Two sinkings and two dismastings as big squall hits Dragon Edinburgh Cup fleet at Cowes 29/5/06

“That’s the most wind I’ve ever sailed a Dragon in,” commented former Solent Fleet Captain Neil Payne after a fraught third day of racing at the Dragon Edinburgh Cup in Cowes today. The fleet was in the closing stages of the day’s second race (race five in the series) when a huge localised squall of over 40 knots hit causing two sinkings, two dismastings and a number of other major incidents. Fortunately, thanks to some quick thinking and smart seamanship by the RCYC race committee, fellow competitors and spectator boats, all the crews are now safely back ashore and there are no serious injuries.

Race four in the series got underway in a relatively pleasant 16-18 knots from 320 degrees, but as the first of a series of squalls came through the breeze regularly piped up to over 20 knots giving the crews some very hard sailing, particularly on the down wind legs when the awkward seas were ready and waiting to catch out the unwary. From the off it was a four way battle between Denmark’s Poul-Richard Hoj-Jensen in Danish Blue, Germany’s Thomas Muller sailing Sinewave, Ireland’s Simon Brien aboard Kin and Len Jones in Rumours. Throughout the race they were jostling for position and with every tack and gybe the situation seemed to change, keeping spectators on the edges of their seats. Eventually it was Hoj-Jensen who took the honours with Brien second, Muller third and Jones fourth.

At the start of race five the sun had reappeared and all seemed relatively quiet with the wind back down into the upper teens. Sadly it wasn’t long before the next squall line went through and at the weather mark there was a major incident caused when a port tacker misjudged its approach and put a number of boats about causing both protests and some damage.

Amongst those caught up in the incident was Simon Brien who was approaching on the starboard layline but was forced to crash tack setting of a domino effect. Despite Simon’s best efforts contact couldn’t be avoided and they ended up limping home with a broken forestay as a host of protest flags were being broken out. Down the first run there was plenty of rocking and rolling and the first of several boats dropped out through gear failure. On the second lap there was some temporary respite as the sun came out between the lines of black cloud but as the boats rounded the final leeward mark the weather deteriorated rapidly. The wind increased massively in a matter of moments and suddenly it was as much about survival as racing.

The hardest hit was a group of three boats which included Patrick Gifford’s Kraken, Clive Morgan’s Amok and Gavia Wilkinson-Cox’s Jerboa. Kraken was just finishing the run as the other two started up the beat and all three were close together as the wind slammed in. Kraken was completely overwhelmed by the following seas and sank almost immediately. Fortunately Paul Woodman’s Fuzzy Duck V, crewed by Malcolm Ford and Barry Dunning, saw them go and immediately rendered assistance picking up Patrick and his crew Mike Hayles and Alex MacDonald with impressive speed. “The Fuzzy Duck crew did a fantastic job, they were very professionally and we are extremely grateful.” said Patrick Gifford back ashore.

Meanwhile Jerboa and Amok, who were both on the beat, were also knocked down and Gavia Wilkinson-Cox found herself being washed out of the Jerboa for an unexpected swim in the Solent. Her quick thinking crew had the boat under control, turned about and back alongside her within moments and Gavia is extremely proud of the fact that not only did she get back aboard and finish, but that they only lost two places in the process! After racing her crew, Mark Hart and John Mortimer, joked that if she doesn’t hang on harder in future they are going to nail her to the deck!

Aboard Amok helmsman Clive Morgan was thrown into the cockpit by the force of the knock down and the boat rounded up involuntarily, filling with water as it did so. Sadly the situation was beyond retrieval and Clive and his crew Simon Cash and Kate Sanderson felt the horror of their boat sinking away from under them. Fortunately a passing motor yacht had seen them and plucked them to safety.

Clearly with all the drama unfolding it was a day when experience counted for a lot and Hoj-Jensen and his crew of Chris Brittain and Andrew Norden took the situation in their stride and sailed to a confident win from Russia’s Alexey Krylov sailing Versiya 3.0 with Muller in third and American Edward Sawyer’s Clairvoyant, helmed today by Lars Hendrikson, in fourth.

In the overall standings Poul-Richard Hoj-Jensen of Denmark sailing Danish Blue now leads on 9 points. Germany’s Thomas Muller, sailing Sinewave, is second on 14 points just one point ahead of Alexey Krylov from Russia sailing Versiya 3.0. Eric Williams in Ecstatic and Len Jones in Rumours share fourth place with 27 points, but sadly Jones was one of those who lost his rig in the fifth race so there is much hard work currently going on down in the yard to make sure he is ready to race in the final race tomorrow.