Big breeze, big grins…for most

The second day of Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week was blessed with bright sun and strong winds, giving competitors a fresh set of challenges after the opening day’s light airs.

Mean wind speeds had built to more than 20 knots before racing started, while gusts topped 30 knots at 1430, before easing marginally later in the afternoon. It was a fast and furious day of close racing, in which many winners were decided by only a few seconds after hours of racing. Equally, the long lists of retirements included many early leaders who were forced to return to port prematurely.

The Sunbeam class elected not to sail in the boisterous conditions and, sadly racing for the 145-strong XOD fleet had to be called off as there was no viable area with suitable shelter in which racing for such a large number of boats could be held. The remaining White Group dayboat classes started heading east from the Royal Yacht Squadron line. This downwind and downtide start enabled course setters to provide courses in the east Solent, under the shelter of theIslandshore.

With both wind and tide sweeping them over the line, it was no surprise most White Group competitors were careful not to start prematurely. The Sonar fleet was no exception – Charlie Camp’s Josh led the fleet away, but even he was at least three lengths behind the line at the gun. Simon Barter’s Bertie was first to hoist the spinnaker, but Will Rome’s Mumm-Ra came from behind with more speed to take a healthy lead as the fleet headed towards Norris. However, by the finish Bertie had recovered to take a second consecutive win almost a full 10 minutes ahead of Josh, while Peter Dudgeon’s Fiscal was third.

The tightest of leads

All the Redwings aimed for the strongest tide at the offshore end of the line, although many competitors were over cautious in the timing of their approach, leaving the fleet well spread out in a long line. Fraser Morrison’s Skua, Colin Samuelson’s Toucan, and Matt Alexander / John Raymond’s Harlequin were best placed at the start.

Harlequin then headed offshore, presumably to hunt for stronger tide, but this put her in the lee of her competitors and handed an early advantage to Toucan, with Skua in second and Thomas Montagu Douglas Scott’s Siskin third, a significant distance behind the leading pair as they cleared the moorings off East Cowes. Harlequin re-gained the lost ground, and was first to cross the line, 87 seconds ahead of Edmund Peel and James Wilson’s Quail. However, Harlequin had to accept a time penalty for an infringement in a mark rounding incident. With this applied she retained the lead, but by only four seconds.

The Flying 15s got off to a less conservative start than the previous two classes, with Rupert and John Mander’s Men Behaving Badly perfectly positioned on the line, two boats ahead of their nearest rival. However, they then appeared to encounter problems with setting the spinnaker, allowing several boats to fly past.

Nick Clarke and Kathy Hunt’s Black took an early lead, with Adam Cowley’s Ffloozie, Graham Latham and Sara Briscoe’s Crew’s Missile, and Michael and Alex Tatlow’s Affore the Weak following close behind, with Men Behaving Badly languishing well back in the fleet. Mander, the most successful skipper at Cowes over the last decade, fought back to finish nearly two minutes ahead of V Manning’s Fickle, with Black third, more than three minutes later.

In the Squib class River Crouch sailors Malcolm Hutchings and Andy Ramsey’s Lady Penelope made a great start, while Kev and Marney Gibson’s Satu was also well positioned, but lost some of their initial advantage through a slow spinnaker hoist. By contrast, last year’s Young Skipper winner, Fred Warren-Smith’s Aquabat misjudged the strength of the tide on the mark at the outer end of the line and lost his position in the front row.

It was a disappointing start for Warren-Smith who was more than half way down the fleet as they headed to the first mark. However, he fought his way back towards the front, finishing third just 35 seconds behind Duncan and John Grindley’s Surprise. Lady Penelope retained the lead, by a margin of 58 seconds.

Black Group

Although the tidal streams weren’t right for a classic finish along the Green, spectators were still treated to numerous broaches, the result of a tight spinnaker reach into the finish, while the tide threatened to sweep unwary competitors beyond the outer end of the finish line. The combination of mistakes in positioning and fluffed, rushed sail handling cost many competitors valuable places in the final 30 seconds of their race.

IYWAC’s SJ320 Paddiywack appeared to get the best start in IRC Class 5, being first away at the southern end of the line. However, Mark Brown’s Figaro 1 Black Diamond, sporting one reef in the mainsail, soon passed her to windward. At this stage the reef was clearly the right call – Black Diamond held a much tighter line to the wind than boats that were overpowered. Despite the adverse tide, the south end of the line provided the shortest route towards Lepe Spit and Black Diamond built an enviable lead in the early stages of their five-mile long first leg.

However, neither boat was able to hold its early advantage around the course. Adam Gosling’s Corby30 Yes! took both line honours and first place on corrected time, just 40 seconds ahead of Grant Gordon’s J/97 Fever, who in turn was almost two minutes ahead of sistership Mike & Jamie Holmes’ Jika-Jika.

The Quarter Tonners all started at the north end of the line, quickly tacking inshore on port tack. The class suffered a number of retirements, including Mark Lees’ Panic with a broken rudder, but also some tantalisingly close racing. Fighting back from a second place yesterday, Liz Rushall’s Whiskers stormed in to finish 12 seconds ahead of yesterday’s winner John Welch & Penny Fulford’s Phoenix on corrected time. The top of this traditionally tightly-fought class looks increasingly set to be a fight between these two boats.

IRC Class 6 mostly proved very line-shy, allowing Jim Cullumbine’s reefed Maxi 1050 Merhaba to cross clear ahead of the fleet on port tack and take an immediate lead of more than 10 lengths on Andy Hind’s Hanse 291 White Mischief, who in turn enjoyed a comfortable advantage over the rest of the fleet.

With full sail set White Mischief initially struggled a little, but then held a higher line to take the lead on the water, despite being one of the lower rated boats in the class. Closing the north shore of the Solent she hooked into a 25 degree beneficial windshift, gaining a huge advantage, while Merhaba slipped down behind two larger boats, Alistair Evans’ Swan 37 Alvine XV and Stephen James’ Swan 38 Jacobite.

Both these classic Sparkman and Stephens designs revelled in the conditions, and Jacobite would have taken line honours in the class had she not been swept the wrong side of the finish line outer distance mark, and had to beat back against wind and tide before crossing the line correctly. This left Alvine XV to cross the line 11 seconds ahead of Jacobite. On corrected time Phil Eagleton’s Half Tonner Sevcon Team Chia Chi beat Alvine XV by 43 seconds to take first place, while Jacobite retained third.

Extreme Sailing Series

The boisterous conditions led to a change of plan for day 2 of the Extreme Sailing Series at Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week, including a compulsory reef and no fifth (guest) man. The fleet was also split into two flights to facilitate racing in the tight stadium race course off the shoreline here at Egypt Point.

In the fourth race a record spectator crowd witnessed, France’s Groupe Edmond de Rothschild ploughing into Sweden’s Artemis Racing at the top mark resulting in severe damage to both boats – bad enough to end their racing for the day.