High speed, adrenalin pumping, ultra-competitive racing came to the Solent today in what many agree is the most exciting development to have taken place in big boat keel boat racing in the UK for decades.
The long-awaited advent of competition for the new FAST40+s, the big boat class at the Royal Ocean Racing Club's Easter Challenge, coincided today with chilly, but summery conditions. Three races were sailed with the wind peaking at 15-20 knots during race two.
Among the ten FAST40s, there was a different winner in each race, but ultimately there were two stand-out performers in American William Coates' Ker 43, Otra Vez, and Peter Morton's brand new Carkeek 40 Mk3, Girls on Film. They won the third and first races, respectively, while Sir Keith Mills' Ker 40+, Invictus, claimed race two when the FAST40+s were sailing at wind speed.
"It has gone really well," said FAST40+ Class President, Robert Greenhalgh. "It has been a lot of hard work by everybody, but all the owners have pulled in the same direction to make it happen, and have spent the money and got the boats. The RORC and IRC [the RORC Racing Office] have been very supportive and we've had a lot of sponsors that have come in to help bring it all together."
Greenhalgh was pleased that most teams posted good results today.
Himself a former Volvo Ocean Race winner and 18ft skiff and International 14 World Championship, Greenhalgh calls tactics on Invictus which today posted a 6-1-8 scoreline. This leaves them third overall, six points adrift of Girls on Film and tied with two modified GP42s, Tony Dickins' Jubilee and South African Mike Bartholomew's Tokoloshe II.
Invictus got buried at the start of the first race, got away cleanly in race two and then suffered a mishap coming into the top mark in the final race that cost them. "This is about close racing and not making mistakes," advises Greenhalgh.
Overall leader by two points today is Otra Vez. FAST40+ crews can include up to five ISAF Cat3 `professionals' of their 11. Sailing with Coates are heavyweight Volvo Ocean Race veterans Steve Hayles, Luke Molloy and Phil Harmer.
"The fleet is very high quality, it is living up to expectations. It was fantastic racing and it is only going to get better, which is what is nice about it," said Coates of today's inaugural racing for the FAST40+s. Previously Coates raced his Ker 43 in the US and the Caribbean before moving her to the Mediterranean last year and now onto the UK. "I think we improved a little bit every race. Most of the crew had never stepped on board before yesterday - they are excellent, but it was about getting familiar with some of the basics today. Plus we do have a little bit of waterline [advantage]. If we get better starts, it helps get us into clear air."
Editorial content thanks to RORC