Relaxation and frustration. Humour and drama. Some slightly strange racing and some very competitive duelling. And that in a breeze barely worth its name.
With racing postponed due to total indifference on the part of the wind for much of the morning, the chances of anything actually taking place today looked fairly remote at one point.
However, the race committee kept the faith, deciding to send the fleets out and, just as some must have been contemplating early drinks back on sun-scorched pontoons, a light south-easterly filled in allowing racing to get underway a smidge before the point of no return. In an effort to get the fleets off as soon as possible, the Royal Yacht Squadron line fleets were split with half starting from the Cowes Week Barge line just to the east of the Medina and the rest from the Squadron. First off at 1340 was the Black Group IRM class followed by the first of the White Group starts – the Laser SB3s on the Royal Yacht Squadron Line.
The situation in the Western Solent, where the remainder of the Black Group boats were sent off into exile, was not quite so promising. And with an ever-strengthening tidal stream, the race committee struggled to find enough wind for a start. However, a light breeze filled in and a short race took place.
Even to the east things were not easy. The race committee wisely decided to send IRC Class 0 on a short 4.8-mile hop eastwards to Motherbank (off Ryde). Racing for the Queen’s Cup competition was bound to be intense and a close battle ensued betweenChernikeeff 2andBear of Britainright to the finish line with Peter Harrison’s Farr 52 pipping Messrs Hobday and Louis’s sister ship to the post by 53 seconds actual, 40 seconds corrected, a graphic demonstration of how closely matched these two regular combatants have become.
AboardChernikeeff 2, one of the crew confirmed things had been tight. “We were pretty close most of the day,” he stated. “We just got ahead up the first beat, had a few crossed tacks then once we got ahead we just managed to stay there and increase our lead a bit. In the conditions it was good to get a race at all and it’s a good start to the series, so we’re really happy. Results through the week will come down to the guys at the back of the boat, and crew work. The boats are pretty evenly matched.”
Nick Hewson’sTeam Tonicmade it a Farr 52 one-two-three in IRC Class 0, albeit at what looked like a country mile away from the duelling duo at the front. Duncan McDonald aboard the boat explains: “We had a shocking start, about a minute-and-a-half off the line. A good first beat allowed us to catch up very quickly, we got the shifts right and then we had a very good first run and caught up to within half-a-boat’s length fromBear of Britain.”Tonictook a decision to head inshore and get the converging wind from the south-east, which worked well except it meant missing a big tidal gain out to sea. Then, in short order, came an overshoot of the top mark, a knot in the spinnaker on hoist, a dump of the same brand-new sail in the water and a wrap around the rudder that shredded it. By such means are five minutes lost. One wonders if the helm for the day (Jeremy Robinson of Sobstad Sails) is sharpening his quote pencil or offering a freebie replacement as the evening draws in.
McDonald was quick to praise the race officers. “They did a great job with the half-hour opportunity they had to get the race started before cancellation became necessary. They spotted the south-easterly breeze which was the strongest part of the wind and we got a race in.”
In IRC Class 1 the Russians aboard the IMX 45Follow Mepicked up where they left off at Cork Week by chalking an excellent result to open their maiden Cowes account. Based at La Trinité in France since 2002, this mixed crew look likely to make quite a splash this year, of which more later on this site. Today they shared joint first and an attendant claim on the Armitage Challenge Cup with Mike Greville’s DK46Erivale, both yachts posting a corrected time of 02:52:49.
Behind them aboard Peter Harding’s third-placed IRC 1 DK46FidessafastwaveYachting World’s Matt Sheahan confirmed that the sea breeze was very slow but when it did actually develop the tide was also east-going, artificially boosting the wind a little. “Great day, good race round,” observed the lightly toasted Sheahan. “A good way to start the week, iron out all the bugs, not too stressful, not too much breeze. What you don’t want is 30 knots and chucking it down with rain.” We’ll save that for tomorrow then Matt!
