In the wake of the Commodores' Cup, competitors and race officials air their views 19/7/06

To recap: Although the Irish had consistent results at the top of the fleet from day one and were leading overall team going into the final race (the offshore), it was the French – the eventual overall winners – who had quietly but confidently notched up the best overall inshore series team results.

So, with one race remaining – the overnight offshore race – the stage was set for some close, exciting racing particularly between the French and Irish. But when the wind dropped some felt that the RORC’s decision to stick to their original plan – to finish the final race between 24-36 hours regardless of the light conditions – was ludicrous. Others, including the race officer himself believe the decision to ‘stick to their guns’ was in the fleet’s best interest.

To kick off proceedings we caught up with the mild-mannered Irish skipperColm Barringtonfrom Magic Glove, the Ker 50 from Ireland Orange team. Although Barrington says he doesn’t feel too aggrieved about his boat not winning because he admitted he didn’t actually deserve to win this time, he felt sorry for Ireland Green team who sailed better but who lost out when the wind totally failed.

“What I heard was they [race team] were unhappy that the race wasn’t going to take 24-hours and they wanted a race to last 24 hours even though they’d already set us a 184-mile course. The fact that we were going to do it in less time made them unhappy and they actually felt we had to go a bit further, even though the wind was dying and there was absolutely no wind in Poole?

“?This was not an offshore race. What they did was they sent us around the Isle of Wight, down west and then had us do ups and downs in Christchurch Bay just like a club race?

“?So basically at the end of the day we had to go back to the finish at Poole where they shortened the course, give them their due, because the wind was now totally gone. It took an hour to do the last mile. We then went over 24 hours, about an hour over. Then we had a two and a half hour motor back to Cowes and didn’t get in until midnight.

“?The key to the error was lengthening the course and having a mark right under the headland where there was absolutely no wind. Instead of changing the course to get us away from there they put us back in there again and put the finish there which is crazy? That’s their prerogative but I’m certainly not going to waste my time turning up to a regatta that’s like that in the future. It was change of course but it was effectively lengthening it because they put out a big leg out to sea.

“If they don’t change the way the offshore is run and don’t improve some of the management I’m not going to waste my time. If I want to enter a lottery I’ll buy a lotto ticket.”

Chatting about the logic behind the courses change race officerJamie Wilkinsonsaid: “We always intended to do that right from the beginning we send the different classes on various legs and then we come to a common mark where we log them. From then on all the classes sail the same course. At the next mark we changed the course which was how we reestablished control of the race; something we do every time and we know how to do it, it’s the science of race management.”

Earlier finish?”It wasn’t within our target time, there was no obvious need to? It [the wind] never disappeared, except for the depths of Poole Bay, which was where we expected it to. The boats that actually headed back in there on that final run back to Poole Bar died. Those that went out to sea looking for the gradient and breeze offshore were the boats that gained? If it had been dramatically shortened then of course, in theory, other teams might have objected.

“? So when we published the initial course, we never actually intended for them to do exactly that, we intended them to do that until we’d established control. When we’d established control, then we signalled the change. Would there be further changes? Yes there would have been but because we looked at the weather and we thought they’d done enough reaching and running.

“?At one point we actually had the entire fleet, from front to back, on that leg from Poole Bar No 1 to Rolex. Which we were actually quite pleased with. We didn’t have any of the fleet sailing in different weather conditions; they were all actually on one 12-mile leg. So what we then did was contemplated finishing it at Rolex but there was no point in doing so, so we shortened the race duration. It wasn’t easy for them, it was light weather, but they were getting there and making progress. It dropped down to 4kts back up to 12kts, and so they all duly got round Rolex, it wasn’t a tidal gate, then they came back down and we duly finished them.”

ButPeter Mortonfrom the Irish White team described a different scenario:
“There were some pretty big blunders in both the short offshore and the long offshore which they [race team] simply just do not accept, even today.

And the blunders?”For example in the short offshore race they lengthened the race which is fine, they have the right to lengthen the race but the fact was they lengthened it and then brought us back into the Solent so that the finish was halfway up towards Portsmouth and Southampton against a foul tide. Now, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work out the problem, and it was over a tidal change.

