A wet and grey morning greeted the 750 starters at the 184th Cowes Week

For the 750 boats starting today, it was not the best start, as competitors and visitors alike woke up to the rain and cold. However, it did nothing to dampen the spirits and it wasn’t long before the sun broke through.

This year’s first start saw the nine Extreme 40s competing in the Extreme Sailing Series at Cowes on the Royal Yacht Squadron line for their first long-distance race. In light airs, with insufficient wind for these high-adrenaline machines to fly a hull, and a building flood tide, the fleet lined up heading inshore on starboard tack 20 seconds before the gun. However, three were over the line early and the inshore boat had to tack for depth almost immediately after the gun, forcing the remainder of the fleet to tack offshore.

Oman Sail Masirah was first to pull clear of the pack as they short tacked along the Green. Her team mate The Wave, Muscat however was the first of a number of competitors to touch the outlying Grantham Rocks a few hundred metres west of the start line. Later in the sequence, one Daring suffered the ignominy of getting stuck on the inshore side of the rocks for an agonising15 minutes, during which she was overtaken by entire fleets of later starters.

There was plenty of action at the start of the first White Group fleet for Laser SB3s. With one minute to go, a lot of boats were over the line, and although most returned, Julian Bunce’s Royal Signals and Sacre Bleu, sailed by former top Daring crew of Giles Peckham, Milo Carver and Richard Romer-Lee, were scored OCS.

The start was won by one of the oldest boats in the fleet, Matthew Waite and Steve McClean’s Sponge Bob. Starting close to the inner limit of the line they pulled clear of the pack, crossing ahead of everyone else when they tacked offshore onto port. This potentially risky strategy – there’s a risk that the boats closest to the shore here will fall into a hole in the wind – also paid handsomely in the next two White Group starts. Waite and McClean remained near the front for the rest of the race, finishing second to Nick Phillips’ Chaotic, with Colin Simonds’ Doolalli and Stewart Hawthorn’s Wee Sonic just moments behind.

The next start was for a new class at Cowes – the high-performance Longtze sportsboat – here for the only UK event in its 2010 European Tour. Pierre Mas’s Longtze 834 was perfectly positioned at the gun, at the inner end of the line. Eckhard Kaller’s Wet Feet was just to windwardof Mas and half a length back from the line, but with more speed and quickly overhauled her French rival. When Kaller tacked onto port he was clear ahead of his competitors and was the first to pick up a lifting and increasing wind – enough for his four-person crew to hike fully – giving them a commanding early lead. This proved to be a deciding factor in the race, and they finished more than one-and-a-half minutes ahead of the Swiss entry, Jarmo Wieland’s Shensu, with Mas third.

Top competition

Although it dates from 1967, the Etchells class remains one of the world’s most competitive keelboats, as evidenced when triple Olympic gold medallist Ben Ainslie came third in last year’s world championship. Local sailors Mark and Jo Downer’s Moonlight had prime position at the inner end of the start line and good boat speed, enabling them to tack onto port ahead of everyone else. By now the wind had eased – the Downers were sailing with one crew to leeward – as a belt of drizzle associated with a weak cold front moved across the Solent.

As the race progressed Moonlight failed to hold her lead, surrendering it to Graham Bailey and Stephen Bailey’s Arbitrator, who finished two minutes ahead, but the Downers held off Doug Flynn’s Loup Garou lX by a slender margin of three seconds.

In the Daring class, Jamie Clark’s Decanter appeared to be in pole position at the inshore end of the line, but the wind was becoming soft here and 10 lengths offshore Darius had made an equally good start, with the advantage of a stronger and more consistent wind which enabled her to pull clear. Meanwhile, three boats right inshore Audax, Ding Dong and Derring Do fell into a big patch of very light wind and could only sit by and watch their competitors sail away.

By the end of the almost four-hour race, Jeremy Preston and Scott Macleod’s Defender finished a full three minutes ahead of Philip Bown’s Dashing, while Darius was a further eight minutes behind in third place.

Sun shines on Cowes

The front cleared away towards the end of the starting sequence, leaving bright sun and perfect sailing conditions in a steadier Force 4 from the west-south-west. By this time a strong favourable tidal eddy was established at the inshore end of the line, but the outer part was still subjected to the main east-going stream. With the wind favouring the outer end, identifying the best place to start was a significant challenge for competitors.

With 88 boats on the line, this was particularly difficult for XOD crews, but John Greenland/Nick Hornby/Ashley Curtis’s Estelle was perfectly positioned in good wind one-third of the way out from the shore. Mark Hall’s Foxy and Jonathan and Gillian Clark’s Merlin also looked well placed, but both were OCS. The boats out in the east-going tide turned out to be at a distinct disadvantage – some still hadn’t crossed the line more than five minutes after the start.

Steve and Peter Lawrence and Patrick Smart’s 83-year-old Catherine took first place by an impressive margin of nearly four minutes ahead of Mos FitzGerald, Ritchie Bell and David Hay’s Kathleen. Richard and Liz Field’s Persephone took third place. The day’s closest racing was seen in the middle of this fleet, where less than two minutes separated the 25 boats in places 16 to 41.

A top prize

A container ship outbound from Southampton rounded West Bramble buoy at 1030, causing the first Black Group start, for the big boats racing in IRC Class 0 competing for the coveted Queen’s Cup, to be postponed by 10 minutes. Slick liaison between the Trinity House pilot stationed on the RYS platform and the pilot on an inbound car carrier saw the ship slowed down significantly to let the 1040 start take place unimpeded.

With the east-going tide building, the fleet tacked towards the tidal relief on the north shore of the western Solent and their first mark, Peters and May off the Beaulieu River. First boat home at the end of the 28-mile race was Sir Peter Ogden’s Mini Maxi Jethou, this year’s largest entry, after four-and-a-half hours of racing.

However, she was unable to save her time on Charles Dunstone’s TP52 Rio, or Sam Laidlaw’s Farr 52 Bob, which took first by a margin of almost six minutes on corrected time.


The outlook for tomorrow appears to be brighter:

Sunday will be mainly fine with a light westerly to north-westerly breeze at first and the possibility of some sea breeze enhancement later. Temperatures will be 19 °C. Monday will be fine with little wind at first but a sea breeze possible later.

For more, visit www.cowesweek.co.uk