Bartholomew backs IRC system after ‘great’ regatta

Action from the Easter Challenge
Action from the Easter Challenge
Sir Ben Ainslie

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The handicap system that allows yachts of very different size and sophistication to race against each other with at least a degree of fairness is a source of endless debate and dispute in sailing circles.

But the close racing achieved in several classes at last weekend’s Easter Challenge regatta in the Solent showed the current IRC rating system appears in rude health, mostly.

The sun shone and the wind blew – mostly – to produce close racing that saw victory in two classes on the countback system.

The dying breeze in the final race sank any chances for the South African King 40 Tokoloshe, though.

Having started the last day in pole position – again on countback – the Mike Bartholomew-skipped boat lost out to the far larger Farr 52 Bob.

The bigger boat edged ahead in the penultimate race coming fourth, one place and just 18 seconds on corrected time ahead of Tokoloshe.

But she took full advantage of her far larger rig to sail in clear air to take a win and the class by four points in the finale.

Despite the dying wind, Bartholomew was not too disappointed.

The skipper relished the racing in stunning conditions and added his backing to the oft-criticised IRC system.

He said: ‘It was thoroughly enjoyable – a great regatta – although it was a pity the wind got a bit fickle at times.

‘I think it was quite funny that we are one of the lowest rating boats in our class and we ended up second while the top rating boat won.

‘There has been a lot of criticism of the IRC, so maybe it works.

‘And the weather was beautiful. I don’t live here all the time but I have never seen England so good.’

In IRC 2, two wins on Easter Sunday was not enough to secure victory for Andrew McIrvine aboard his First 40 La Rèponse.

Instead, he was pipped to the post by Andrew Williams’ Prima 38 Max ‘Ed Out!, which was level on points but with one more bullet in her locker.

Countback also came in to play in IRC3 where Chris and Hannah Neve’s First 35 No Chance was dislodged from top spot by Louise Morton’s MAT 1010, whose two last-day wins saw the all-female crew – bar Volvo Ocean Race-winning navigator Jules Salter – grab the overall prize.

No Chance’s tactician Phil Lawrence – racing against his daughter Charlotte aboard MAT 1010 – said their chances went when they collected ‘dirty air’ from the J/109 Toe in the Water, led by round-the-world sailor Brian Thompson, in the last race.

‘There was much less breeze and we are not so quick in that and Toe In the Water, which has been sailed really well, got past us and dropped us back into the pack,’ said Lawrence.

‘We could just never catch them.’

The regatta’s only runaway leader was Grant Gordon’s J/97 Fever.

She finished 16 points ahead of Robert Baker’s X-332 Brightwork, despite losing the final race to Alistair Evans’ Swan 37 Alvine.

Following on from Gordon’s Swan 45 of the same name, the J/97 is being sailed by a new team that has been together since last Cowes Week.