JOLLY ROGERS Takes J/24 Autumn Cup
November 29, 2014
It was yet another epic event run by the Royal Western YC in Poole, England. The J/24s in the United Kingdom always seem to have some drama and fun in their infamous J/24 Autumn Cup. Here’s the report from Nick Triscott aboard JAWBREAKER. Day 1: A blustery, cloudy forecasted weekend set the scene for a dramatic sailing event in Plymouth Sound. Following just one week after the re-scheduled Spring Cup, there was much expectation from the 13 entrants to retain or improve places in the absence of Madeleine, the previous week’s winners. A perfect windward-leeward course was laid inside the breakwater by race officer Neil Dunkley, and genoas were rigged for winds measuring around 14 knots. A hotly contested start showed no immediate leader, but there was no room for errors given the competitive fleet. Correct tactics, including knowledge of the strong spring tide, allowed Nick McDonald’s team (sailing the Spring Cup’s third placed Cacoon) to cross the line first after a hard fought battle. They were followed by the visiting team of Roger Morris of Jolly Roger from Poole. Third place was earned by Adrian Bennett of Skilled Services. With the wind rising, a pre-start incident between guest helm Sophie Pearson of Hitchhiker and local boat Dogs Jorrocks unfortunately led to the retirement of Torpoint stalwart Steve Wassell and his crew from the event after a single race, but the commotion continued throughout race 2. The hot contest to the windward mark provided enough congestion to cause the scraping and even complete missing of the buoy by numerous boats and the placings shuffled as penalty turns were taken. Those able to gybe quickly benefited at once, however, and the second lap lead gained by the underweight team of Skilled Services was enough to see them win through, narrowly before the consistent Roger Morris and his Jolly crew. Nick McDonald’s Cacoon completed the first three, ahead of Plymouth’s Jawbreaker and Hijinks. The now numbering 10 starters lined up once more for Race 3, with the lead changing hands several times before the previous event’s runner up Jawbreaker, coolly helmed as always by David Cooper, surged across the finish ahead of the dependable Cacoon. A strong performance from boat-borrowing father Darryl Conyers, who worked his way out of a McDonald sandwich, earned Illuminator a deserved third place. Despite the innocent faces of most helms, Race 4 quite understandably saw the use of the black flag for the first time in the cup. With overnight places at stake, nerves began to show as advantageous positions were thrown away time and time again. There were no clear leaders until the end of the first beat when Stig McDonald’s Jeli made the best tactical choices given the now incoming tide and wind shifts. They held their lead until the end, narrowly followed by Nick McDonald’s Cacoon and the husband and wife team of Austen and Claire Davies on Jam Too who completed the Plymouth Podium. The unshaken Sophie Pearson of Hitchhiker achieved a very notable fourth, but in a change of fortunes, the winners of the previous two races followed all of the other boats across the line. Day 2: An extra hour’s rest for daylight savings put the sailors in high spirits for the start of day 2, despite the predicted stronger winds and occasional regrets of sangria the night before. After much debate during rigging, three genoas ultimately stood out amongst the jibs as controversial choices in the morning’s borderline wind conditions. At the start of Race 5, there wasn’t much difference in boat performance given the headsail, but gusts in different sections of the course caused some to suffer slightly more than others. Toward the end of the second beat, it felt like genoa conditions, but it was too late because the pirates of Jolly Roger went steaming ahead and looked untouchable. They confidently led home visitor William Pollock of Flying Colours whose team fought hard for their second place and Darryl Conyers’ Illuminator in third. With an all genoa start to the penultimate race, a few boats were squeezed out of their lanes and forced to tack to the centre of the course. The port tackers were shortly followed by previous race winners Jolly Roger, although the far left of the beat proved the more popular choice. Another crowded windward mark (at one point draped in the spinnaker of Skilled Services) left many boats scrambling for clear air in another tight contest, but the early “gybers” once again benefited with the inside line back to the leeward mark at the northern end of Plymouth Sound. At the end of the first run, an inspirational call by ultimate race winner David Cooper allowed the overtaking of four boats to make the first rounding of the leeward mark. A loose cover allowed Jawbreaker to hold onto the lead until the finish, with Jolly Roger, Jeli and Mark Lewers’ Hijinks completing the top four. Throughout the weekend of some of the least forgiving racing seen by the J/24s all year, mistakes by any boat cost dearly. Although the seventh and final two-lap race of the event began smoothly, it was still very challenging given that the race management team said it looked like the closest start of the whole event from their viewpoint on the committee boat. Holding course on starboard at first was favoured by most, but tricky tides inside the breakwater made it easy to over stand when nearer the windward mark. Precise handling on both laps ensured local bastion Adrian Bennett’s second win of the event, followed by Jawbreaker and the most consistent boat of the event and overall winners, Jolly Roger. Our congratulations go to Roger Morris and his outstanding team on Jolly Roger for their efforts throughout the two days; they truly deserve this victory in Plymouth. It is also noteworthy that both the event winners and runners-up Cacoon (Nick McDonald) included father and son duos, which is undoubtedly an optimistic sign of the continuing development of the class in the UK for years to come. Third was David Cooper’s Jawbreaker, fourth Stig McDonald’s JELI, and fifth was Adrian Bennet’s SKILLED SERVICES. Praise must also be given once again to race officer Neil Dunkley who provided seven excellent races and indeed to all of his onboard assistants, mark-layers and the administrative staff of the Royal Western Yacht Club. Full results of the 2014 J/24 Autumn Cup may be found at http://www.halsraceresults.com/crs/crs.aspx?DSKey=1089&SeriesKey=126.