Race. It was fitting, then, that as the Volvo Ocean Race rolled into Cape Town, the IRC fleet headed out to hold their National championships in what would prove to be a tough, competitive and high-profile event.
Hosted by the V & A Marina in conjunction with the RCYC, the IRC Class hosted their nationals in a ‘first of its kind’ event for South Africa. The competing yachts were moored in the race village, where the Volvo 65s would have been, had they not been out of the water for maintenance. The boats were in full view of the general public – something truly spectacular to see, and something that no doubt raised the profile of our illustrious and glamorous sport.
A great welcoming function was held on the Sailors Terrace in the race village. This was well attended and saw many of the crews catching up with friends who had turned up to compete in what should prove to be the regatta of the year. Even the professional Volvo Sailors were interested in what this small class was doing.
23 entries across three classes; a J27 to a Reichel Pugh 53 footer; this was a fleet with a serious mix. The large number made fleet sensible fleet splits possible. Meaning the RP53 wasn’t competing against the J27, giving everyone a fair shot at victory in their division.
The IRC handicap system is the only ISAF recognised handicap system, and thus is the only system that can be used towards colours points. With some high-level names like Peter Holmberg, Mike Giles and David Rae, racing was sure to be fierce!
Friday saw a light westerly breeze blowing across the bay. After a short briefing at the Terrace, the fleet departed for a start scheduled for 11h00. Unfortunately the prevailing winds were rather light, meaning a postponement was inevitable. When racing did get underway, there was some understandable confusion from the fleets as to exactly how this race was going to work! Much radio chatter from various boats questioning how the race would be run eventually resolved the issues and the racing happened. The three fleets had separate starts. With the slower boats sailing slightly shorter course to try have all boats finish close to each other.
The second race was a rather tricky affair, with the westerly wind shifting all over the place, before a big hole was caused by the Southerly wind pushing down the course. The tacticians brains were taxed rather substantially, but eventually the southerly breeze won the battle and all boats managed to finish.
It was now late in the day and the Race Officer, Di Hutton-Squire decided it was time to head for the dock. Some of the boats needed to affect a few repairs, while others were racing home for the cold beer!
The evening’s entertainment was a Q and A session with Volvo Ocean Race CEO Knut Frostad. This was well attended and was also great from the view that Cape Town has committed to hosting two more stop overs in the coming years.
Saturday was scheduled to be the Medium Distance race. The Race Officer had a choice of four different courses, which would take the fleet to various parts of Table Bay. The course that was to be sailed totalled almost 45 miles in length, meaning a long day on the water for some of the smaller boats.
After a short delay, the race set off from the vicinity of Sunset Beach, with a tricky beat up to a mark off Clifton. This was where the navigators would need to work hard, as the tacticians were desperate to go as close to the shore as possible to take advantage of the wind bend. I know one or two navigators were really pushing the limits, but that is yacht racing.
Approaching the mark, a decision needed to be made as to when to break away from the shore and head out for the mark, about a mile off Barker Rock. The wind died down to zero knots, with Nitro and Cape Fling drifting towards the mark at a painfully slow speed. Cape Fling was just metres ahead of Nitro at the turning mark, but those metres turned into quite a few seconds as she tried to tack around the mark! All the while the rest of the fleet was sailing up to these two boats.
Eventually it would be Nitro who broke free, managing to power over Cape Fling and remain ahead of her for a few minutes before the wind became steady; the smaller boats still struggling up to the mark off Barker Rock. The race was wisely shortened to finish at the Robben Island mark, with the leaders finishing at about 15h00.
The results showed that it was exceptionally close across all three classes at the end of the day, meaning the final day’s racing was going to be fierce!
The forecast was for a stiff Southerly in the late afternoon, with light westerlies preceding it. The Race Office worked hard to get a short race off in the dying westerly, before the South Easter came through with a vengeance. Before we knew it, 30 knot was blowing across Table Bay. The course that was set was far too short, with the downwind leg totalling 4 minutes for the bigger boats!
It would thus come down to crew work, and, who could pull off a gybe in the breeze!
The award went to Cape Fling, who blasted along at 27 knots of boat speed.
Eventually, the spoils went to Vulcan, AL and Pants on Fire from Class 0, 1 and 2 respectively. There were very small points gaps between the positions, once again highlighting that, when administered correctly, IRC racing can be fair and competitive. There is not always one boat who runs away with it!
I heard many great comments about this regatta, and am seriously looking forward to the next nationals, hoping that the format and venue will remain the same!
Check out this album of pics by Trevor Wilkins and Ashleigh de Villiers: https://plus.google.com/photos/117086593120942909819/albums/6079316430944287537