The Long Inshore race of the Half Ton Classics Cup 2015 in Nieuwpoort proved to be a light airs affair requiring huge concentration and mental stamina of helms, tacticians and trimmers alike. With a 23 mile course which took the crews in a figure of eight pattern up and down the Belgian coast it presented both tide and wind challenges aplenty. The race carries a points weighting of 1.5 and cannot be discarded so a good showing was vital for those hoping to make the podium.
Overnight leader Checkmate XV, helmed by David Cullen, got a great start at the committee boat end but then struggled with the tricky first beat and instead of heading the fleet a the first mark they found themselves back in the pack.
The boat that did head the fleet at that first mark was Robby Tregear’s Per Elisa who had led the fleet out from the pin end of the line. This was her second day of showing great speed in light winds and when asked for the secret of their success Robbie laughingly replied, “I’d like to say it was us being wonderful, but really the boat was originally designed by Ceccarelli to race in Italian waters in very light conditions. We then modified it in 2013/14 to work in heavier conditions and to optimise it for IRC, but she’s always had a good basis in light winds.”
Tactician John Darbyshire added his thoughts on their win saying, “It was quite light breezes today so that suited us nicely really. But it wasn’t at all easy. It was quite shifty at times and it was a case of keeping an eye out for the breeze, which today was more like keeping an eye out for where the rain showers were really. But I think we went the right way up the first beat and then from there on in it was just a case of keeping out in front.”
Also showing great speed again today was Roddy Angus and Dan Challis’s Trastada. With the exception of a retirement in race five this crew from Scotland have generated a steady set of top ten results and they sailed beautifully to finish just over two minutes behind Per Elisa and fifty seconds ahead of Paul Pullen’s Miss Whiplash. Checkmate successfully fought her way back up into fourth place and in fifth came the local Nieuwpoort team of Nicolas Lejeune and Jean Marie Gilles in Skippy’s Ton, a 1984 Andrieu design built by Fountaine-Pajot which has had a long an illustrious racing career under various Belgian and French owners.
Going into the final day David Cullen and Checkmate XV continue to lead the regatta although their points advantage has been reduced a little from 6.5 to 5 points. Hard on their heels are Paul Pullen and Miss Whiplash who retain second place with 18.1 points. Robby Tregear and the Per Elisa crew are still in third place overall, but they too have closed down the points difference and now trail Miss Whiplash by 5.4 points. Trastada’s great showing in today’s race has enabled her to leap up the rankings from seventh to fourth overall, 9.2 points behind Per Elisa.
Although the leading boats catch our attention in the race reports, for many the Half Ton Classics Cup is as much about celebrating and sailing these fabulous historic yachts as it is about winning. The fleet encompasses both custom one off designs and production boats that were built to meet the Half Ton Rule. Richard and Ursula Hollis sailing their X95 Crakajax with a crew of old friends epitomise the teams who come back to this event year after year for the sheer joy of racing fantastic boats with like minded people.
It’s also wonderful to see a lot of young faces in the fleet. On many boats there’s a great mix of young and old and the award for the biggest age gap between crew members has to go to Trastada whose mastman Patrick Condy is just 19, whilst tactician Peter Curry celebrated his 71st birthday yesterday. There are also several crews made up entirely of youngsters like Manon Vatlet’s M’Half Raz, where the oldest is just 20 and the youngest 16.
The camaraderie of the event is one of its most marked characteristics and the sailors love nothing better than to sit down together with a beer after racing to talk about their beloved boats and share ideas on how to maintain and improve them. Whilst some boats have gone in for significant modifications to optimise them for IRC racing, others have chosen to keep their boats as original as possible and half the fun is walking around the dock comparing and contrasting. One of the most fascinating comparisons this week is between Checkmate XV and SPIP. Both boats are Rob Humphrey designed MG HS30s, but whilst SPIP is in near original condition with an inline runner dependent rig and 80’s deck layout, Checkmate has been significantly modernised as part of her optimisation for IRC racing. Many of the teams do their own work on the boats and are always happy to pass on tips and advice to those coming into the class or looking to improve their existing boat.
A vibrant social programme is a vital component of the Half Ton Classics Cup and this year the hosts have pulled out all the stops. This evening the competitors and organisers are enjoying the traditional Half Ton Classics Cup Gala Dinner, being held at the host Koninklijke Yacht Club Nieuwpoort. The menu features fabulous local Belgian foods including a stupendous array of tempting puddings which were hand made today by members of the club and other volunteers in a special “desserts workshop”. There will also be an exchange of gifts between the boats in which each team has been asked to bring a gift that represents their country or region for presentation to another boat secret santa style.
The evening’s fun kicked off with the daily prize giving at which the top ten finishers in each race are recognised and special prizes of Harken Carbo One Touch Winch Handles, customised with the event logo on the handle, are presented. Today’s Harken winch handle winner was Skippy’s Ton, and co-owner Nicolas Lejeune was particularly delighted with his prize as they had lost a handle over the side earlier in the week and had yet to buy a replacement.
The regatta concludes tomorrow and with the forecast indicating light winds in the morning that are likely to die completely by early afternoon, the race committee has already brought forward the start of racing from 11.00 to 10.00 to give them the best possible chance of completing two further races to decide the championship. The final prize giving will take place at 17.00 and will be followed in the evening by an informal Wok Supper before the competitors head for home.