Wind, rain and spinnaker troubles aboard Spirit of Jethou


Wind and rain – welcome to regatta racing in the UK in July. It’s a far cry from the cobalt seas of Antigua or Sardinia where Swan owners like to gather, but squally conditions in the Solent have provided the Swan European Regatta with plenty of tactical challenges and drama this week.

Today I was on Sir Peter Ogden’s Swan 601 Spirit of Jethou, as another warm front rolled through, laden with cloud, thick drizzle and winds topping 25 knots. Sir Peter has a great crew of professionals and talented part-timers, good-humoured and slick in equal measure. They include tactician Ian Budgen, Sir Peter on the helm, navigator Nat Ives and crew boss Stuart Branson, and they were fresh from ‘two bullets’ on yesterday’s races. This, however, was not Spirit of Jethou’s day.

As the wind built, a peel from spinnaker to asymmetric on the first race got out of hand – literally – and ended in a serious trawl. The crew wrestled the streaming S2 kite back on board and carried on to finish 3rd on corrected time, but it went wrong again on the second race of the day, this time with disastrous results.

The wind increased as the nimbostratus sneaked up and we sped back towards Cowes on the first downwind leg under the smaller S4 spinnaker. At the leeward mark, the crew squared away and the spinnaker was dropped and hauled in. As it came over the rail a fold fell into the water and it shot off behind us. The bottom of the kite tore across with a noisy rip and unzipped up the tape before disappearing to leeward, complete with guy and sheet. We rounded the mark and continued upwind while the acreage of pink sailcloth bobbed forlornly uptide in the opposite direction. Luckily it was picked up later by a RIB and returned to the crew after the race. Tonight is jigsaw night at North Sails?.

Ours was the most spectacular and costly mistake of the day, but we weren’t the only ones in trouble. On the downwind leg of the second race as the front arrived in earnest several other yachts could be seen wiping out.
The other crews vying for an overall win after two days of racing are Graham and Libby Deegan’s Swan 46 Akarana, Richard Loftus’s ever-reliable Swan 65 ketch Desperado and Ed Leask’s Swan 56 Magical, all battling consistently despite such a rough diet of squalls.

More on the regatta in the next Yachting World?..