The Royal Ocean Racing Club hosted a stellar fleet of thirty-three offshore IRC racing teams from nine countries (Belgium, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Ireland, Netherlands, Poland, Turkey, USA) at their Cowes, Isle of Wight station for the 2018 IRC European Championship.
The immaculately sailed J-Lance 12 was crowned IRC European champion for 2018. The French J/112E skippered by Didier le Moal seemed never to put a foot wrong in the latter stages of this week-long regatta run from Cowes by the Royal Ocean Racing Club.
“It’s great, I didn’t expect that,” said le Moal of claiming the IRC Europeans title. “First of all, we wanted to win our class. But, this is fabulous to win overall! It concludes the wonderful week we’ve had. If you enjoy racing, we have been in paradise. The weather, sun, light winds, heavy winds, big tides, everything you could expect to enjoy from racing, we’ve had it all!”
Winning Saturday’s first windward-leeward race, held in 15-20 knot winds, was the French team’s sixth bullet out of ten races. For the final big breeze, double-points scoring, round-the-cans, cannot discard race, the French had the class win secured, but played it safe.
“The wind was increasing a bit, so we preferred to sail safely, because we had a big lead. We just wanted to finish well,” explained J-Lance 12’s navigator and team secret weapon Nicolas Lunven, the reigning Solitaire du Figaro champion. With the wind gusting into the 30 kts-plus range, they avoided gybing the spinnaker, to avoid breakage.
In addition to Lunven, le Moal and Fred Bouvier, the J-Lance 12 crew of Christophe and Cyrille Cremades, Jean Francois Nevo, Jean-Michel Roux and Cyrille Teston are all friends who have sailed with le Moal for years.
“It is our third season sailing on the J/112E, so we know exactly how it works,” continued le Moal. “We had a very, very good navigator – to be fast is one thing, but to be fast on the right side is a good thing! Upwind the boat is so fast, it helps you recover if you had a bad leg someplace!”
In the final race in IRC Three, J-Lance 12 placed fourth, simply dominating their fleet with a 20.5 pts total, winning with a 30+ points margin. As the Queen once asked about how the British Royalty’s yachts did in the first race against the yacht AMERICA in the 100 Guinea Cup Race (now the America’s Cup), the reply was “your Highness, there was no second place.” That would have been an appropriate response for how the IRC 3 felt after being eclipsed by the French crew on J-Lance 12.
What may have really opened up everyone’s eyes was the performance of the J/112E in the windy, blustery 60nm Round Island Race (the original America’s Cup course around the Isle of Wight). In that race, J-Lance 12 finished 3rd boat-for-boat in the IRC 2 fleet! A commanding performance it was for the ages. In fact, in what was easily a “big-boat” race for currents and winds, J-Lance 12 was 3rd overall on handicap time to the first two boats in IRC 1- all full-on stripped-out racing Fast 40s.
Here is a summary report from Fred Bouvier on their experience sailing J-Lance 12 in the regatta
“The key to our success was the following: good boat, good crew- all friends, and a lot of fun and parties ashore. While we were extremely focused while sailing, it was the great fun ashore that, for sure, was an important part of our performance.
In some way, we were amazed by our results and how we performed against very good professional teams and IRC-optimized, stripped-out racing boats.
Day one – Sunday
We had light winds and only one windward-leeward race. Our start was not good! The room at the RC boat was closed at the gun, so we had to a turnaround in just 5 knots of wind and come back to the start line. There was a very nervous feeling on board, as this was not the best way to start the IRC European Championship.
Nevertheless, we fully concentrated on our speed and we crossed most of the fleet to round the first windward mark in fifth place! We were still nervous, as we were not thinking that light wind was our best conditions. But, despite this concern, we were second at the next windward mark and, in fact, passing several IRC Class 2 back-marker boats that started ahead of us!
Then, we crossed the line just before the wind shut down, thank goodness! Meanwhile, the rest of the fleet was partially parked on the last downwind leg near the finish line, some of them anchoring/ kedging to stay in place because of the current. With no more wind, the RORC PRO wisely cancelled racing for the day.