It was all double Dutch in IRC Class 2 with the Grand Soleil 44Halmatrofrom the Netherlands finishing among the Class 1 finishers. She was followed home by another Grand Soleil from Holland, the 45ftSatori. Typical of their nationality, a laid-back crew aboardHolmatroexplained their success: “We raced the Commodore’s Cup and it was light airs as well. We knew we’d struggle a bit upwind but it went quite all right today, and downwind we were just really fast. We could sail deeper angles with better speed and we just took off. It was a very relaxing race actually.” So what was their secret? “I think we’ve worked very, very hard this winter. A lot of practice and a lot of work done in optimising the rating.”
But not all classes enjoyed the sailing today. IRC 6 and the Sigma 38 class were both abandoned due to ‘no wind situations’. Simon Brady was leading Class 6 in his Bénéteau 31.7 Sonic Boom: “The start was a joke. Boats spinning around like crazy, no wind, then 180-degree wind shifts going downwind. They let us go for an hour, then abandoned it.”
Everyone else did actually race but for one boat not all was as it might seem. Yachting Monthly’s Jeremy Field and crew notched up a stunning paper victory in the 26-strong Dragon fleet aboardChaotic. Posting a finish time nearly an hour ahead of anyone else in the class on the computer, Field and co took the plaudits and then some. “I’ve been congratulated by so many people. It’s great!” Field chuckled.” They had me down as finishing 50 minutes ahead of the rest of the fleet. And this is the first time I’ve helmed at Cowes. I normally crew. I’d been up as winning for half an hour before getting to the mooring!” Unfortunately the bubble burst when it was discovered that a big mistake had been made. “I think we were confused with a Sonar of the same sail number, Field confessed.”
So, dropping from first to 13th aside, how was the racing? “Very good, very busy, lots of boats around,” Field explained. “All of the dayboat fleet was in the Eastern Solent. We had SB3s on high reaching angles as we were running dead downwind. It was dodgems. Some nasty chop was slowing the boat down something chronic. It was just from so many boats.” The real winning Dragon, Eric Williams’Ecstatic, made big gains playing the tides on the last beat and going hard left towards Bramble Bank.
A more sobering dose of sympathy however, goes to Jamie Sheldon and his crew aboard the RSK6Courageous(sail number 103) who got firmly T-boned by the much bigger and heavier Bénéteau 44.7Team Murphy & Nyehelmed by Adam Gosling. Members of theCourageouscrew were unavailable for comment as we complied this report but Mark Heeley, tactician aboardTeam Murphy & Nye, was able to explain events from his perspective:
“We had a nice first beat and run, going round what was the second mark in first place and led up the next beat. We had been on starboard tack for a couple of minutes when one little RSK6 crossed us on port by not very much. One of our crewmembers said ‘that was a bit tight’ and someone else said ‘yes, but I’m not sure if we hit him.’ This was said as a slightly flippant remark but it became ironic because about a minute later another one tried the same thing – a very marginal cross on port and he would have, I think, crossed us if he’d carried on but he changed his mind at the last minute and put his boat into the wind. As he did that we hit him on his starboard side about a couple of feet back from the chainplates and we made a very large hole in his boat.”
“Two of the crew were thrown into the water immediately, the third guy stepped straight up onto our bow because it was right inside his boat! We got them all onboard and realised we had to look after them as our priority. They were all a bit shocked. We got the sails down on their boat and tried a tow but every time we started moving forward the boat went straight down. The Coastguard came in and took over the rescue and towed them in.
“So it was disappointing for us because we were doing well in the race and disappointing for them because they now have two K6s, half the size they should be!”
Better luck was enjoyed among the RS Elite fleet that made its debut as a class by enjoying a superb day’s racing from the barge line start. Things stayed tight throughout but it was Peter Wareham and Mike Tong from Haying Island Sailing Club sailingCiao Bellawho took first place by just 15 seconds from fellow clubmate Anthony Penfold inEllanore. Even closer was Peter Wareham and Mike Tong aboardFidelitywho crossed the line just two seconds behind in third.
So, it seems we had a little of everything in Skandia Cowes Week day one. Relaxation and frustration. Humour and drama. Some slightly strange racing and some very competitive duelling. And that in a breeze barely worth its name. Tomorrow we can expect winds out of the south-east up to around 18 knots or so. Oh yes, and a little matter of rain from lunchtime onwards that will add gusts to those numbers.
Watch this space!