Thunder bolts and lightning but light winds make for a gentle day of racing on the Solent.

After yesterday’s beautiful sailing conditions, the forecasters were proved right as damp and drizzly weather set in over the Solent producing light, fickle winds that struggled to top 10 knots all afternoon. An afternoon clatter of thunder and some impressive lightning streaks made for an eventful and wet day for all 898 boats competing today. With the tide turning to flood just towards the end of the 40 class starting sequence, there were tricky tactical decisions to be made and as the wind refused to settle, day three of Skandia Cowes Week called for steady nerves, supreme patience and a fair helping of luck.

Sensibly, Principal Race Officer, Peter Bateson and Chief Race Officer Malcolm McKeag operating under Triumvirate 1 (Royal Southampton, Royal Thames and Royal London Yacht Clubs) elected for shortened courses in the Western Solent for the classes starting off the Royal Yacht Squadron lines whilst the Committee boat starts were stationed in the Eastern Solent off Marsh buoy, Lee-on-Solent. Only two classes were delayed towards the end of the starting sequence as the wind shut down for both the Victory and XOD Classes. Thankfully, however, their delay was short as the AP was lowered just before 1345 and both fleets set out on greatly reduced courses.

The South-Westerly breeze caused headaches for the inshore, White Group fleets who were stuck between a rock and a hard place as to whether to start out on the Alpha end of the line where the breeze was or inshore at the Squadron end for tidal advantage. With the gaining tack being on port it was a race to see who could tack into clear air first and steal a march on the fleet. The temptation too was for a port tack start but only one boat managed the feat all morning and it paid off to stunning effect.

Kevin Downer in the Bill Tripp designed, 26ft Abstension II was the winner of a bottle of champagne courtesy of Cowes Week Radio 106.2FM as he just sneaked across the bows of the highly competitive Sportsboat fleet to streak into an early lead. However he was overhauled by the very impressive J-80 Redshift whose owner Edward Fishwick has left no stone unturned in his quest to match last year’s result as overall White Group winner. The immaculately maintained Redshift now sits in a clear lead at the top of the Sportsboat fleet with two firsts and a third and it’s a brave man that bets against Fishwick to repeat his 2003 performance as his gelled team are producing some of the slickest crew work of the regatta.

One of the new classes to Skandia Cowes Week this year is the very pretty RS Elite that despite only sporting six entries on the starting line has seen some exciting racing. Looking very similar to a scaled down America’s Cup Class yacht, the RS Elite has certainly elicited some double-takes and admiring glances. The racing, too, has been tight with just 17 seconds separating the top three boats on day one. Mike Tong skippering Peter Wareham’s Ciao Bella has managed to nose ahead in the opening two days of racing, scoring both wins. However in the light winds of today’s racing the established order was upturned and saw Fidelity (Atkin, Bishop, Danby, and Pickup) take a seven minute win from TNT (Toby Strauss) with Limelite (Admiral Sir Sandy Woodward) in third.

One of the big stories of the day, though, came from the 83 strong XOD Class as sixteen boats were adjudged OCS and in amongst the pack were class favourites Palassie (Peter Baines), Kyperini (Kim Slater) and the overnight Class leader Kathleen (Mark Jardine). Previous Captain’s Cup winner, Simon Russell sailing Lass was the sharpest off the line, starting inshore at the Squadron and sailing a conservative first beat to stay in contention. Russell went on to win the race by the slenderest of margins (13 seconds) on a short windward/leeward course. With the OCS’s discounted, it was a day for experience in the XOD fleet with the Jardine Brothers – Stuart and Adrian – taking second and third places to avenge for Stuart’s son Mark being adjudged OCS. Who would bet against a Jardine name being inscribed on the Captain’s Cup once again this year?

