The defining feature of the third day of the regatta was a gusty and shifty southerly wind that varied from less than 10 knots at times to gusts of more than 20. After a bright morning, a band of cloud with showers on its leading edge was moving eastwards towards Cowes, with very light winds forecast to follow in its wake. As a result, relatively short courses were set to make good use of the day’s best winds.
The Quarter Ton fleet started on a spinnaker reach, heading east from the Black Group line off the Royal Yacht Squadron. Yesterday’s winner, Louise Morton’s Espada, together with Eric Reynolds’ Magnum Evolution, were a couple of lengths ahead of the rest of the fleet at the gun. Lincoln Redding, Led Pritchard and Cat Southworth?s Whiskers was next, just ahead of Dutch boat Theo Bakker’s Freres-Sur-Mer.
Morton extended her lead on the first leg to Fastnet Insurance, but lost out to Whiskers and Olly Ophaus’s Cote on the following two laps around windward-leeward marks. “There were really fluky and tricky conditions,” said Morton, “but I had some really good brains on board, including Andrea Brewster, Nicky Macgregor and Mary Rooke. It was really helpful to have their expertise to spot wind shifts and identify which boats to cover”‘ Espada’s crew worked really hard to regain the lead on the last windward leg, and crossed the line nearly three minutes ahead of Cote to take their second win in three races
In the Sigma 33 class Allan Fraser’s Prospero of Hamble and Mark Watkins’ Spirit of Kudo led away from the start. Spirit of Kudo hoisted her spinnaker at the gun, losing a couple of lengths in doing so. Two minutes later Prospero also hoisted and soon every boat was flying a spinnaker. Prospero then pulled out a 10-length lead, with Stuart Brand and Emma Gage’s Ephesian, the winner on the first two days, a further 10 lengths behind in third.
Ephesian eventually overhauled both Prospero and Spirit of Kudo, but was denied a third win by Jeff Worboys’ Workout, which finished with a lead of almost three minutes. Prospero was third, finishing 81 seconds behind Ephesian.
One of the more crowded starts on the RYS Black Group line today was for the 31 yachts in IRC Class 6. Starting towards the northern end, Ed Browne and Nick Daniels’ First 32 Gravity Boots initially led the fleet away. A few lengths behind her was Simon Cory’s Cory Yachts 290 Icom Cool Blue, she already had the spinnaker up on the tight reach, but at this stage it was only filling intermittently.
Next was Ian Braham’s MG346 Enigma, again with her spinnaker hoisted, but unable to get it filled in the disturbed air around the fleet. Having extended her lead on the boats struggling with spinnakers, two minutes in Gravity Boots hoisted her kite, but it filled in a gust and she rounded up in a spectacular broach that allowed Icom Cool Blue to get past.
At the same time another boat, Mark Brown and Justin Leese’s Figaro Black Diamond, was quietly pulling through to leeward of the fleet. For a couple of minutes she and Icom Cool Blue were neck and neck, but then Black Diamond pulled ahead and continued to extend into a useful lead on the water.
She was ahead at the finish, taking line honours more than a minute and a half ahead of Enigma. However, on handicap Black Diamond was unable to save her time on either Enigma or on one of the lower-rated yachts in the fleet and the oldest yacht at the regatta, Sir Michael Briggs? Clyde 30 linear rater, Mikado, which dates from 1904.
Battle of the dayboats
White group competitors had another day of intense competition, with two classes standing out among the many close races. In the Flying 15 fleet Paralympic sailor Andrew Millband and Tony Hastings’ Fifty Fifty was the only boat to record two podium scores in the first two days of racing and today proved just as tight, with the first four boats just 63 seconds apart at the end of their two-hour race.
Mike Boll and Gil McCutcheon’s Ffuraha notched up their first win, finishing with a 47-second cushion ahead of Alex and Mike Tatlow’s Affore the Weak. Five seconds later Fifty Fifty was next across the line to take third place, with Nick Clarke’s Black finishing 11 seconds later to take fourth place.
