Olympian Ainslie flies in to steer Babbalaas to first victory

By Andi Robertson, DOUBLE Olympic Medallist Ben Ainslie made a key difference to the fortunes of David MacLean's Welsh flagged IC 45 Babbalaas in the showcase IRM High Performance Class at Ford Cork Week yesterday as light winds continued to affect racing.

Ainslie flew in for a couple of days light relief after his crucial title victory at the Finn European Championships which finished at the weekend in Turkey and before heading to Athens at the weekend for the first pre-Olympic regatta, and steered Babbalaas to her first win of the regatta.

Reunited with the Welsh construction and engineering company boss’s crew with whom he won the UK title for the IRM Class last month, Ainslie showed typical sharpness off the starting line guiding Babbalaas off the favoured right hand end of the start line and then place the 45 foot Farr designed IC 45 in the best strand of breeze. With this early advantage they even lead the bigger, faster 50-footers for most of the race.

Babbalaas has a star-studded line-up on board. While local ace Joe English has been steering this week, he has had the services of Neal McDonald - who skippered Assa Abloy to second place in the recent Volvo Ocean Race - on mainsheet while McDonald’s wife, Lisa, who skippered Amer Sports Too in the same race is in the pit looking after the halyards.

On the bow is Ireland’s top international bowman Justin Slattery, who raced on the Volvo Race and in the last Whitbread, and alternate tactician with Ainslie has been Olympic bronze medallist Ossie Stewart.

Racing again in an at times fickle 5-6 knots of breeze which alternately puffed up and faded away through the race, Babbalaas was pushed hard later in the race as the overall class leader Wolf, an identical IC 45 which is being sailed by an amateur crew under owner Glyn Williams, with Scots tactician Kevin Sproul, a Hamble sailmaker who is the only full-time pro onboard.

As Babbalaas became slightly involved with the 52 foot Bear of Britain cross gybing down the final run, the bigger boat finally broke through to cross the finish second behind Nick Hewson’s sister ship Farr 52 Team Tonic, the two IC 45’s finished only a boat length apart, with Wolf’s second place margin cut to 12 seconds by the handicappers computer.

“Our wage bill is definitely smaller than theirs this week,” quipped one of the Wolf crew, “so it’s nice to be up there at the moment and be sailing well. The boat is going well and we seem to be quick in these winds.”

Wolf leads the IRM High Performance Class by seven points after winning twice on Tuesday.

With the breeze staying light and unsettled the race officer made the popular decision to cancel the day’s second race and allow the IRM and IRC Classes 1 and 2 fleet ashore early to get first to the bar.

There is still controversy, which will probably run and run, in Class 0, the big boat class racing under IRC Handicap which is more designed for the racer cruisers, after most of the fleet missed an arbitrarily imposed time limit for all racing.

Set at 1730hrs this is at odds with the usual more flexible rule which affords more time to smaller, slower-rated boats to allow them a pro-rata opportunity to finish. The matter was back under review last night.

On the water, Dun Laoghaire’s Colm Barrington and his team on the Corby 38 Gloves Off scored their first win of the week in the Class to wrest overall class leadership from Robbie Boulter and his Cowes-based Thunder 2. While Gloves Off has the services of Welsh pro skipper EddieOwen as tactician, Thunder 2, like Wolf, has an amateur team.

Designed by Wicklow-based naval architect Mark Mills, Thunder 2 is winner of the X-99 UK title and past winner here when the X-99 was a strong one design class.

Their fifth place yesterday leaves them in second behind Gloves Off which leads by just one point. Roy Dickson’s Dublin based Corby 40 Cracklin Rosie finished second to give the Cowes designer John Corby a measure of satisfaction.

In IRC Class 1, the very well sailed French IMX 40 Cajou, sailed by Pierre Blayou and a crew from Dinard, still holds the upper hand. They have won three races and lead by a comfortable seven points from the Scottish boat Bateleur 97.

While the 1720 class results may indicate that Babbalaas owner David MacLean has the talent to be on two boats at once as his 'baby’ BabbalaasBach also leads the 1720 fleet, but his 1720 is on loan to top UK dinghy ace Rob Larke who is currently making rather a good job of leading the Cork 1720’s. After six races Babbalaas Bach has a comfortable 18-point lead.

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