If you’re buying a second-hand racing yacht, how do you ensure you’ll be competitive? Rupert Holmes analyses what to look for when buying a used yacht for serious IRC racing fun
If you want to participate in racing in the UK and much of the rest of the big sailing nations, you really need to look to IRC unless you are specifically looking for class racing. For many of us buying a new yacht is beyond our means, so what are the best second hand options top get an IRC winner?
A big factor in the success of classes as diverse as the former Fast 40 fleet and Quarter Tonners is that IRC is proven to be an extremely equitable rating system when used for boats of a similar style.
There are also plenty of examples of older designs – such as J/105s – notching up significant successes offshore, particularly in double-handed classes, while in last year’s Rolex Fastnet Race, an X-332 (designed in 1994) won Division 4. Equally, Ross Appleby’s Oyster 48 Scarlet Oyster has an enviable long-term record and was 3rd overall in last year’s RORC Season’s Points.
But what makes a good choice for inshore IRC racing? To some extent the high end of this arm of the sport is increasingly dominated by lightweight asymmetric planing designs. However, other well prepared and well sailed boats have also demonstrated they are still competitive. They include Lena Having’s Corby 33 Mrs Freckles, which won class at this year’s RORC Easter Challenge.
So what should you look for when considering a second-hand boat, especially for an inshore dominated IRC-based programme? Ian Atkins was in that position at the end of last season, when he bought Peter Morton’s Fast 40 Jean Genie, now renamed Dark N Stormy.
“We had identified the former Fast 40 boats as already being very competitive on IRC,” he told me. “Jean Genie is a boat we admired from afar last year, when we were racing an IC37.” Atkins was particularly impressed by the boat’s performance in light and moderate conditions, which he says is equal to Ràn Vll, Niklas Zennström’s Carkeek 40 that was launched to much acclaim in 2018.
The boat started life as a Spanish-built GP42 in 2009 that raced successfully on the Mediterranean circuit. Later she was optimised for the Solent Fast 40 class, with updates including a new keel, and raced as Zephyr for a couple of seasons. Morton then undertook a big refit, including a new deck, repositioning the pedestal to the back of the cockpit, and a comprehensive sail wardrobe.
“It was very well set up, with little for us to do last winter,” says Atkins.
Morton had several notable successes with the boat in 2021, including second place in the IRC Nationals, just one point behind Ràn, and a class win in Cowes Week, where he also lifted two of the regatta’s most prestigious and historic trophies, the Britannia Cup and New York Yacht Club Challenge Cup. His only reason for selling was to focus on a 5.5 Metre world championship campaign.
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What advice would Atkins give to anyone contemplating a similar campaign? “Start with the history of the boat and the modifications,” he says, “including comparing the IRC rating and key measurements to similar boats.”
It’s also fundamental to understand the price point, even though this can be difficult to assess on such high-end boats. This includes the sail inventory, which can represent a significant proportion of a boat’s second-hand value. With a smaller and less complex boat you might be able to assess this yourself, but it’s a different matter at this level of racing and Atkins had North Sails confirm the condition of the sails, and that there were no gaps in the inventory.
At the time of writing, Atkins has notched up an impressive series of overall victories in 2022, including against a mixed fleet including Cape 31s and J/111s in the Warsash Spring Series and in Class One at the RORC Easter Challenge regatta, which he says “was an important result for us against similar boats.”
He adds: “Although it was a small fleet, we had four really well sailed boats with very close racing and small rating differences. We won one race by one second, another we were runners-up by two seconds – it felt just like one design racing. The learning curve for us was very steep, but it proved there’s still good life in older raceboats that have been well looked after – I don’t think there’s any reason to worry about their age.”
Atkins is also the force behind an initiative to provide a new circuit for similar boats, with a new Grand Prix Zero class. This is intended to provide very close racing for a swathe of fast, lightweight designs, from IC37s to TP52s, with IRC ratings from 1.192 to 1.394 and displacement/length ratio less than 105.
He has identified more than a dozen suitable boats in the Solent area alone. The class’s first official outing was at RORC’s Vice Admirals’ Cup in late May, with 12 boats showing strong interest in racing with the class this season.
For a more Corinthian-oriented campaign, it’s worth considering the HP30 class. This high performance fleet of mostly 28-30ft boats has now been firmly established for several years and is expecting a fleet of 14 boats for key events this year, including the Nationals, Round The Island Race and Cowes Week.
Although a lot smaller, these boats still provide a giant dose of adrenaline in a big breeze and tantalisingly close racing in any weather. The class rule specifies asymmetric spinnakers and displacement/length ratio less than 120 (raised to 125 for pre-2016 boats) and IRC rating between 1.050 and 1.140.
A wide range of designs has been successful over the years, but class founder Joe Hall says it has now mostly split into Farr 280s and Far East 28Rs, plus a few older boats including a McConaghy 31, J/90 and Lutra 30.
Numerically the Far East 28R is the most popular, partly because more than 500 have been built and there are therefore plenty on the second-hand market, where prices start at just £33,500 including VAT.
On the other hand, only 13 Farr 280s were ever built and, with five already in the fleet, there are limited options for sourcing others. This invariably means buying a boat located overseas, although they are light enough to be towed on a road trailer.
Hall cautions against opting for a boat that’s too old, saying that the recent designs are “easy plug-and-play boats that are already set up with asymmetric spinnakers.” He also points out they are very robust, thanks to vacuum infused foam core construction, which is intrinsically more reliable than with balsa cores and more traditional glassfibre layup.
“Whatever the superficial condition of a Farr 280, for example,” he adds, “we know from experience that it can be brought back to a good racing condition with only a few days of work.”
Inshore and offshore
While there are some offshore optimised boats that fit the Grand Prix Zero format, notably RORC Commodore James Neville’s HH42 Ino XXX, most are configured only for inshore racing. For those wanting a boat to race in a mix of inshore and offshore events, the Performance 40 class makes a lot of sense. This includes designs such as J/111s, J/122s and J/121s, Grand Soleil 43, Farr 40s, King 40s, JPK 1180s and so on. When well set up and sailed all of these are proven to excel under IRC.
Key criteria for the Performance 40 class includes an IRC rating between 1.070-1.145 and displacement/length ratio of 125-205. This makes these boats fundamentally heavier than both the Grand Prix Zero and HP30 classes, which allows for a degree of comfortable accommodation for use offshore, or as a dual purpose boat for fast cruising as well. The class’s rule again assures very close racing at all of the seven regattas in this year’s programme. Overall winners in the past few years include a MAT 12, Mills 39, J/122 and King 40.
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