Under sunlit spinnaker the only British and original J-Class competing in this prestigious Solent event makes for a fitting winner to the regatta
It was all there for the taking today, the final of three days of racing the Solent J-Class regatta to decide the Queen’s Cup (a Race around the Isle of Wight is still due to take place tomorrow, Saturday 21 if there’s enough breeze). Although Lionheart, the largest J, motored out to the western Solent startline with a slender one-point lead this morning, all four of the majestic dames competing had a chance of lifting the cup. I was aboard fellow super J, Ranger, with her distinctive white hull and snub-nosed bow, picking up tips from a veteran crew of pro sailors, the majority of whom have sailed on this boat since her launch in 2003. The wind was much lighter than the previous couple of days, but the sun was out and so too were the spectators – in their hundreds in boats in all shapes and sizes, from sailing dinghies to the salvage tug MV Holland and the 300ft steamship and flagship of the British National Historic Fleet, S.S. Shieldhall.
The course was similar to yesterday, with the same finishing gate off Egypt Point, Cowes but with an extra windward leeward leg and a top mark set further west towards Hurst (Lymington Bank). After early starts from Ranger and Velsheda yesterday, all four competitors were keen to get a good, clean start today – and it made for an incredible sight from the weather rail of a J circling around a starting area that was completely boxed in by spectator boats. Velsheda marginally got the best start to leeward of us at the port end, with the two new Dutch boats sandwiched in the middle. Our port tack towards the mainland and out of the tide saw Ranger gain on the other three and pull out a narrow lead by the time we tacked again, crossing their bows. However tacking in the lighter breeze slows this heavy J down, and on the following tack we were forced back into the tide by Rainbow and then Lionheart, opening the way for Velsheda who had crept up the mainland side (reportedly with less than a metre under their keel!) to take the lead round the top mark. This move, which decided the race to this top spreader mark, proved a critical one and although the fleet all rounded in close succession, Velsheda’s tactics and crew work were never to falter after that, and she slowly pulled away inch by inch.
The battle for second, and our battle to get back in the race continued though, with lead changes between all three of the chasing pack throughout the remaining legs. I can’t tell you much about the next two upwind legs, as I was down below in Ranger’s bows helping pull down her enormous A2 kite and, along with a team of eight of us, wooling and packing it back up – only to re-emerge on the foredeck as we were approaching the top mark again. It’s hard manual work on the pointy end of these big boats and the crews around the mast and bow deserve much credit
Picture shows bow-men Jan Dekker (forward) and Matt Lovet (aft) setting up for a hoist, with Harry Porter guiding the neatly packed kite out of hatch.
The gybes and crew-work remained slick and there was seemingly nothing much more we could other than sail as fast as possible. The other three Js obviously did the same, and, with the wind up to the late teens for the final run, the hundreds of spectators were treated to a sight the likes of which have not been witnessed for 75 years. The picture to savour (even crewing aboard Ranger) was seeing the beautiful blue-hulled Camper and Nicholson’s built Velsheda flying her iconic blue, white and red ‘JK7′ spinnaker crossing the Solent towards Cowes Green, lit up and powered up to take the gun and win the regatta.
All four Js finished within three minutes of each other, and although we were last across the line, we were owed time and had done enough to take second on corrected and take second place for the regatta.
HRH Prince Michael of Kent GCVO, Admiral of the Royal Southampton Yacht Club, presented the Queen’s Cup, first presented to RSYC in 1897 by Queen Victoria in her Diamond Jubilee year, to the owner of Velsheda this evening.
The last race of these four Js in the UK this summer is due to start tomorrow on the
RYS line off Cowes at 1040. The plan is, if any wind blows, to race the original clockwise course around the Isle of Wight, for the 1851 Hundred Guinea Cup Race, (now known as the America’s Cup).