Day two – Monday
We had medium to light winds all day and very shifty- 15-25 degree wind shifts and very streaky. It was “round-the-cans” random leg courses.
The first race was a reaching start, again not best positioning for first leg, rounding the bottom mark around 9th place. Then, we recovered to 6th at the second mark. Then, the next leg gave us a long upwind where we could play wind shifts and we jumped into second place at the 2nd to last mark. Finally, we passed the Danish X-37 Helly Hansen team to finish first.
For the second race, it was much shorter, with less upwind. This time, we finished fourth on corrected time after missing a shift and streak on the final downwind run to the finish. Halfway down the run it appeared we were winning the race, but the boats to the windward and right of rhumbline passed us.
Our conclusion was that Danish X-37 Helly Hansen team would be very strong competitors.
Day three – Tuesday
The RORC PRO attempted the classic Round Isle of Wight Race. However, it was never going to happen, even in our own estimation. We started upwind heading west down the Solent towards the Needles, after beating for two hours against the tide in very light winds, it was clear it was not going to happen. For the first time on our navigation software, we could see that it was predicting an arrival time at the finish line as “infinite”…ha-ha! Not surprisingly, the race was then canceled!
The fleet then waited for several hours in the Solent, hoping a seabreeze or gradient breeze would fill in. Finally, late in the afternoon, a streaky wind that kept oscillating from northeast to southeast filled in, blowing 6-12 kts.
The first race was another long round-the-cans affair. It was a great one for us! We beat the Danish X-37 Helly Hansen and the French First 40.7 Pen Koent; winning both on elapsed and corrected time!
The final race was a very short windward-leeward in light, dying winds. There were a lot of issues playing with the bigger IRC 2 Class in front of us to avoid bad air from their ‘back-markers’. The X-37 was still fighting hard, but we succeeded in passing them right at the finish line, so we won another race on corrected time.
That evening, we had an amusing discussion with a JPK 10.10 owner who seemed to be interested in our boat. Since J-Lance 12 was for sale, we made an appointment for a meeting on Friday after the races.
Day four – Wednesday
We had one long and intense round-the-cans race all over the Solent in medium winds of 12-17 kts. It was yet another reaching start (which we did not like, of course). We spent the entire race working hard to beat the two French teams- the JPK 10.80 Shaitan and the First 40.7 Pen Koent. Surprisingly for us, the Danish X-37 Helly Hansen did not appear to sail as well in the breezier conditions. As a result, we started to think that maybe it was optimized for light winds and the ORC rule.
Later, after dinner, I did some research on the Internet and I found the Danish X-37 was 2nd at the ORC Worlds in 2016 and was also rated lower than us in ORC! Interesting!
Day five- Thursday- the Round Island Race!
This was an amazing day for us! Finally, we were able to sail the Round the Island clockwise in proper yachting conditions- 20 knots average wind speed, gusting to 27 kts, beating against the strong foul tide for almost three hours! The fleet split off the starting line, one group of six boats went the north shore route up to Lymington, the other short-tacking along the south shore beneath the Isle of Wight cliffs.
It was a brilliant windward leg for us- three hours to exit the Solent upwind against the tide, except for the last 30 minutes when it changed. We rounded the Needles mark first in Class 3, but as well first in Class 2 in front of the First 40 and the King 40- they were clearly shocked we were that far in front of our IRC 3 Class!
The interesting point on the long upwind leg is that we had a small failure in our outhaul purchase system. So, while we were beating in the middle of class two and three after having a not so good start, we were tacking every five minutes to gain places. Meanwhile, to fix the outhaul problem, I was working on the aft face of the boom, while we were passing one after another of our competitors that had all crew hiking very hard. I did see some faces on several crews, looking amazed by our performance, especially with me standing to leeward of the boom and wheel doing the repair!