“So, what happened was the big boats got in with the tide or no tide but the little boats got in a full-on nose bleed, so the result did not reflect sailing ability at all, right up until the last hour of the race when the big boats got home, the little boats didn’t. You look at the results, the big boats win and the little boats lose. That’s not a fair race, it’s unnecessary.

“?The long offshore was frankly a no brainer. The gradient was for a light, easterly breeze 10kts dropping to 5kts from the east, well, I’m afraid an O’level geography student would know that in a light easterly gradient you do not go into Christchurch Bay, it’s in the lee of the Isle of Wight, it’s a total no-no.

How was the racing up to that point?
“The whole offshore race, up until then, until we got into Christchurch Bay, had been a reasonable race but was completely turned upside down.
“This is not an issue about the French relying on God ¬- to quote their words – and the Irish moaning or thinking there was a conspiracy going on, it’s not about that. It’s about the RORC refusing to change. They’ve destroyed the Admiral’s Cup which was the second biggest trophy in yachting, and they are well down the way of destroying this one unless they make some radical changes.

So what do you suggest?
“What I suggest is that they sit down and instead of doing internal enquiry and phoning up their core of friends they actually get a group of professionals together, in the industry, the leading current owners, professional sailors, and listen to these people – the new generation -and ask them what they want. Clearly what they want is a more flexible approach to the racing. No one is saying there shouldn’t be offshore races.”

How do you think the scoring could be improved in the offshore race?
What they need to do, and what I suggested a few years ago, and what everyone else in the world has done, including the VOR, is introduce gates in an offshore race. If you want to make an offshore race a high scoring race, that’s fine because that’s what the RORC is about. I don’t have a problem with high-scoring offshore races but it’s very simple, is being done everywhere else in the world.

“? If you had a scoring gate, for example one-third of the way round, another two thirds of the way round and a third at the finish and then cumulative points you wouldn’t have had that situation develop because clearly the boats that were leading the race all the way through, bar the last four miles, was a completely different set of boats that won the race. For example I was on an Irish boat and we were either first or second both on the water and on corrected time, we ended up second last.

“?I’ve lost more events than I’ve won, I’ve lost eight Admiral’s Cups and won one and lost half a dozen Commodores’ Cups and won two so I’m not bitching about losing the event. But at least if they did have some sort of a gate system it would prevent a crap out. No race officer can predict a crap out, but they should have predicted that it would have stayed east of the Isle of Wight, there we would have had breeze all night and that is borne by the fact that you look at all the weather reporting stations there was breeze east of the Isle of Wight all night and all day. That was just a classic cock up.”

David Aisher- Commodore of RORC says that they were pleased with the event but as always there will be a wash up meeting where they will look at what is available, what people want and what they feel will make the event attractive.

Commenting on this year’s event and future changes Aisher said: “I think the event went very well, I think they had good sailing, I think there are elements of it that we will always look at, we always have a wash-up meeting and we always seek the views of the people who are planning on doing the next event. That respect one could say there could be change but until we’ve had a chance to discuss it with everyone we don’t know what changes there might be.

“We’ll talk to all the people who want to come and play, all the different options available to us. We obviously want the event to be a big success, we’re always looking to make it more attractive for people to come and play.”

Sticking to their format seemed to be key objective with definitely no flexibility in change of offshore race format this year. Aisher added: “If the wind had built and we ended up with 40kts blowing at the end of the offshore race would we have stopped it? No. Would we have shortened it? No. Would we have lengthened it? No. We were trying to get at least 24-36 hours racing which is what everyone signed up for. And we did exactly that. The fact that the wind died, some people can sail well offshore, some people are not so practiced at it. The French have always been a brilliant offshore team.

“The race committee did exactly what they had said they’d do when people signed up for the event which was to give them an offshore event between 24-36 hours. They did that and did it very well. If they’d shortened it to below 24-hours I bet you anything if the Irish had lost then, they probably would have posted a protested saying “Oi, you didn’t do what you said. If we’d had another four hours on the racecourse I’m sure we’d have won it. You’re dammed if you do and dammed if you don’t.”

Not surprisingly an elatedGery Trentesaufrom the winning French team concluded: “I think it was very good management, very well organised. We were very impressed by the three Irish teams they were good boats, good crew and good organisation.”