In the Squib class start, Jim Holdstock and Ray Prime’s Jess looked clear ahead of the fleet on port at the outer end of the line, although Martin and Anne Harrison’s Hussar was also very well placed, as were Peter Wilson’s Crazy Diamond, and Duncan Grindley and Dave Ross in Surprise. A few boats tried spinnakers on the tight reach across the Solent to Lepe Spit, but quickly realised it was not a speed-enhancing decision.
Hussar rounded the first mark with a five-length lead over Jess at the start of a long downwind leg into the eastern Solent, sailing as close as possible to the north shore to gain relief from the ebb tide. “There was a Redwing that went aground twice in front of us,” says Harrison, “so we knew where the edge of the bank was. But even then we scraped the bottom and heeled hard over to get off.”
As soon as the boats behind saw this, the entire fleet headed for deeper water, simultaneously changing direction like a flock of birds. On the next leg, a windward one to East Knoll buoy, Hussar initially stayed slightly to the right hand side of the course and lost a couple of places to boats on the left. On the last windward leg to Seafarer Ale, Hussar stayed to the right, waiting for a big wind shift before tacking onto starboard. The strategy worked and she rounded the final mark, Seafarer Ale, with a 50-metre lead.
“It was really hard work, one of the hardest races I’ve done in a long time,” said Harrison. “The wind was all over the place, so we were always looking at the numbers [compass heading] and constantly trimming the sails. But it was very rewarding for us.”
Today was also a close race for many others in the class six boats rounded the second mark simultaneously, and three boats Jess, Chris Gear and Andy Faulks’ Osprey, and Kevin and Marney Gibson’s Satu rounded the last mark together and were only 32 seconds apart at the finish. Places eight to twelve were then decided by just 51 seconds.
Report by Rupert Holmes
Bright sun and a brisk east to south-east wind averaging 15-20 knots, but with gusts above 25 knots, provided exhilarating conditions for the first day of racing at this year’s Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week.
With the strongest gusts forecast to be in the Eastern Solent, the dayboats in White Group classes starting from the RYS line were sent on a downwind leg to a course in the western Solent, before beating back to finish on the RYS line.
The early White Group classes to start had the last of the ebb tide sweeping them over the line, with most competitors taking a very cautious approach. In the Daring class almost the entire fleet was heading away from the line with only 20 seconds to go. Roger Marwood and Mike Bilbo’s Audax, skippered by Steve Sleight, looked as though they planned to make a break from the pack, starting to hoist the spinnaker early, but were forced to luff by a boat below.
At the gun, David Christie and John Mulcahy’s Finesse, Robin Richardson’s Division Belle, and Giles Peckham’s Dauntless were almost abreast of each other at the outer end of the line, just ahead of the pack. The fleet soon spread wide across the racetrack as they headed towards Cowes Radio, their first mark, off the Beaulieu River.
Division Belle was unable to maintain her initial advantage, but it was a good opening day for Peckham, who has won the class four times in the past five years. He took the winning cannon, more than two minutes ahead of Finesse, while Jeremy Preston and Mark Fear were third in Defender, another 32 seconds later.
The Dragon fleet includes a number of world-class sailors and the leading boats were pushing as hard as they dared at the start. Although already close to the line, Gavia Wilkinson-Cox’s Jerboa was first to hoist a spinnaker, 10 seconds before the gun, and was swiftly followed by Graham and Julia Bailey’s Aimee. Sandwiched between the two was Chris Brittain’s Bear, which gybed onto a parallel course between them before hoisting, but a wrap round the furled genoa cost a few valuable seconds.
Initially the advantage went to Jerboa, who led round the first mark, Cowes Radio. However, she overstood the layline on the approach to the Gurnard Sailing Club mark at the end of the first windward leg, allowing Brittain to get through.
