|Racing gets under way this Friday on the Solent for the cream of the British keelboat fleet at the Royal Ocean Racing Club's IRC Nationals.|
Since replacing the Channel Handicap System in 2000, IRC has been adopted around the globe to allow boats of differing sizes, ages, styles and speeds to compete equally. For example at the IRC Nationals, the rating rule will create a level playing field between the 53 boats entered ranging from the fastest, the Ker 46 Lady Mariposa, to the slowest, the two Quarter Tonners. In between it must cope with planing machines such as the eight FAST40s or Jamie Rankin's Farr 280, Pandemonium, to the Quarter and Half Tonners originally designed to the IOR rule to Giovanni Belgrano's 1939 Laurent Giles classic, Whooper.
Perhaps indicative of a new trend in size, three 46 footers are competing. In addition to Lady Mariposa is Colin Campbell's Azuree 46 Eclectic, theoretically slowest of the trio. In between is the Marc Lombard-designed Pata Negra, chartered for the summer by the Dutch de Graaf family, who previously campaigned the Ker 40, Baraka GP.
"We sold the Ker in 2015 after the Fastnet," explains de Graaf son, Dirk. "This year my father really wanted to sail the Fastnet again, but his health isn't the best, so we were looking for a performance boat with a little more comfort..." Pata Negra fitted the bill. To date they have only sailed the Myth of Malham, which went well until they were becalmed off Torquay.
|The Dutch de Graaf family will compete in the RORC IRC Nationals in their chartered Marc Lombard-designed |
Pata Negra, seen here at the start of the RORC Transatlantic Race © James Mitchell
While most of their crew sailed on Baraka GP, including father Harmen de Graaf and his three sons, this season the crew is more international and includes three women. Dirk de Graaf admits that this, their fourth IRC Nationals, will be an opportunity to familiarise themselves with their new steed. They make the trip from Holland, Dirk explains, because "in the UK the competition is very high, but we also like the British sportsmanship. Us Dutchies, we like shouting! The British way is more polite."
In IRC One they will also face their old foe, Andy Williams' Ker 40 Keronimo, and Tor McLaren's MAT 1180, Gallivanter. There will also be a trio of J/111s, Simon Bamford's Kestrel, Paul Griffiths' Jagerbomb and Cornel Riklin's Jitterbug.
A favourite for this year's title is former RORC Commodore Mike Greville and his trusty Ker 39, Erivale, having come so close to winning last year. "The IRC Nationals attracts a very high quality fleet - it is really the best event for IRC in the Solent and shows the rule at its best, with very tight racing amongst similar-sized boats," explains Greville. "We had a great time at Easter racing the 'slow 40s' - Erivale, Cobra, Nifty and Zero - closely matched with three points of rating between us. I am expecting that again."
|A close winner in the 2016 IRC Nationals, Mike Greville's Ker 39, Erivale will be competing in the 2017 championship starting on Friday in Cowes © http://www.rick-tomlinson.com/|
Among the eight FAST 40+s all eyes will be on the latest generation Carkeek design, Girls on Film of 2016 class winner Peter Morton. With a modified cockpit layout compared to her predecessor (now Bastiaan Voogd's Hitchhiker), the IRC Nationals will be her first competitive outing having freshly arrived from her builder in Dubai.
IRC Two will see a dust up between five First 40s, including La Réponse of RORC Admiral Andrew McIrvine, who memorably scored three straight bullets on the final day of the IRC Nationals. On that occasion he was beaten to the class win by Adam Gosling's JPK 1080+ Yes!, ultimately crowned joint IRC National Champion. Yes! will return to defend her title but some experienced competition from further afield will be making their way to the Solent to challenge for this open championship. Probably travelling furthest is Rod Stuart and Bill Ram's Corby 37, Aurora coming down from Scotland, then Frans and Carla Rodenburg's First 40 Elke from the Netherlands, and Gabriel Krier's A35, Amaris 2 making the trip from Belgium.
|RORC Admiral, Andrew McIrvine's First 40, La Réponse © Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com|
Alongside Quarter Tonners, Berry Aarts' Wings and Tom Hill's Belinda, Phil Plumtree's Half Tonner, Swuzzlebubble, and Whooper, one of the lowest rated is the Poole-based MG 346, MS Amlin Enigma of Ian Braham. "The racing is as good as it gets," Braham says as to why he's competing. "If it is like the Easter Challenge, it will have good start lines, more windward-leewards and other course configurations - it is pure racing."
|One of the lowest rated boats in the RORC IRC Nationals is Ian Braham's MG 346, MS Amlin Enigma |
© Paul Wyeth/pwpictures.com
Braham says that having campaigned his 1992 vintage yacht for the last 13 years, he is used to being at the bottom of the rating band. "The normal thinking is that if you are slowest boat it is very difficult to find a lane, because even if you get a good start everyone will come over you up the first beat. But it depends on the distribution of boats."
Racing at the RORC IRC Nationals takes place over 23-25th June with a first warning signal each day at 1050 BST.
Further information: http://www.rorc.org/