Gilles Martin-Raget /

Clean sweep for Ranger

Lionheart domination comes to an end among the Js at Les Voiles de St Tropez

Saturday October 4th 2014, Author: Andi Robertson, Location: France

Ranger stole an exciting final race win from under the nose of Velsheda to ensure that the team which have been second at all three previous regattas this season, Mahon, Palma and Porto Cervo, win Les Voiles de Saint Tropez unbeaten. 

The Ranger crew, under skipper-helm Erle Williams, was delighted. Their deck brush subtly fastened to the backstay told the story, a ‘clean sweep’ of all four Saint Tropez races. From the breezy, bouncy wet first days of the world famous regatta, to today’s exacting cliffhanger finale, Ranger triumphed in each successive contest, and had all but won the title before the last race started.

But they wanted to finish on a high note. And they did.

Murray Jones, Ranger’s America’s Cup winning tactician stated: 
“Even though we knew we had won the series we really wanted to race today. We wanted to finish with a race and hopefully to do well. It was an awesome race, all three boats were in it, everyone coming and going and it went right to the end.”

Velsheda had her own job to do as well. She needed to beat Lionheart to take second overall here and that was her crew's primary focus. But the race which developed was as close and exciting as any this season with the lead swinging back and forth between Ranger and Velsheda four times in the light, patchy breeze. 

With the wind refusing to build until after 1400, many thought racing would be cancelled as it was on Friday due to the very light airs, but the short 1.4 miles windward-leeward circuit started in seven knots of patchy southeasterly breeze.

Ranger started best again and looked to have earned a decent early lead but when she came back to the right Velsheda’s tactical partnership of Tom Dodson and Hamish Pepper had sniffed out a better lane of pressure and Velsheda was able to ease round the top mark leading by just under one minute. 

Ranger rallied down the run and only just got through the leeward gate ahead. Velsheda held for a late drop and suffered but her crew's choice of the left got her back into a good lead at the second windward mark. This run the positions were altered and Ranger got back in touch with Velsheda by the final turn. A smooth, slick Kiwi drop allowed Ranger to hold her way best to the right, choosing not to simply follow Velsheda left up the final half mile beat. Ranger profited immediately from extra, new wind pressure filling from the windward side of the track and crossed the finish only seconds ahead of Velsheda.

After being unable to impose herself at the start Lionheart was sailed well and was right back in the race at the leeward gate, challenging hard, but the next beat saw her drift into a wind hole from which she was unable to recover, finishing third and third overall.

With her less powerful more cruising-orientated set up and as a heavier, older boat than the newer or race optimised boats, Shamrock finished fourth across the line to conclude an enjoyable regatta, proving a great asset to the fleet which was beyond compare in terms of spectator interest on the water - throughout Les Voiles de St Tropez the J-Class has remained the centre of attention, on the water and off.

Ranger’s winning tactician Murray Jones dripping wet from his impromptu dip in the Saint Tropez old port harbour, said: “It was an awesome race, all three boats were in it, everyone coming and going and it went right to the end. Coming into the leeward gate I had said that the left hand mark looking down is going to be the best one, but we will take the opposite of Velsheda because that is our only chance. We were set up for the Kiwi drop and fortunately they went for the right hand mark and the breeze went soft for them. And that was it. They gave us an inch and we took it. We sailed these four regattas and had three seconds, and so to get a win is very satisfying. There are lots of things to improve on. But I have really enjoyed sailing on Ranger. I had never sailed a J Class boat before this year. It took the one race in Mahon when I got a few things wrong and then I figured it out. At this regatta we started well and go things going pretty well. But it is a fine line. The next regatta can be completely different. We’ll take it while we can.”

Equally wet and satisfied was skipper Erle Williams: “We had great crew work to the end. The Kiwi drop at the last gate was as good as the guys have done all season. Murray Jones called the pressure better from the mark and we never give in, we are a great team on Ranger. We fight until the end. We know we don’t have the fastest boat but we have a great team spirit. 
We have had three seconds in a row at successive regattas. We have a great team of guys. 
I am so glad we got a race away today. It is nice to finish with the win. If we had not raced today and we still would have won we would have felt a bit flat coming back in. Velsheda were sailing well but we never gave up today, that is what Ranger is about. We were able to get back around the leeward mark with them, we did a beautiful Kiwi drop and that helped. 
The way we sail as a team has just got steadily better. There is no question that Murray Jones has had a huge impact, the trimmers, the whole crew have done such a great job.”

Velsheda’s Dodson rued a few costly mistakes, but was pleased his crew had come out ahead of Lionheart: 
“It was a good race. We have a lot to work on after that race. We put ourselves under a lot of pressure at the bottom marks specifically and we did not come out of that so well. I guess it is not just one thing but I put us under pressure which we did practice before the regatta, that did not come off too well. We had a couple of late spinnaker drops and that is probably what cost us. When we get to England next year we will be bringing out all the notes and looking at it all again. 
Second here is not what we had in mind. The whole season has been a bit of a learning curve for us. And so I guess realistically this is where we are at the moment. We are not first.”

Lionheart struggled at times having lost the core of her team to Team Brunel on the Volvo Ocean Race. Making key crew changes when she was up against teams which at the season’s end are polished, slick units, was always going to be difficult. But Lionheart remains the season’s standout team having won three regattas in a row in Menorca, Palma and Porto Cervo.

Louise Morton, J-Class Secretary concluded: “This has been a great season with the closest and most exciting racing yet. There have been many different race winners and the battles have gone to the finish line of the last races. Porto Cervo showed just how good the racing is now with three boats going into the final race on equal points with an equal chance to win. And with new boats expected for 2015, next year holds great promise.”

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