Experience shines again as Velsheda convincingly wins second J-Class race in Falmouth

For the full picture gallery of Race 2 click here

Being at sea when a proper pea-souper descends is one of the most disconcerting and disorientating feelings. But to then have a VHF broadcast announcing “I’m afraid I can’t give you anymore information on where they are, but look out for 200T yachts coming out of the mist doing eight or nine knots…” makes life seriously unnerving! I was off Pendennis Point, Falmouth today on a friend’s Sigma 36 when this came over the airwaves – luckily there were dozens of other fellow yachts around us to seek solace in numbers, all following the J-Class race before we became an armada lost in the mist.

The fog actually made a sensational impact earlier, as at the start, the top half of the stupidly tall rigs of the Js were completely lost in cloud (see accompanying pictures). Seeing them ghosting around in the grey pre-start conditions made it easy to think one had stepped back in time to the heyday of big class yacht racing. “It was like a scene from a Tim Thompson painting” was how a friend accurately likened it, having sailed here on her Mystery 35 from south Devon.

Perhaps the race officers had read my protest in yesterday’s report, and deserve credit for setting the startline and leeward marks right off Gyllyngvase beach to the west of Pendennis Castle, giving the packed carpark full of spectators the perfect view (fog willing) of the four Js in action. A 5-10 knot S-SE breeze over flat water the breeze was enough to get these 130ft plus sloops shifting at speeds most cruising yachts like ours couldn’t motor at. But a windward-leeward course means you can follow for some and position well to get a good view of most.

She may have a Dutch owner-driver now, but Velsheda, the Camper and Nicholsons built and only original J racing here in Falmouth, showed the newbies how it’s done in British waters.

Perhaps too keen to show her potential, brand new fleet member Rainbow, a replica of the America’s Cup defender from 1934, was too early at the start and had to wheel away and cross back behind the other three transoms on port. Velsheda gladly took the limelight, hitting the line at speed followed by Ranger and Lionheart. While the three newer Js tacked off towards Helford, Velsheda stood on for a while in the fresher breeze carrying a lovely lift and favourable ebb tide coming out of Falmouth. The result was when she did tack back over, followed by a perfect layline call to the weather mark, she had gained a healthy enough lead that she never had to look back from (nearly four minutes on Ranger by the first mark, and six on Lionheart who had lost ground to fellow Dutch boat Rainbow).

It was a procession of spinnakers back to the coastline, with the largest J Lionheart gybing first and gaining slightly on a shift (having fixed the big lightweight kite that blew apart yesterday costing them so dearly). The 30-minute legs were repeated, as the breeze filled in up to 10 knots, the second beat seeing the crews hiking and these elegant sloops powered up. Crew work looked slick on all four boats on the mark-roundings with incident free bear-away hoists, so positions remained unchanged by the time they headed into the last upwind leg and straight into the blanket of mystery. Principle Race Officer John Pickup made a sound, safe call by shortening the course then, with Velsheda taking the gun four minutes ahead of Ranger, while Lionheart obviously used the stealth conditions to her advantage, tacking just before the line to sneak ahead of Rainbow.
Once again crew experience shined today. Ranger and Velsheda are now level pegging. With much fresher, force four to six southwesterlies forecasted for the next three days, will the new Dutch boats show more potential?

It is certainly set up to a spectacular second half to this regatta and there is a real buzz forming ashore, with spectators lining the vantage points, and crowds lining the walkway around Falmouth’s National Maritime Museum to watch the boats berth after racing. The sight of four Js racing off the Cornish coastline has lived up to expectation so far, and the breeze hasn’t even kicked in yet…

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