Exceptionally close racing at the RORC Vice Admiral's Cup day 1
A stunning opening day delivered three fast-paced and testing races for every class. After a short wait for the wind to fill in, it quickly built to a solid west-southwesterly of 12-14 knots. The breeze then rose further, with gusts into the mid 20s, accompanied by plenty of excitement as downwind boat speeds topped 20 knots for some.
The smaller boats in the HP30 and Quarter Ton classes enjoyed some of the tightest racing of the day, with every second lost liable to cost a place. Windward legs of a little over one mile gave total race times of around 50 minutes after two hectic laps.
Jamie Rankin's Farr 280 Pandemonium was well placed at the pin at the start of the HP30's opening race, while Chris Townsend and Colin Powell's Gweilo were at the committee boat end with pace. The fleet split evenly up the first beat, though the Farr 280s initially staying together on the left hand side of the course.
At the end of the first lap Pandemonium was well ahead of Sture Wikman's MC31 Vitres, both of which turned right at the leeward gate, while Gweilo took the left hand mark. The fleet again split up the next beat in sparkling sun.
On the final run, in a building breeze, the leaders enjoyed the closest finish imaginable. The fleet stayed hard right before gybing for the layline. Pandemonium judged a perfect line to the finish mark, but had forgotten the requirement to pass through the leeward gate first. The resulting double gybe proved expensive, leaving two boats: Jerry Hill / Richard Faulkner's Moral Compass and Gweilo to reach in fast to the line after the gate and finishing simultaneously, followed by Pandemonium five seconds later.
However, the latter has a lower rating, while Gweilo is the highest-rated of the trio. After IRC time correction, Moral Compass and Pandemonium were joint first, six seconds ahead of Gweilo. Moral Compass won the next race, with a three second advantage ahead of Gweilo.
By the third race the wind was building considerably, resulting in a growing number of retirements and plenty of broaches. But the top three boats continued to assert their dominance in this fleet. Another win for Moral Compass cemented her place at the top of the leaderboard, 3.5 points ahead of Gweilo, with Pandemonium third overall 2.5 points further back.
Sam Laidlaw's BLT stamped his authority on the Quarter Ton Class, winning all three races. However, the headline result belies the exceptionally close racing this afternoon. In the first race, after IRC time correction, places two to four were determined by only six seconds and places five to eight by 32 seconds. The following two races were almost as close.
"We had three very good races today, with Julian and Louise pushing us very hard," says Brett Aarons, BLT's tactician and mainsheet trimmer. "These boats are so evenly matched and the calibre of sailing is so high that you can't afford any mistakes and have to work for every second."
The big boats at this year's Vice Admiral's Cup are racing in the newly-formed Grand Prix Zero class. These also enjoyed tight, action-packed racing, although as the wind built during the afternoon the less well practiced teams started to struggle.
Niklas Zennström's Carkeek 40 Ràn won all three races, but in the first two, Ian Atkins' newly-acquired GP 42 Dark N Stormy was less than 60 seconds behind at the finish after IRC time correction.
However, the longer round-the-cans third race was a different matter. This had seven legs, giving a mix of up and downwind legs, plus reaches at different wind angles designed to give these boats opportunities to use the variety of reaching and running sails they carry.
"It was full on," says Atkins. "At the end of the day we had 23 knots with wind over tide. It's the first time we've raced this boat in [big] conditions and we're racing against the best. The boat loads up very quickly, so you have to be very organised and unfortunately, we blew up our heavy kite, so had to use a Code 0 in the last race.
"In the second race we came hooning in to the finish at 20 knots. When the committee boat is only 50 metres from the buoy it gets the heart rate going and is great racing."
The rapidly growing Cape 31 fleet is the largest at the Vice Admiral's Cup, where today's weather provided exhilarating conditions and big smiles all round.
"Once the breeze built to 15-23 knots there was quite a bit of carnage, but good speeds and lots of fun," says Dave Bartholomew of Tokoloshe 4, which is leading the class after scoring 1, 2, 1 in the first three races. "Downwind in the second race we were doing 20-22 knots a lot of the time!"
It was only the second day on the water for Tony Dickin's Jubilee, yet he now holds second place, seven points adrift of Tokoloshe, but five ahead of Simon Perry's Jiraffe, in third overall. "I'm really pleased to have ended up with the results we have," says Dicken. "This is great fun high performance sailing, with big speeds and lots of challenges. It's nip and tuck all the time – make one mistake and you're three places back!"
Racing continues over the weekend, when the J/109 and J/111 fleets will also be joining the action.