At that stage Graham and Julia Bailey’s Aimee was very close behind Bear, but their spinnaker was damaged on the drop and exploded on the next run, giving Bear an easier run into the finish. Yet she crossed the line only 16 seconds ahead of Eric Williams’ Ecstatic. 80-year-old American Edward Sawyer, who’s back in Cowes for the first time since breaking his neck during the Dragon Edinburgh Cup six years ago, took third place in Clairvoyant, crewed by Martin ‘Stavros’ Payne and Pedro Andrade.
It was an intensely close race throughout, with only 86 seconds separating the first four boats. Brittain, who now lives in Bermuda and was sailing a chartered boat with his wife Jilly, said afterwards: “It was a really great race a bit more hairy than we were expecting, but really exciting. It was also fantastic to finish on the RYS line and get a gun that’s what Cowes Week is all about.”
Thirteen RS Elites are racing this week in advance of the national championship that will be hosted by the Royal Yacht Squadron. Although the fleet was all clear at the start, a fraction of a second before the gun Martin Wadhams’s Kiss swerved away from the line to be sure of not being over, allowing Jono Brown’s Aeolus to take an early lead. Chris Preston’s Limelight, just to leeward of Kiss, also pulled away as the fleet sped downwind under asymmetric spinnakers.
This class has often posted some of the closest racing at Cowes Week and today was no exception, with five boats, representing places three to seven, crossing the finish within 50 seconds. Crauford McKeon’s Kandoo lll was first home, one minute 42 seconds ahead of Wadhams. Third place was taken by Freebie, sailed by Tom Montgomery, Sonny Mallet and 1968 Olympic gold medallist Iain Macdonald-Smith.
High speed rivalry
There were spectacular conditions in the eastern Solent for the yachts in Black Group, with even the smallest boats surfing downwind at double-digit speeds, aided by the wind against tide induced short, but steep, waves. The big boats saw much greater speeds, with the TP52 Toe in the Water that’s crewed by traumatically injured servicemen hitting 21.9 knots.
Classes starting from the main Black Group line started heading east from a much shorter line than in previous years. With the tide in the deep water still ebbing, the northern end of the line appeared slightly favoured, offering useful tidal relief on the south side of the Bramble Bank as they beat upwind to the eastern Solent.
At the start of IRC Class 1, Jamie McWilliam’s Ker 40 Peninsula Signal 8 appeared to be in pole position close to northern end of the line, followed by Mike Greville’s Ker 39 Erivale lll, and another Ker 40, Nigel Passmore’s Apollo 5, and Michael Bartholomew’s King 40 Tokoloshe.
These were also the top four boats on corrected time at the end of the three and a half hour race. Apollo 5 took line honours, just over two minutes ahead of Peninsula Signal 8, with the two boats also taking first and second on corrected time, with Tokoloshe third.
In IRC Class 2, Duncan McDonald and Phil Thomas’ J/111 Shmokin’ Joe, Andrew McIrvine’s First 40 La Response, Richard Göransson’s Corby 36 Inga from Sweden and Joe Bottomley/Oliver Heer’s First 40 Sailplane led the fleet away, all starting towards the northern end of the line.Shmokin’ Joe, Sailplane and Inga from Sweden were the first three boats to cross the finish line, but all had been among the seven in the class that were OCS at the start.
This left Peter Rutter’s Grand Soleil 43 Trustmarque Quokka to take line honours, 58 seconds ahead of Steve Cowie’s First 40 Zephyr. However, Rutter was not able to save his time on Zephyr, who took first on handicap, with Rutter second and another First 40, David Vines Carpe Diem third.
The strong winds meant some gear damage was inevitable, including torn sails and at least one dismasting, however few classes saw more than one or two retirements. The main exception is the 83-strong 101-year-old XOD class, which struggled in the strong wind against tide conditions. Competitors will remember the opening day for sun, the exhilaration of fast downwind sailing with the occasional spectacular broach, and some really close racing.
Report by Rupert Holmes