O'ROURKE, the first Irish trophy winner, will be awarded the Fastnet Challenge Cup and a Rolex Yacht-Master timepiece at the prizegiving on Friday 17 August at the historic Royal Citadel in Plymouth.
O'ROURKE, a property developer from Limerick, Ireland has been sailing for the past 20 years, cruising on a succession of 30-40 footers along the south coast of Ireland, before he got the racing bug, sailing out of the Western Yacht Club in Kilrush, County Clare as crew on some race boats. He then started racing dinghies and worked his way up to bigger grand-prix yachts.
was built in 2005 at Cookson's in New Zealand. It was the fifth Cookson 50-foot design built at the yard, but with some key modifications including adding a single forward canard and removing the trim tab. The boat has had some good success, including this summer's HSH Nordbank Blue Race (transatlantic race from Newport - Hamburg), where the boat was second across the line, second in class, and first in IRM class.
O'ROURKE typically waits to finish a race before he enters the next one, 'First of all I want to make sure I have a rig up.' Sailing in the Nordbank transatlantic race, Chieftain didn't finish until six weeks before the Rolex Fastnet start and by that time the entry list had reached its limit of 300 and Chieftain was 46th on the waiting list. Eventually the list was whittled down as boats dropped out, and after completing all the safety checks, just 48 hours before the race start, the boat was officially entered. In addition to his regular crew that had been on stand-by, O'ROURKE literally picked up a couple of experienced crew from a Hamble boat yard, including bowman Cam MARSHALL who 'turned out to be a star.' only experienced about 25 knots the first night, not the 40 knots that many boats saw. Chieftain had a double-reefed main and O'ROURKE felt prepared for the weather conditions, they had gone through all the procedures and had a fairly experienced offshore crew that had done a lot of miles. Still, It had crossed O'ROURKE's mind, 'What am I doing here', do I need this? But we persevered and it paid off. I was seasick myself as was another crewmember, it was wet, yeah it was grim. Two of us had dry suits and weren't doing too badly.'
Recapping their strategy, O'ROURKE said, 'Our navigator, Jochem VISSER [from the Netherlands] downloaded some grib [weather] files but available to everybody. the fact that the weather was changing 180 degrees when we got to the Rock kind of suited our size boat as opposed to the larger-sized boats. When we got to the Rock we were running back home and we made a fairly good speed from the Fastnet Rock to the Scillies .I think we did it in 10 hrs which is an average of about 19 knots which is good going for a 50-footer.Loki [the R/P 60] was ahead of us around at the Rock. She's a large boat, but we passed her out. The winds and the gods were favourable to us.' [Pantaenius] as she clocked around and slowly built to 15, right up to 20's, 35 even. We were carrying a reaching-running kite, fairly heavy, just a fractional spinnaker, we carried it right up to the Scillies. We had a very confused sea, because you had winds from different directions, rogue waves coming from the side, more confused than I've ever sailed in before and I've done the Rolex Sydney Hobart, the transatlantic, and the Round Britain Ireland last year. It's really difficult to control the boat, you had a 15-degree error margin, you had the rogue wave pushing you from the side. After 15 degrees, you had a few close wipeouts, but we managed to keep it on track, changing the drivers every half hour religiously, changing the trimmers for concentration, and we pushed it as hard as we could.'
O'ROURKE is keen on running as Corinthian a campaign as possible, from the point of view of getting very good sailors. He said, 'We have about 30 lads at this stage and because the boat is a good boat it's fairly easy to get crew. Trick is if you put the right people in the right place, you get good results.'
For this race, O'ROURKE continued, 'The Irish bowman, Cam MARSHALL, was outstanding. He went up the rig during the race to change the [fractional port] halyard that we broke and lost overboard in 30 knots in the Celtic Sea. Coming in here to the finish we were concerned that if the wind died, and we had to do a bare-headed change - we had done our calculations and we realized we were really close [on time] to beat Rambler - it would make the difference [of winning or losing] so we sent him up the rig, and no problem.'
There was another key breakdown before they got to the Lizard going out, when the GPS broke and they had to run a DR (dead reckoning), and get out the paper charts and go back to the traditional way of navigating. The crew were taking fixes every two hours and also didn't have any weather forecasts.
Still, O'ROURKE said, 'We pushed hard to make all the tidal gates and we just about made them, we pushed hard to make all the weather changes and we were looking out for those. Luckily the race went our way, but it could have just as easily gone the other way.'
As for Chieftain's prior race history, shortly after it was launched the boat went straight to Australia for Hamilton Island Race Week, where it came in fifth, it then won class in the 2005 Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race before being shipped to Ireland. Back home, Chieftain competed in all of the 2006 season RORC races and won class in the Round Ireland, won overall in Round Britain and Ireland Race, and were deservedly awarded Boat of the Year in Ireland in 2006. At the 2007 Antigua Sailing Week the boat beat ABN AMRO on handicap once, and then it headed north to Newport, Rhode Island and the transatlantic race earlier this summer.
Among one of the finishers this morning was the US-entry Snow Lion, Larry HUNTINGTON's, Ker 50, which was the 18th boat over the finish line.
HUNTINGTON commented that, 'The race was pretty straight forward, a lot of high powered reaching, a lot of water on deck but not super rough, we've been in much worse. A race like this is hard work, you're changing gears all the time, changing sail up and down so a watch doesn't go by that there aren't three or four revolutions that require a lot of horsepower.'
HUNTINGTON saw, '35 knots in spurts, a lot of steady winds for hrs at a time around at 30 kts, nothing super great, nothing scary. We routinely had two reefs and a little jib, sometimes three reefs. Talking about the most weather they saw during the race, he said, 'Coming back from the Fastnet Rock we lost our wind instruments.but we were running with the spinnaker up and hit 24 knots (of boat speed) on the edge of control.'
As of the latest OC Tracker position update at 1300 BST, leading on corrected time are Rambler (USA) in IRC Super Zero; Chieftain (IRL) in IRC SZ Canting Keel and overall; Courrier des Coeur (FRA) in IRC Zero; Scarlet Oyster (GBR) in IRC 1; Foggy Dew (FRA) in IRC 2; Persephone of London (GBR) in IRC 3, and PRB, in the Open 60 class.
As of Thursday at 19:30 BST, 31 yachts had finished, 27 yachts are racing and 213 yachts have retired from the race.
'We managed to make it around the Rock in 10, maybe 15 knots of breeze heading us, then got around and put up our R7 spinnaker and held it all the way. The wind slowly built as we rounded the Rock and the spreader buoy