A superb day's racing on one of the family favourite one-designs, the Contessa 32

Race yachts tend to be functional machines, lovingly tended only insofar as they do their job. But there always are exceptions, especially among cruiser-racers that are genuinely ambidextrous. I thought I’d seen some carefully tended cruisers seriously raced on previous occasions with the the Contessa 32 fleet, but Steve Capstick’s Quest really takes some beating.

“You’ll have to wipe your hands before you go aboard,” I was warned. No kidding. Quest’s brightwork gleams immaculately, not a thumbprint in sight. The teak on the cockpit seats and the grating have the warm hue of wood recently cut and laid. This, you think, is a new boat.

Yet Quest is not. She was built for Steve Capstick 14 years ago, and looks as good as the day she was launched. Steve is apparently renowned for being particular, and even in a fleet where a Contessa is a cherished part of the family, she stands out.

Quest is, however, very typical in one respect. She is raced by friends and work colleagues in the efficient but good humoured collegiate style that characterises the Contessas and so many of the other older one-designs of Cowes W eek – say the Darings, the Redwings or the Sonars. Steve, for example, sails with friends Chris Stott, Steve Worsdale, John Hamlet and Hugh Crothers.

The family atmosphere spreads beyond individual yachts berthed at ‘Contessa City’ (alias the UKSA); the history and background of the yachts themselves are part of the tradition. Capstick has raced Quest at Cowes Week for 12 years and says: “A few owners have come and gone and some of the fast boats have gone, such as Moongirl, but otherwise it’s the same boats,” he says. Indeed, his 14-year-old one of the younger models.

As with so many one-designs, though, age doesn’t come into it. Basically, you need a light boat with a clean bottom and good sails. After that, it’s down to the skill of the helmsman and crew. Today, the weather was perfect. We got a great start, Steve threading us in neatly on the line at the committee boat end. Then, as the tide turned against us, the class began a long, long beat of many, many tacks to take us down towards Lymington.

Almost every tack in and out shuffled the pack a little more, with boats crossing and recrossing, but eventually the fleet seemed to separate into three distinct groups. Then it was up with the spinnaker (slick hoist) and down to Champagne Mumm before heading across on the wind to Salt Mead.

What initially looked like a fetch became a two-tack beat against a sluicing tide that caught some napping. Hooked on the tide midway through a tack, the crew ahead of us on Wild Thyme were no more than a sprig’s width from clanging Salt Mead channel mark, and only just picked up enough speed to scoot away. But in their manoeuvrings we got the inside lane and rounded ahead.

We finished with a glorious leg downwind and downtide, finishing 5th in what must count as one of the best and most enjoyable sailing days of Skandia Cowes Week this year. Blanco, Ray Rouse’s often unbeatable Contessa, just pipped Fresh Herring on the final leg to take 1st, and if they can keep it up are in a good position for an overall win again this year.