In the end John SHEPHERD's big boat, Fair Do's VII made it around the race course cleanly to post a second place behind Anthony O'LEARY's Antix Eile in Ireland White, while the two smaller GBR Red boats, Jerry OTTER's Erivale III and Peter RUTTER's Quokka 7 had a much harder time in their classes, the mid-boat finishing ninth and the small boat coming home fourth. But overall the results were good enough for GBR Red to win the 2008 Rolex Commodores' Cup comfortably, on 122 points with the two Irish teams White and Green on 144 and 161 respectively, pulling ahead of France Blue today, the defending champions dropping to fourth on 166.5.
"We have prepared for this like no other GBR team has prepared in the past," explained a jubilant SHEPHERD on his arrival back in Cowes Yacht Haven. "In the last Rolex Commodores' Cup, we were the top boat overall, but our team didn't have quite the same consistent results, so I sat down with the other owners and said if we are going to do this again it has to be properly prepared for and planned." The owners within GBR Red were the only ones of the four GBR teams to form their own team which they presented to the selectors at the Royal Yachting Association with full details of their campaign, their boats, crew, preparation, race schedule and training. Fair Do's VII and Quokka 7 were both specially built to win the Rolex Commodores' Cup while Erivale III was also known to be a good offshore boat. On Fair Do's VII they also rotated crew, in particular attempting to keep their inshore tactician David LENZ, fresh by not taking him on the offshore race.
"This is the fifth event we have done," said SHEPHERD. "The standard has increased dramatically, even over the last two years. It is a much more serious event. It has also been a very cheerful event too, especially the camaraderie among the teams."
But today's outcome for GBR Red hung in the balance due to the race Quokka 7 was having in Class Three. Approaching the weather mark, Quokka 7 infringed and in order to avoid disqualification was forced to carry out two penalty turns. On the second of these the mainsheet block hit owner RUTTER. "I got hit on the head and the next thing I knew we were heading down the run," described RUTTER, now sporting a large lump in his forehead. "I lost the plot for a few minutes."
The turns left Quokka 7 trailing the fleet but the crew pulled out all the stops for the remainder of the race. "We flew the kite on the first run and took off and ground our way back. You could feel the Rolex Commodores' Cup eeking away from us at that stage. And the boys kept going and kept going and there was enough race left in it." Impressively over the course of the race Quokka 7 sailed up the fleet from last to finish third on the water.
This is RUTTER's fifth Rolex Commodores' Cup and he paid tribute to his crew, helmsman Martin MOODY and John CORBY, designer of his new boat. "The boat has done really well here. She gave us a get out of jail card and Martin steered very well. We were looking down a pit were thinking 'here we are last'. We knew we had to get back to fourth and we managed it."
Jerry OTTER's team also managed to squeeze through today despite encountering its own set of problems. "We went through a gybe and broached out and had to recover from that - we were on our side," recounted OTTER. "On the second run, the halyard slipped and it dropped about 20 feet. So just two bad things in the same day: one was a failure of equipment, the other was our own mistake. But that's how it goes."
Otherwise OTTER was jubilant about GBR Red's result and personally his second Rolex Commodores' Cup victory: "It's fantastic news - wonderful, and the second time. I am very pleased for the guys. It would have been nice to have won it in style, but we'd got the points in the bag previously and we'd all worked very hard all week and we knew that as the middle boat we just had to support the other two. So we feel we have done what we set out to do."
Despite leaving the windiest wind race until last, the 30 knot near gale-force conditions proved too much for many of the competitors, with five boats in Class One along having to retire. Worst hit was the Netherlands White small boat Slainte which was dismasted. But most boats retired with boom or sail damage, sustained during the large number of wipe-outs today. Even defending champion Gery TRENTESAUX fell victim to gear failure when the end of Lady Courrier's boom broke on the first run.
"Congratulations to the English," said TRENTESAUX. "They sailed very well and were a level ahead. I think we were perhaps too late. We are 13 on board but we should have been 13 big guys to be faster! I am sorry for the French team. I don't like to break my boat, but I know that it is life, it is part of the game. We are very lucky but we weren't lucky today.
"The French were happy to be here and there was a good atmosphere. The RORC perfectly organised the championship and it gets better and better every time. The relations were good between teams."
Within the three Classes the top scoring boats were Anthony O'LEARY's Antix Eile on a very impressive 24 points to second placed Fair Do's VII on 45 in Class One, while in Class Two, Kees KAAN's ROARK/Claus en Kaan Architecten held a similar lead over Eamonn ROHAN's Blondie IV. But it was in Class Three that there was the closest finished, Quokka 7 squeezing ahead of Jamie MCWILLIAM's well sailed Hong Kong boat Yeoman of Wight by just half a point.
The prizegiving was held this evening at the Royal Yacht Squadron where the winning GBR Red team were presented with the Rolex Commodores' Cup trophy and three steel and gold Rolex Submariner chronometers.
The next Rolex Commodores' Cup will be held in 2010.
Results - click here