Just 16 seconds split the Farr 52s Bear of Britain and Cheernikeeff II at Cowes today...and with good reason.

Today’s close finish at Skandia Cowes Week for arch rivalsBear of BritainandChernikeeff II, owned by Kit Hobday and Peter Harrison respectively, hinted at changes made to the yachts. Both of the Farr 52s have been deliberately modified so that they have identical IRC ratings; they weigh within 5kg of each other and carry close on the same sail area. The pair will be competing in extra-curricular match races off the Marine Parade in the evenings between Tuesday and Friday this week with one lay evening during that period.

Last year’s Skandia Cowes Week saw some pre-Auckland verbal jousting between Hobday and Harrison that bordered on the combative but this time around Hobday has nothing but praise for “tremendous support” from Harrison and his boat manager, Mark Fitzgerald, in mutual efforts to create a match racing pair that should more fairly reflect the skills of the crews onboard compared to handicap results which have always favoured one or the other according to the weather.

In order to reinforce the point,Bear of BritainandChernikeeff IIwill be holding a series of match races at 5.00pm from Tuesday to Friday this week, two per evening, with one evening off during that period. Both yachts will carry 15 crew with a 16th man; rumour has it RYA Chief Executive Rod Carr will be making an appearance onBearin the latter capacity.

Crews will be completely amateur, or professionals acting in an amateur capacity, although Harrison has apparently been encouraged to put as many America’s Cup crew onboardChernikeeff as possible to add to the spectacle. In the face of that Hobday says that his yacht “stands as much chance of winning as Dagenham Boy’s Club playing Manchester United” but that hasn’t stopped him placing a side-wager of £5,000 with Harrison, the winning pot to go to a prostate cancer charity.

There will be two match races per evening and the programme is intended to commence at 5.00pm.