The 52 classic yachts of all ages and types racing at Cowes are a feast for the eyes

“Feel the temperature of this,” says Brian Turner as he thrusts a can of Carling lager towards me. It is shiveringly cold and beading nicely with condensation.

Yesterday I was sailing on Clarion of Wight, a 1960s Sparkman & Stephens racer that had just arrived in Cowes at 0600 yesterday after a very windy delivery from the East Coast. Running on empty, the cold beer gave Brian Turner’s crew a second wind as they contemplated the next twin pole gybe.

I have already discovered that loads of people remember and have stories about Clarion of Wight. By coming round to Cowes this week for the Panerai British Classic Yacht Club Regatta she is returning to her historical roots. Clarion was built here at Clare Lallow’s yard in 1963.

She raced in the British America’s Cup team and won the Fastnet Race under her first owners. Later she was bought by Sir Maurice Laing, who modified her underwater for IOR racing in the Seventies and replaced the keel-hung rudder with a skeg-hung rudder with trim tab.

Like that old film ‘The Yellow Rolls Royce’ her narrative of consecutive owners and new lives goes on. She was sold to Irish sailor Dr Rory O’Hanlon and nearly a decade after her racing career in Britain was a part of the Irish AC team.

My husband remembers her in Ireland from her time with Rory O’Hanlon when she was one of the most famous yachts in the Irish Sea. So, too, does photographer Rick Tomlinson who tells me he made his first ever passage from the Isle of Man to Ireland on Clarion.

He also recalls that the yacht was wrecked after Manx fishermen with a grudge against yachtsmen cut her lines in harbour and she ended up being wrecked on a reef and afterwards was restored on the island.

Mike Whipp (he of Paragon trimaran fame) also owned her, I believe, and now she belongs to Brian Turner, who keeps her near Harwich. He has done quite a substantial amount of work to keep her up to racing form in the last 18 years, but she is still very much a working racing yacht and “95% original below,” right down to the old B&G instruments and course corrector.

Our course in the eastern Solent yesterday was in the most beautiful conditions: gorgeous sunshine, 12-knot easterly against a strong westgoing tide and a circuit with several downwind legs and gybes for Turner and his crew of friends to show off some laidback but very slick sailhandling.

To cap it all, we got line honours and managed to finish just ahead of Opposition, the S&S racer that was once Sir Edward Heath’s Morning [Glory] Cloud II and one of Clarion of Wight’s biggest rivals.

This was the first day’s racing for some 52 classic yachts of all ages and sizes that had gathered for a week’s racing at the Panerai British Classic YC Regatta. The event at Cowes is an absolute feast of old yachts and in many ways more interesting (well, I think it is) than the pristine line-ups you see at the swanky big Med regattas because of the range of designs and types. There are all sorts, from a cluster of 26ft Nicholson South Coast One-Designs all the way up to the beautiful Fife-designed Mariquita, a 19 Metre rater of 125ft LOA.

Among them are some real stunners: beautiful examples from the Square Metre Classes, old gaffers, modern Spirit Yachts and many well-loved family boats that are so much more than luxury products or status symbols. They are, above all, someone’s pride and joy and the recipient of many, many long hours of work and careful, pained expenditure.

If you are about the Solent this week or this weekend it’s a great sight, and there is a parade of sail on Sunday of all these wonderful yachts.

For a taster here are a selection of my snappy snaps taken from Clarion of Wight.


 Panerai BCYC 7


Panerai BCYC 6


Panerai BCYC 5


Panerai BCYC 3


Panerai BCYC 2


Panerai BCYC 1