Welcome back sailing. What a glorious English summer weekend it was. The gales, rain, sleet, waves and more rain of recent weeks in the UK were replaced by sunshine, a gentle easterly and the sailors of all hues took full advantage and responded with gusto. The Solent came alive, teeming with a hotch-potch of every vessel imaginable. Hats off to the excellent Royal Ocean Racing Club for getting their fabled Myth of Malham race away with some pretty impressive machinery flittering on the start line beneath at least a million pounds worth of blacked-out North sails.
A more impressive sight you could not imagine amidst these times, not least the line honours winner, the IRC52 ‘Tala’ that looked to all intents and purposes like a gun at a knife fight in the two-boat Super Zero fleet – seriously impressive piece of kit. And this was backed-up by the growing double-handed fraternity with grand prix names like Stuart Childerley, Dee Caffari, Shirley Roberston, Kelvin Rawlings and Henry Bromby duking it out in equally impressive Sunfasts which would make an excellent Olympic spectacle if they can get the final nod for Paris 2024.
For the competitors, this was a warm up to the Fastnet Race starting on August 8th and finishing in Cherbourg if the French restrictions are lifted – quite what happens if they’re still in place is a mighty headache that RORC will solve with consummate professional ease – they are probably the best organising club in the world with the wisest of wise-heads amongst their ranks.
Some great reporting came back from Louay Habib who captured Tala’s navigator Campbell Field saying: “It’s been a long time and great to be back, the last distance race I did was the Fastnet 2019. Thankfully the South Coast turned on some beautiful weather with a little bit of bash and crash on the way back to the finish. Tala is not putting much emphasis from this result towards the Fastnet in August. If the Myth of Malham had been run seven days earlier, the systems coming through would have created a different story. It was nice to sharpen our act a little, get the team together for some beautiful sailing, and we have found a few things to improve our performance.”
At the other end of the scale, the future champions were up to the west of Cowes dinghy sailing (practicing roll tacks in very little breeze and generally having fun on the water) whilst the dayboats were back out in force tacking up the tricky and shallow eastern coast of the Island daring themselves ever closer – as one who’s been stuck on the Shrape more times than I care to mention, it’s not a badge of honour. It’s deeply embarrassing if I’m honest. It’s a mug’s game. A game of chance with the odds stacked squarely against you on an outgoing tide but it was a magnificent sight all weekend. Gains to those with guts and luck on their side – abject misery for others in an expensive game of snakes and ladders.
Look at the Solent on a weekend like this and you can see why an America’s Cup here makes sense. It’s well-known around town that due diligence has been completed with all the viable yards sounded out – there aren’t that many. Whether discussions have ceased, paused or are just in the mix, no-one really knows but the clock is ticking down on the talks with the Kiwi government and to be quite honest, New Zealand has enough cash calls at the moment looking at the news that it could well do with a financial breather. The jungle drums coming back from down under don’t sound too optimistic of an event happening quickly and the smart money is suggesting a European event as a stop-gap with a nailed on Cup thereafter in Auckland.
If it happens on the South Coast, buy your tickets now and book your accommodation. It will be standing-room only in Cowes and best of luck with getting a restaurant reservation. The place would be buzzing and it’s just what the town, the country and the Cup needs. Tight lips are everywhere however. A degree in tea-leaf reading is highly desirable at the moment. A masters in deciphering code is a treasured skill. Very few know and even less are giving anything away. NDA’s have been signed. Strict Omerta is in force. We’ll know when we’re told – and not before. And with the oil of gossip, the bars, limping along through the final restrictions there are few outlets to prise information. But something is happening. Be sure of that.
The timeline is agonising though. The final venue will be announced by the 15th September and the Protocol for the 37th Cup lands by mid November. Impetus is hard to find. Certainty alludes. It’s a windless vacuum, a void if you like, at the very pinnacle of our sport. It’s largely characterless for now. Beige by design but when it reawakens it promises to be so much and more. The 37th edition of the America’s Cup is set up to be a cracker.
And with racing almost everywhere – JOG, RORC, IMOCA, myriad dinghy championships on the horizon, the Olympics, Tuesday night, Wednesday afternoon, Thursday evening racing – the pent up demand predicted by economists and longed-for by politicians is real. It’s there. It’s here. It’s everywhere. Sailing is back in a big way.
Great to see. Great to be a part of. Get out there…