David Glenn reports from the wet but content deck of the mighty 200ft schooner Athos as she sped round the course in the opening race of the Pendennis Cup

After the perfect symmetry of last week
when four J Class yachts graced the waters off Falmouth, a more eclectic fleet
took its turn today when the Pendennis Cup got underway for its four-race
contest. The only common denominator apart from the location was the weather -
rain, poor visibility, but a good breeze which got the 12 strong fleet away on
time and brought them home for a fairly early beer.

This is the third edition of the Pendennis
and with a lot of big boats in Britain for a series of events surrounding
the 2012 Olympics, the West Country superyacht event has come of age, the dock
crammed with boats and many familiar faces from the burgeoning world of
superyacht racing dusting off their seriously foul weather gear.

I found myself aboard the 200ft/61m Andre
Hoek-designed schooner Athos, a giant swing centreboarder with just under an
acre of upwind sail and 700kW of power to drive the 23 hydraulic functions
required just to put her through a tack!

With all that power and seeming complexity
the yacht was nonetheless a picture of calm as we prepared to take our pursuit
race style staggered start as the last yacht off the line. Ahead of us in our
class in the Pendennis Cup were the likes of the Herreshoff schooner Mariette of 1915, the
Storey/Dykstra schooner Adela, the Fife gaff cutter Mariquita, the Santa Cruz
70 Breakaway, the Oyster 82 Bare Necessities, the Hoek ketch Velacarina, the
Frers sloop Unfurled from Huisman and the Stephens Waring White designed Bequia
from the USA. As I say, eclectic.

Captain Tony Brookes had assembled an
awesome crew, some fresh from the J Class regatta. Aided an abetted by sail
maker Robbie Doyle and an afterguard bristling with electronic aids, we came
into the line on starboard about 20 seconds adrift and work to do.

Tacking a yacht like this might involve a
symphony of hydraulic whirrs and groans but it also means furling the vast
headsail to get it through the fairly small gap between the forestay and the
staysail so getting out to the port hand layline in one tack seemed like a good
move. Once we were round the weather mark we let that acre of sail do its work.

This long plain sail reach saw us haul in
the entire fleet barring Mariette, Adela and Unfurled which rounded just ahead
of us having enjoyed the leg under a Code 0 style reacher which they duly
furled and prepared to drop before coming hard on the wind. Only they didn’t
get the chance to drop it because it – err – unfurled involuntarily from the
top and duly shredded itself.

It seemed only a matter of time before we
would reel in the front runners on the long port tack biased beat to the weather
mark but Adela hung on doggedly and Unfurled got into her stride upwind easily
seeing off the schooners including Mariette which we did, eventually, manage to
overhaul before the mark.

We tried keel down, up, halfway down and
then put a reef in the main as the wind topped 28 knots true, the rail went
down and as chief engineer and trimmer Robin Row pointed out ‘that isn’t fast…’

We also tried at least two helmsmen on that
leg who clearly found it difficult to nail the ‘sweet spot’ as the giant schooner’s bowsprit hunted
across the grey horizon, the 460-ton schooner struggling to find her groove.
But we had three fast but short reaching legs left and while on corrected time
– these yachts are all IRC rated – we were unlikely to be looking at the podium,
our on the water position promised a close finish.

The owner’s touch on the wheel brought in
excess of 14 knots and we began to get very close to Adela which was being
steered with considerable guile by Stan Person. Meanwhile Unfirled held her
lead but without her Code reacher she was slow and only just held her elapsed
time lead. Adela finished just 16 seconds ahead of us but on corrected we could
only manage 4th behind Mariette, Unfurled and Athos.

But this regatta isn’t just about big
boats. There’s another class comprising Mikado, Firebrand and Tomahawk, all
little beauties whose shorter course occasionally brought them tumbling out of
the mist and rain on different headings. Tomorrow I’ll be joining Ed Dubois
aboard Firebrand for the Pendennis Cup. Watch this space!

Click here for more Pendennis Cup news straight from Falmouth.