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ver four days in early July the second IRC European Championship took place in Marseille in the south of France. It attracted an

international fleet of 53 boats from 12 nations as far afield as Turkey, the UK and the Netherlands.

While the inaugural event in 2016 was incorporated into Volvo Cork Week, the 2017 IRC European Championship was a stand-alone affair, held in the waters off Marseille. It was run by the Union Nationale pour la Course au Large (UNCL) in conjunction with the three Marseille clubs, Centre Nautique et Touristique du Lacydon (CNTL), Société Nautique de Marseille (SNM) and Union Nautique Marseillaise (UNM) – the first time they had joined forces to organise a major international regatta.

Although faster boats could participate, the IRC European Championship title was open to boats with a TCC of 0.900 -1.400, and final entries ranged from 31-footers to 60-footers. Racing was on windward-leeward courses in two separate race areas – Marseille’s Rade Nord and Rade Sud – with longer coastal courses taking the boats around the off-lying Frioul islands. Light conditions on the first two days (including a five-hour AP ashore on day two) built over the weekend to 16-18 knots when the longer races were held.

Big and Small

IRC Zero, for the fastest boats, featured four TP52s and the Italian Cookson 50 Endless Game, helmed by Spanish double Olympic medallist Luis Doreste Blanco. The biggest boats were the Swan 601 Lorina 1895 and the Wally 60 Wallyño, which, despite the grand-prix competition, led IRC Zero after day two.

Several competitors were newcomers to IRC, including Italian race veteran Paolo Guido Gamucci, who first campaigned a one tonner in Marseille more than 40 years previously. At the Europeans he was racing his latest yacht, the Ker 40 Cippalippa Rossa, better known in northern waters as the Irish Brewin Dolphin Commodores’ Cup team’s winning big boat Catapult from 2014 and subsequently raced in the FAST40+ class in the UK as Anthony O’Leary’s Antix. “This boat was born to race under IRC, so I wanted to see where we were in relation to our competition,” said Gamucci of his new steed.

However, it was one of the smallest boats that was crowned 2017 IRC European Champion: the JPK 10.10 Expresso 2 racing in IRC 4, proving that these amazing Jacques Valer-designed speedsters, built near Lorient, work just as well round the cans as they do offshore (one won the 2013 Rolex Fastnet Race outright).

“You don’t need to have a TP52 to be European Champion,” joked Expresso 2’s owner Guy Claeys, who regularly races short-handed, but on this occasion was sailing with a full crew, including Olympic Soling sailor-turned-sailmaker Sylvian Chtounder. Good crew training, plus new sails for the event, contributed to the St Tropez-based team’s success. Across the series they achieved a near perfect scoreline, discarding a 2nd. “The score gives the impression that it was easy, but that’s not true!” concluded Claeys.

Close on Points

In fact, their victory was far from clear-cut. Expresso 2 prevailed thanks to being in the largest class. Winners in three of the bigger boat classes all finished on similar points – Dominique Tian’s Ker 46 Tonnerre de Glen took IRC 1, after victories in the Semaine Nautique Internationale de Mediterranée (SNIM) and Semaine de Porquerolles; Daniel Pithois’s A-40 Geranium Killer (featuring two-time Olympic sailor Dimitri Deruelle) won IRC 2 and Simon Henning’s Farr 36 Alice prevailed in IRC 3.

In fact, all the winners were also top performers on the UNCL’s Mediterranean IRC Championship 2017, with the exception of Alice. The 1994 vintage Farr 36, originally an Admiral’s Cupper campaigned by Vendée Globe skipper Mike Golding, was the sole British entry in the 2017 IRC European Championship and impressively, like Expresso 2, also posted no scores worse than a 2nd.

“You don’t need to have a TP52 to be European Champion”

“We had a really good week,” enthused Simon Henning’s son, Mike, giving the impression that the crew (heralding from Guernsey and England) were slightly surprised by how well they had managed against the powerful Mediterranean competition. “We’ve all done a lot of sailing together, everyone on board sailed really well and we managed to get things right every day – going the right way, good crew work and good starts. In fact, we didn’t have any bad situations at all,” he declared.

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