Competing at the top doesn't just have to be for the pros, as Cookson 50 Chieftain showed at Antigua 3/5/07

What does it take to beat a Volvo 70? Determination and good tactics seem to be the answer, after observing the crew ofChieftain, who beatABN Amroon corrected time this Tuesday.

Chieftainis a Farr-designed Cookson 50, owned by Irish construction engineer Gerard O’Rourke. Built in 2005, O’Rourke has campaigned her around the world to great success, but the real difference betweenChieftainand many of her competitors lies in the crew – they’re nearly all amateurs. Excepting the boat captain and a professional tactician, the crew all have day jobs, compete unpaid and have to fund their own travel expenses.

This approach is key to O’Rourke’s enjoyment of the sport. Campaigning his first boat, a Bénéteau First 40.7, he initially had a professional skipper on board, but after a season’s steep learning curve chose to skipper the boat himself. He’s never looked back: “If I reach the stage when I’m needing to employ lots of professionals, it’s probably time to give up,” he said.

Today’s races showed the success of O’Rourke’s approach to good effect. The racing fleets sailed two races – one a course which took us on a short beat followed by a long run west along the south coast of the island, followed by a windward-leeward race in the afternoon.Chieftainis the smallest boat in her group at Antigua and suffers a little upwind owing to her waterline length, but downwind she really takes off. O’Rourke claims she usually sails at about five knots less than the windspeed, and that was certainly true today as we headed down the course at around 15 knots. It was enough to dismiss several, much larger Swans, and may even have put us at the top of the table for the first race.

Sailing with amateur crew is bound to carry disadvantages – O’Rourke has a pool of around 35 crew he can call on to cope with the frequent times when people can’t make a race – but seeing them in action today they displayed as much professionalism as a paid crew, with a very high level of enthusiasm. PerhapsChieftainreally has found a winning ticket.