After four days of Skandia Life Cowes Week and, for most classes, three races thanks to abandonments on Monday, most groups and classes are still too close to call.

After four days of Skandia Life Cowes Week and, for most classes, three races thanks to abandonments on Monday, most groups and classes are still too close to call.

Current overall leader of the Black Group by one point is the IRC Class 6 Jean Beret-designed half-tonner, Dick Dastardly. Skipper Guy Nicholls has scored a second and then two firsts and puts it down to consistent strategy and boat length: “We tend to hang back at the starts rather than getting drawn into the pack, and make the best of the clean air. Our boat is longer than the others, which tends to benefit us in light or strong winds. So although it’s been hard work picking up the shifts, the conditions suit us. Heading the White Group is last year’s Scottish Sonata series winner, So. A delighted Neil McLure said the placing was unexpected: “The conditions have been difficult and light, which has made sailing interesting, if not entirely enjoyable. We’ve had some good starts, after which it’s just a matter of hanging onto the lead.

Charles Dunstone’s Carphone Warehouse, currently second overall in Black Group, has built an overall lead in Class 1 IRC after three races of four points over Rob Greenhalgh’s Ker 11.3, Kung Fu Fighter. A further six points back is Doug Flynn’s First 47.7 Kirribilli. Commenting on his ambitions for at least a top five ranking at the end, Doug said, “I think we need something around 12 knots to 20 knots; we’re in a class with a lot of fairly good yachts. With this sort of breeze we will really be struggling with the very light boats – I can’t imagine we’ll be in the chocolates the way things are going. If it’s blowing we’re right up there with the higher rating boats – the Farr 40s, the Kers and indeed Carphone Warehouse.

Overall leader in Class 3 IRC is Ian Handley’s Beneteau 40.7 Royalblue Addict, although she is tied on eight points with the J/93 Jackdaw after beating her into third place yesterday but losing what was effectively a match race at the front of the fleet to Barry Polley’s Beneteau 40.7 Pissaro. “It was a challenging race to the extent there were a lot of snakes and ladders out there,” Ian explained, “but we started low down on the line which was the right place. Some people prefer more wind but I like it when it’s like this because you can pick the shifts and find the pressure and get a wiggle on.”

Positions at the front of the Sigma 33 fleet are well-spaced, with the consistent Whippa Snappa driven by Richard Puddifoot in first (7pts), Steve Sault’s Hooligan three points back and Mithril a further eight points back thanks to placing 16th on Sunday in the middle of two first places. Mithril’s skipper Tom Hayhoe, making his first appearance at Skandia Life Cowes Week in 20 years, is rueing the second race dip in fortunes: “It’s going to be a struggle after going from first until almost last on Sunday when the wind died. Because there was no racing yesterday we’re in a situation where we’ve lost our discard so we’ve got our work cut out, but we may still be able to manage it. I’m a river sailor at heart and it’s actually pretty much like sailing off Putney, lots of tide and not much wind.”

The International Dragons are currently headed by local hot-shot Graham Bailey, who has made the transition from Etchells in fine style to score a first and two seconds in Etc Hell. But yesterday’s race winner, last year’s class winner Hestia skippered by Frank Jan Beuningen of the Royal Dutch Yacht Club, is three points behind and, according to crewman, Dries van der Laan, fired up.

“We were very eager to go out today,” Dries commented. “We saw the start of the Etchells and the Darings and we worked out that the best position to be in was close to the Squadron and there we were, bang on time, spinnaker up. We were in the lead there until the first buoy when Ken Freivokh’s Spitfire overtook us. We had a struggle with him on the first beat. Unfortunately for him he made a mistake on the second beat and we had him. On the way back towards Cowes the wind was dying out and Spitfire was getting frightfully close. We thought, if he’s got our inner end at the mark he might in a position to take the race but fortunately we got a little puff of wind so we stayed ahead of him and had him under full control.

“We won this class last year and we’d like to win it again. Graham Bailey better be fit because we’re fit and ready to go!”

If getting a good overall placing is all about consistency then you have to have some sympathy for the skippers of the Sunsail 37 fleet who have one regular crewman but embark a daily-changing variety of others from the corporate world. Joe McGilroid, who is driving Sunsail 60 MDM, has high hopes of at least a top three placing and is indeed currently lying third by one point from 73 Team Brown and 54 Polypipe plc who are both tied on seven points. “Today we started off about 15th over the line, Joe explained, “then we ended up third at the leeward mark before leading the fleet to take first.” But he wants to see more wind to get the right result: “I personally work better in heavy seas of Force 4 or more; in light winds we really don’t go that well due to my size!”