Then, it was a long downwind run against the tide (again!) where a JPK 10.80 and Sunfast 3600 took the inside line below us for less tide going to St. Catherines Point. The wind against tide at the St. Catherines “overfalls” made for enormous, steep, breaking waves. As we passed the point, their position inside was a good gain for them, so we dropped to third place on elapsed.
However, from that point down to the next turning mark, we stayed within a few boats length of them for the remaining downwind run, as well as the short reaching leg, before heading back west down the Solent for the last long upwind leg. We were very fast on this leg, going higher and faster than the JPK 10.90 Shaitan and the Sunfast 3600 Redshift Reloaded.
We were just caught by one Class 2 boat by the finish line. And, we were fighting the battle to gain back first place in our class, which we did! We crossed the Royal Yacht Squadron line off Cowes about the same time as the Sunfast 3600 and the 3rd place IRC 2 class boat! Another huge win for the J-LANCE 12 team!
Our doubts about the Danish X-37 Helly Hansen were true, in more breeze the performance of the boat really dropped off compared to the whole fleet, always looking overpowered or not stable on any point of sail, they finished last in IRC 3 Class.
Day six – Friday
We had two more identical windward-leeeward races in medium winds of 12-17 kts. In both races, the same scenario played out for us. We started conservatively and were leading by the first windward mark each time, sailing ahead of the fleet to secure two bullets.
This was the day we had scheduled the visit for the JPK 10.10 owner. We were hoping to sell the boat before the end of the championship. The point that was the most interesting was his reaction when going down below on the J/112E.
He was quiet for a few seconds and then he said, “Wow, I didn’t expect such a nice interior!”
He then asked, “Is this a table?”
I replied, “Yes, it includes a built-in wine bottle rack and folding sides (leafs) in 25.0mm thick wood (about 1.0″), we also have a dedicated head compartment with shower, a stove, and…”
He was visibly in shock and awe. I think his reaction to the quality, comfort, space, and features of the boat meant that we had to remind ourselves that we really were sailing a cruiser-racer against lighter and much more race-optimized, stripped-out boats. He explained to us that his boat was just a race boat, no enclosed head, no stove, no table, no wood, nearly bare- his wife and family did not like the JPK 10.10 at all. In the end, he decided to buy the J/112E!
Day seven – Saturday finale
We had two more races on the final day. The first one was yet another windward-leeward race. Just like the day before, in 17-23 kts of breeze, it was a conservative start, and then we led all the way around the course for another bullet.
Then, the final race was a double-counter that could not be discarded! It was a long round-the-cans “Solent Tour”, with wind forecast to 25 knots and gusting over 28 knots. With such a big lead on points, we decided to sail conservatively and avoid any wipeouts or breaking something that would force us to retire. On top of that, the previous night saw an even longer and fun party than the previous one! So, several crew were quite tired and not at full capacity!
Despite sailing one reaching leg without spinnaker, while everyone on board was feeling a bit embarrassed, we finished 4th to secure the win with a 30 points ahead of the French First 40.7 Penn Koent.
It was a fantastic week and the highlight was for sure the boat and its performance. I am still astonished by how she achieved this performance, while being a pure cruiser-racer and carrying a lot of comfort inside.
The other success factor was the crew; we know each other quite well, and we had a good experience sailing the J/112E.
Nevertheless, most importantly, we had what I called the “fun factor”- spending good times ashore all together and not taking this too seriously. We know the other professional crews went to sleep early and were up at sunrise each day. Not us! We would enjoy our morning coffees and croissants and stroll back down to the boat again in time to leave the docks each day.
Finally, the RORC Race Committee and their PRO- Stewart Childerley- deserve a strong congratulations as they ran the event better than everyone could imagine.”
Chris Stone, Racing Manager of the Royal Ocean Racing Club commented, “The IRC Europeans and Commodores’ Cup have been an overriding success and all the competitors are happy. The racing has been a complete test with the full range of strong tides, heavy weather, light conditions and sun and rain. There were a couple of standout performances and I congratulate J-LANCE 12 crew as worthy winners. Otherwise, the racing was incredibly close at this third European Championship, showing that IRC remains in great health.”