Falmouth turned on its full charm today, the final day of the 2015 J Class regatta – the only official J Class event this year.
And it was certainly a showdown Saturday. Lionheart and Velsheda both went into the day on level points and Ranger was out to defend her title from here in 2012.
It was a perfect sailing day, sunny, with a Force 4 blowing over flat water. Two windward-leeward courses were set, competed by three J Class yachts, sailed by around 100 crew, including some of the world’s most experienced racing sailors.
And boy did that show. At times it seemed more like international one-design racing rather than an exhibition of glamorous museum pieces.
The modern J Class fleet, including Falmouth competitors Lionheart, Ranger and Velsheda, is being continually tweaked and optimised. The result is faster line speeds and higher loads on the winches, making for quicker manoeuvres – and the action on the water is now divided by mere seconds. It comes down to who wins the start and who has the slickest, most consistent crew work.
Velsheda won the majority of starts in the regatta, and, having joined them today for the last two races, I can testify to how crisply the crew is getting the ‘old girl’ of this fleet around the track. The 1933 build underwent a big refit 18 months ago, but the potential of her optimisation had not been realised until this week.
Today was an adrenaline ride for all, whether racing or watching. Lying on the windward deck of Velsheda, I could feel the tension running through the crew during our first beat. The mix of British, Kiwi, American, and Dutch crew had gone from a jovial pre-race mood, to intently focussed – as we cross-tacked our two competitors within throwing distance.
It was Ranger that deservedly won the first race of two however. Having sailed with her yesterday, I can vouch for how hard her seasoned crew have worked to keep pace with the other two in the lighter breezes earlier in the week – Ranger is around 20 tonnes heavier than Velsheda and Lionheart.
And when Velsheda took second, she took a one-point lead going into the final race.
Talk about game-on! The Js circled each other like it was an America’s Cup final, frantically spinning and gybing around an area surrounded by spectator boats.
The crew of Ranger were fired up and soon forced both us, then Lionheart into a tack. It was looking like the regatta could be decided on who would win the battle to the top mark.
Hopes lifted aboard Velsheda when it looked like Ranger had pushed Lionheart below the optimal layline. But Lionheart, the slipperiest and newest competitor of the fleet, luffed higher and higher and slyly let her 180T carry her around the buoy.
We came steaming in behind Ranger to spin around the mark and head offwind. “Lionheart’s hit the mark!” screamed our foredeck crew. Our red flag was raised in protest, but instantly overruled by on-water judge Alfredo Ricci.
This ‘live umpiring’ has been both a trial and a proven success during this regatta. To avoid the potential hours spent in a protest room after racing is its prime benefit – and here. Ricci had judged that Lionheart’s spinnaker had not in fact touched the mark.
With Ranger now sandwiched between first-placed Lionheart and us, the regatta would go to the big black boat unless something dramatic happened.
At the bottom mark Ranger and Velsheda converged at speed on opposite gybes, Ranger smoking in on a hot angle. It proved too hot to handle in fact, and her crew couldn’t get her vast A-sail below decks before turning upwind.
Ranger’s kite quickly filled, giving her crew little choice but to jettison the vast white sail. On the foredeck of Velsheda we were frantically grappling in our own kite, when we ran straight over Ranger’s discarded one – which slowed us like a giant sea anchor.
A penalty turn was issued for Ranger (for failing to leave mark room), and on we sailed – but far too slowly to be able to catch Lionheart, sitting pretty in clean air up ahead. And when we got headed and Ranger lifted back to second, it was game over.
But what a game! As we came back to dock, it was evident that the excitement was universal. Lionheart has just come out of a refit at Pendennis Shipyard, and with half a dozen local crewmembers aboard, made for a welcome winner as she was applauded into dock.
Ranger meanwhile deservedly won a race, and Velsheda has proven she is back to winning form – and looking particularly quick in the heavier airs since her recent refit.
But the real winner was Falmouth. That the owners and crews wanted to return here just three years after the last event is unsurprising. It’s a sailor’s town and the town has been out in force to see these beautiful yachts perform. People camped out on Pendennis Point last night to get the best vantage point, and scores of yachts were out in support. The Royal Cornwall Yacht Club even managed to turn some pretty special conditions on for them.
It was a week that showcased the westcountry and UK sailing in its best light.
Videos and lots more pictures to follow
1 Lionheart 10pts, 1,(3),1,2,2,3,1
2 Velsheda 11pts (3), 1,3,1,1,2,3
3 Ranger 12pts 2,2,2(3),3,1,2