The Red Funnel Easter Challenge this weekend marks the start of a busy Solent summer of yachting

The RORC racing season kicks off on Friday 25 March with the Red Funnel Easter Challenge at Cowes, Isle of Wight, UK. This will be the 14th Edition of this popular event.

The regatta is the curtain raiser for an exciting year which includes the Admiral’s Cup and Rolex Fastnet. The Easter Challenge is also billed as a training regatta and top RYA instructors will be on hand with on-the-water tuition whilst racing and there will be video debriefs afterwards which will give more in-depth analysis.

The coaching team will be lead by Jim Saltonstall ably assisted by Mike Richards. Jim has coached virtually all of Britain’s Olympic sailors, Shirley Robertson OBE, Sarah Ayton, Sarah Webb, Ben Ainslie, Ado Stead, Ian Percy? the list goes on. “I would describe the Red Funnel Easter Challenge as the first real event of the year, it is the ideal way for new crews to come together and build a team, an opportunity to do a whole weekend’s training for the major events to come later in the season.” Said Jim Saltonstall.

Mike Broughton, the internationally known navigator will be racing on Murka; “This will be the first regatta for Murka, a brand-new Swan 45 and the first time Murka’s owner driver Misha Mouratov will have a taste of one-design racing, the crew came together earlier in the month and as a result of our training we have made some refinements to Murka and the crew have had the opportunity of working together as a team.”

Communications on Murka are never going to be easy as Mike Broughton explains; ” We are really looking forward to the Red Funnel Easter Challenge. An extra challenge for our crew is simply to call gybe set with six Russians, four Brits and an Iraqi on board! We often revert to hand signals to get the message over. But don’t get me wrong the Russians are very keen and warm hearted and great fun to sail with.”

Keith Miller’s Swan 45 Crackerjack will be competing with a very impressive line up of top professional sailors many from the GBR Challenge Americas Cup Team, including Paul Brotherton, Richard Sydenham and Nick Pearson.

Another Swan 45 competing is Fever, Stuart Miller runs the boat and will be trimming headsails for the regatta, he explains what Fever are aiming for this Easter; “Our goal on Fever for the Red Funnel regatta is to bed in a new crew, we will also be looking at rig settings and sail shape, in the hope of making some refinements for better boat speed, this is also the first event in the North European Swan 45 circuit and we understand that a very strong Crackerjack team owned by Keith Miller will be participating.”

Shaun Fröhlich’s IMX 45 Exabyte 3 had an outstanding 2004, winning some major trophies and Shaun is a huge fan of the Rolex Fastnet Race and is planning his race season around the Fastnet Rock this summer. “The Exabyte 3 team will use the Red Funnel regatta as a training exercise as last year. It is an ideal opportunity to get starting procedures tightened, manoeuvres perfected and a particularly good opportunity to work on boat speed with close proximity racing. We had a highly successful 2004 season, winning nine major bits of silverware including the Assuage Trophy; the team has high ambitions for this year and look forward to setting about their racing with renewed focus and determination.”

Three will also be three DK46 yachts at the Red Funnel Easter Challenge comprising Erivale (Mike Greville), Fidessa Fastwave (Chris Brown/Peter Harding), Shockwave (Nick Lutte) and coming over from Ireland will be Colm Barrington and his crew on Flying Glove, the Jason Ker designed 39 which was very impressive in last season’s Rolex Commodore’s Cup.

This year also sees the return of the majestic Farr 52 Team Tonic, which has been chartered for the event by The Irish Admiral’s Cup team as Ronan Grealish commented; “Our goal for the Red Funnel Easter Challenge is to get the crew together before the brand-new Transpac 52, Patches, is ready to sail. We will have limited sailing time on the TP 52 before the Admiral’s Cup so it is very important for us to have the full crew together for as much time as possible and Team Tonic, the Farr 52, is as close to the new boat we can get in the UK. The Red Funnel Easter Challenge will be very much a training weekend for us, we are not going there to go pot hunting, we see it more as an opportunity for the new crew to gel and fine tune manoeuvres.”

There is also an IRM class at the regatta with two Farr 40s entered, Nick Haigh’s Too Steamy and Creative Pay entered by H20 Yachting and several Farr 45s, Ian Sullivan driver of Audacious, Farr 45 spoke about the regatta with some relish. “Three Farr 45s are confirmed for the regatta; Audacious, Atomic and Rebel. There may be a youth team and possibly some others so we should have some really tight one-design racing. For the Red Funnel Easter Challenge we have supplemented last year’s team with a few well known faces from the South coast as we have lost a few crew to the Irish Admiral’s Cup Team. We are also trying out a few new people as well. We lost our training / trials weekend last week so are using the regatta to finalise the crew for the coming season.”

Alistair Ray has a well campaigned J/109 and a brand-new set of sails for the Easter regatta he has grand plans for the season as he explains; “Jumunju was bought in 2003 with the intention of taking part in some top class competitive sailing over the next few seasons including this years Rolex Fastnet and with a view to potentially doing the Rolex Middle Sea Race. The goal for the Red Funnel Easter Challenge is to continue our development from last year, in particular improving on third place in RORC IRC2 and regularly finishing in the top three boats in the inshore regattas. This will be a tough task but we are very enthusiastic at this stage in the season.”

Max Kenna won the European Etchells championship in France this year under the expert guidance of Ian Walker. Kenna has made a departure from Etchells racing to enter the Red Funnel Easter Challenge. “One of the problems with being almost 17 stone is that as soon as you offer to crew for someone they always insists on sticking you on the mast. I’m now keen to try my hand further back on the boat but people aren’t jumping at the opportunity to have me steering their boats or making critical decisions, so seven mates and I have chartered an X332. The main thing we will be aiming for over the Easter Regatta is to learn how to sail the boat properly. We hope to take advantage of the free tuition and have asked Jim Saltonstall to have a look at what we are doing wrong and we are looking forward to the after sailing briefings when there are bound to be a few pictures of us screaming at each other! Previous Easter Regattas I have done were a brilliant laugh so it should be good.”