Champagne sailing on Ladies Day at Skandia Cowes Week

Sparkling sun, glistening seas and a decent breeze. The sixth day of Skandia Cowes Week showcased the best champagne sailing conditions, helping along the celebration of women in sailing on Liz Earle Ladies Day.

Charles Dunstone and his crew on the TP52 Rio were in blistering form to win the New York YC Challenge Cup, which this year was contested by the fleets in IRC Class Zero and Class 1. All week, Dunstone has watched Niklas Zennstrom’s Ran get the better of the conditions but in 14 knot breezes, Rio whizzed around the 36nm course to post an emphatic four minute win over their rivals to crank up the pressure for the rest of the Week.

The X One Design class, the second largest fleet at Cowes with a field of 80 craft, is guaranteed to deliver a smattering of ‘bejabers’ moments and 2008 is no exception. Neil Payne, a former Dragons and Etchells sailor from Cowes has spent the past two and a half years restoring Quest, which was originally built in 1935. Six weeks ago, he put it in the water and this morning, he was lying near the top of the leaderboard which, bearing in mind he has not raced an XOD for 25 years, has been a bit of a surprise.

“I’m certainly not finding it easy and despite having a bad day on Wednesday we have been fairly consistent, but it is a difficult class and we are just going to keep our heads down and see what we can do,” he said. After discards, Quest lies in third place behind Stuart Jardine’s Lone Star and 2007 Captain’s Cup winner Simon Russell in Swallow which was one of the 30 boats to retire on Wednesday due to lack of breeze.

Liz Earle Ladies Day trophy nominee Kerry Gruson, campaigning her Sonar Blue Bayou 2, is an inspiration whenever she takes to the water with passion and determination. Kerry, who comes from Miami, suffers from a condition called termed anoxia after she was strangled by a Vietnam veteran while working as a journalist. It has left her with paralysis in the legs and arms but her Sonar is fitted with a special seat allowing her to race in all conditions. She recently participated in Cork Week and travelled round Ireland to work with Waterways Ireland supporting sailing clinics for people with disabilities.

Another Liz Earle Ladies Day Trophy contender Louise Morton hit the jackpot again in the Quarter Ton class that she and her husband Peter enthusiastically campaigned to have reinstated in 2008. In her sixth race, with her all girl crew on Espada, Morton posted her fourth consecutive win, having notched up two seconds in the opening two races. Runaway Bus, the red hulled Quarter Tonner that was holed earlier this week took a creditable second with Howard Sellars’s Bullet in third.

The 18 Sunbeam skippers and their crews will gather at The Prospect tonight to officially celebrate their 85th birthday, so an early conclusion to racing today thanks to the helpful breezes, was welcomed. Daisy, last year’s winner and a competitor in 1923 when the class was first introduced, leads the Sunbeams overall but Roger Wickens’s Danny and Richard Pearson’s Fay are both in with a shout for the title with two races left.

The top three boats represent 236 years worth of classic wooden keelboat history and the anniversary celebrations are sure to reflect the Sunbeam’s graceful and distinguished heritage.

In IRC Class 9, Edward Donald’s Nordic folkboat Madelaine is continuing where she left off in 2007 and has now raced 11 races at Cowes – six from last year and five this – without being beaten. The last time she was defeated was the first Saturday of Skandia Cowes Week last year, when Magnus Wheatley swept to victory in his H-Boat Hesperus.

Jim Tennant’s Paloma and Owain Peter’s Sonata Frankie the Rhino will now battle it out for second place but come Saturday, and barring disasters, Madelaine may well have retained her title.

Amey Love Shack is finding the competition in the new Beneteau 40.7 class challenging, and today was beaten for the third time this week by Pete Newland’s Healthsure. But Tim Spalding’s well organised and highly proficient crew maintain their overall lead with the last two races set to be nail biting affairs, especially as third placed Beechwood Homes are breathing down their necks.

Mr Contessa 32, Jeremy Rogers, of the famous Lymington dynasty, followed up his victory in Gigi yesterday with a second today, finishing less than a minute behind class leader Eldred Himsworth’s 31 year-old Drumbeat, which has consistently finished on the podium for the past three years.