The J Class duo Shamrock and Ranger were the centre of attention on the Bay of Saint Tropez today racing under IRC as the annual Les Voiles de Saint Tropez started in a fitful, unsettled 7-16kts of SE'ly breeze and awkward seas.
"What could be better than racing Shamrock in Saint Tropez? There is nothing better" grinned Shamrock's Mike Toppa on the dock amidst the throngs of visitors.
The two Js are racing in the 27 boat IRC Class A, a fleet which has Rambler 88 as the scratch boat but which offers both yachts a range of close competition on the water. Ranger started badly today and had to fight back into the pack but finished strongly keeping Spectre, the Frers 60 daysailer, Elfje the 45 m Andre Hoek Pilot Classic, Nomad IV the Finot designed FC Cube 30.5 metre sloop and Aragon the 22 m Reichel Pugh design, behind them at the finish line off the entrance to the harbour.
Shamrock's opening beat was appreciably better. Sticking to their game plan off the busy start line, she tacked immediately out to the right, into the best breeze and with a nice, clear lane were ahead of Ranger at the first windward mark. And the satisfaction on board the majestic 1930 built, original Charles Nicholson design, was still at a high when they approached the second mark bow to bow with Ranger. They had to duck Ranger, the J Class champion at this regatta in 2014. But only just.
From there Ranger started to find her best pace. A very good second beat saw them venture to the right and make big gains, getting them back on terms with the boats which should be their rivals on the water. And from there on the Ranger crew did not really put a foot wrong. The 22 NM's course offered two long beats, two runs and a couple of pedestrian reaches. After a very light start the wind peaked at 16kts on the second upwind but faded again towards the finish with 10-12kts. Ranger's skipper Erle Williams was hoping they had done enough to finish in the top half of the fleet on corrected time but rues the flatfooted start which cost them early minutes.
"We beat the boats around about us. We had a really bad start after parking up in the really light airs and we were well back after the first beat. But we came back into it really well. We had a good run and good second beat and were good into the finish." Williams reported, "We'd like to think we'd have recovered into the top 10 but all in all we have the goal of trying to win the regatta. We really are sticky in 6kts of wind so we got buried off the line. I think if we get a good breeze this week we will do OK. In general we go well on IRC but it is a while since we raced like this."
The Ranger crew are using this regatta to get a good measure on what improvements they can make to the boat and their own performance as the levels step up in anticipation of the J Class Regatta at the America's Cup in Bermuda in 2017 where up to nine J Class yachts are expected to compete: "We are going to use this regatta to look at ourselves and look at ways of improving the boat for next year. We are gathering us much as we can and then do a bit of work through the winter prior to Palma next year. We are working on our sail programme so that we peak in Bermuda. "Bermuda looks pretty exciting. There is a lot of interest, the level will go up and there will be some good new boats coming on the scene. It is cool to think we will get seven or eight J Class yachts and everyone will go there pretty seriously. We should see more boats on the water next year racing. We are all looking forward to it. Everyone is very excited about next year and beyond."
Mike Toppa of Shamrock concluded: "It was not easy because there was not much wind. There was more sea than there was wind. We had waves to punch through. Our plan on the short beat was to start at the Committee Boat, tack away and then have the starboard tack advantage and clear air for a long time. There was a little more breeze on the right and suddenly we were in a great position on the fleet. And we were ahead of Ranger and then at the next mark we were bow to bow and we had to duck them. And then the rest of the race course was kind of one track racing, there were not too many options. It was a drag race, Ranger is very fast and then just took off. But we are very happy. What could be better than sailing on Shamrock in Saint Tropez….what could be better? There is nothing better."