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from the Editors of
Sailing World

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2011 US-IRC Handbook

March 2011

Winners’ Circle

, Soverel 33

     Nick Ward has a moment etched in his memory: the top of the first beat of the last race of the 2010 Sperry Top-Sider Detroit NOOD. He needed to win the race to give his team a shot at victory in the regatta’s IRC A division. As he steered Rum, the Soverel 33 he co-owns with Greg Kinney, toward the windward mark, Ward was thrilled to discover that his 27-year-old warhorse was crossing bigger, speedier boats like a Farr 40, a Farr 49, and a Frers 50. “That was something I don’t think I’ll ever forget,” says the 36-year-old from Port Huron, Mich. “Sure, we benefited from a big wind shift. But, as a crew, we’d worked really hard to put ourselves in a position where we were at the front of the pack at the end of a major regatta with a chance at winning it all."

     Though Rum went on to win the race, the team lost the series on a tiebreaker to Burton Jones’ Express 37 Burden IV. “We’ve got a pretty good rivalry going with those guys,” says Ward. The two teams have battled at the Sperry Top-Sider Detroit NOOD since the regatta introduced an IRC division in 2007.

     “When we bought the boat eight years ago, I’d never even heard of IRC,” says Ward.

     Through his work as a measurer for PHRF, Ward found out about the ratings system and decided to take the measurement-certification class. Soon, he was promoting the IRC division at the Bayview Mackinac Race. Last summer, he helped organize the US-IRC Great Lakes Championship at Port Huron YC, his home club. With first place finishes in all three races, Rum won the four-boat IRC 2 division.

     “I think IRC is a good, fair system,” he says. “My boat was built in 1983, and we’re more than competitive. When we were racing PHRF, there were times when boats were beating each other by 200 seconds. In IRC, there’s barely a minute between first and last place. We’re constantly asking ourselves, ‘Where did we lose 15 or 20 seconds?’ That’s what IRC is all about, getting your boat around the racecourse as fast as you can.”

     The best way to beat the clock, reasons Ward, is to reduce mistakes and mishaps. To that end, he makes every effort to ensure that Rum is ready to race, having long ago vowed not to let preventable breakdowns slow him down. “If something is fatigued, we replace it before it breaks. If the halyards aren’t running smoothly, we fix the problem well before the race. The way we look at it, if something breaks while we’re racing, the day was a waste. If you’re not prepared, then you’re just wasting your crew’s time.”

     This mentality of preparedness and efficiency comes naturally to Ward, an auto-industry engineer, and to Kinney, an electrical contractor. Because they race Rum according to Soverel 33 one design standards, they haven’t made any IRC-specific optimizations. By maintaining the boat to strict standards and developing a dependable crew, however, Ward and Kinney race the boat to its full potential. During Wednesday-night beer can races in the summer, Ward encourages crew members to switch positions. “It always helps to move people around,” he says. “It’s fun for everyone, but it’s also great to have different people learn one another’s jobs. That way, when something goes wrong in the race and the pit guy needs to go help out on the bow, he’s got a better understanding of what’s going on up there.”

     With its high sail-area-to-displacement ratio, Rum performs best in light air. But when the breeze picks up, the crew has the confidence and experience to keep the boat
on its feet. “In heavy air, it helps to have a few more people on the rail,” says Ward. “But it really helps to have people on the rail who know how to get the boat around the racecourse.”