In the big boat IRM Class it was another day where the Farr 52’s dominated the Class with Peter Harrison’s Chernikeeff 2 recording a big win over the fleet by nearly 10 minutes on corrected time. Chernikeeff 2 was lead boat off the start line crossing at the pin end and maintaining the left side of the course up to the West Solent mark of Hampstead Ledge. Tack for tack Chernikeeff 2, steered by Richard Sydenham, jousted with Nick Hewson’s Team Tonic but by the first mark had extended into a 30 second lead. Two peels down the first run sealed Chernikeeff 2’s lead and with no passing lanes as the tide turned they were able to stretch out into an unassailable lead. Kit Hobday’s Bear of Britain had a difficult day, starting mid-line and never recovering enough to challenge the leaders despite finishing third on the water.

Once again this year, event sponsors Skandia have selected five boats to race under the titles of their company’s key attributes namely; Passion, Courage, Commitment, Creativity and Contribution. With full logos, emblazoned spinnakers and new foul-weather gear the Skandia Squad are hard to miss and with the likes of sailing legends John Bertrand and Grant Wharrington making guest appearances aboard later in the week, we should see them toward the front of their respective fleets.

One boat in the Skandia squad that looks like it needs no help at all is the all-girl crew aboard the Mumm 30, Skandia Courage. Led by skipper Lucy Burns, the ten girl crew made a blistering start today out on the Black Group Committee Boat line but were pipped at the post by just 45 seconds to land second place behind Ian Gill’s Offbeat. After a sixth on day one and a fifth on day two, the girls are certainly one to look out for with a race win later in the week certainly on the cards as they sharply ascend the learning curve.

After a shaky start to the week in the Flying Fifteen Class, Rupert Mander has begun to open up a gap on his rivals scoring his second race win aboard Men Behaving Badly. Even more remarkable is the fact that with just 10 seconds counting down on the starting clock Mander was OCS and forced to duck back over the line to restart correctly whilst his nearest rivals 3288 Afore the Week and 3783 Friendly Fire jostled for supremacy at the Alpha end of the line. Showing fantastic boatspeed and conservative tactics, Mander pulled through the twelve boat fleet to take the winners gun and the Committee Snuff Box and in doing so recorded an 8 minute 45 second win. A great result!

A correction in the Laser SB3 Class, (made last night before going to press) saw Musto (Glenn Bourke) re-instated to first place in Race Two to top the leader board with two race wins. However the Volvo Ocean Race Director didn’t have it his own way today, finishing second behind the ex-Soling Champion Colin Simonds in Doolalli with Dave Cheyne’s Mr Skiddy landing third spot.

In the Etchells class it looks very much like being a three horse race with yesterday’s top three reshuffled to see Mark Downer sailing Moonlight taking the coveted Stirling Trophy from Ante Razmilovic on Swedish Blue with Jervis Tilly’s Bushfire in third. Tilly had started supremely off the Squadron line, accelerating to full speed and opened out into a handy lead that they held for the first two mark roundings but were eventually caught out by the ultimate decision dogging nearly every White Group fleet – go out for wind or stay inshore on the Island for tide. Bushfire opted to stay offshore but was caught out in a lull and foul tide and was helpless as Moonlight and Swedish Blue tripped by on an inshore course and could never claw back the deficit.

In Class 4 IRC Major Peter Scholfield annihilated the fleet and more importantly topped the HOD 35 fleet after the dominant Capitali$m (Tim Harrington) was scored an OCS after finishing half an hour behind Scholfield. In Class 2 IRC, Russell Hodgson in his Dehler 39, Deliverance 2 took the class from Bob Fisher’s Mumm 36 Zzing whilst in Class 7 IRC, Giovanni Belgrano scored another race win in his 1939 one-off sloop and Gold Roman Bowl winning Whooper. The Sonatas again saw Philip Williams take control in Sequoia to make it three races out of three whilst in the very tight Sigma 33’s, Richard Puddifoot’s Whippa Snappa showed a clean pair of heels to take the race win from Shadowfax (Johns and Rolfe) and Honey of Bosham in third.

A soggy night is in store for the competitors shoreside with forecasters predicting little progress in the slow moving low pressure sitting over the country. Tomorrow should see the return of sunshine but the wind is looking dicey again with a maximum velocity of around 10 knots in the afternoon. It could be another long day on the water!