A Tough day to be a Race Officer...

The second day of racing at Skandia Cowes Week offered terrifically tactical racing for the record-breaking fleets but caused more than a few headaches for the Race Officers and course setters of the Royal Thames Yacht Club. Competitors awoke to hazy cloud-cover that negated the wind strength all across the Solent with early morning readings as low as just 1 knot above a fast running ebb tide for the first starts. Thankfully the cloud-cover broke by mid-morning to allow pulses of breeze to filter through the Solent from the south west with most classes getting away in a wind bracket of 6-12 knots. The new computerised course-setting software drew on all available resources to indicate short courses as the postponement flag flew on the Royal Yacht Squadron flagstaff for the inshore, White Group fleets.

It was a busy day for Peter Scott, the Signalman of the Royal Yacht Squadron who whilst celebrating his 20th year in charge of the flags was inundated with requests from the Race Officers as they struggled to get the classes away. However racing was on-time for the Black Group fleet today which was devoid of classes 0 to 4 and the Sigma 38’s who were enjoying a Committee Boat start in mid-Solent off the Browndown marker buoy. First start of the day on the outer line saw the multi-hulls off and running in just 6 knots of breeze and very quickly the tactics for the day became apparent with the leading boats reaching down the line on starboard tack to the outer distance mark before flicking on to port for the making tack westwards. A new name topped the results sheet in the multi-hulls with James Holder’s Farrier F24Leglessscreaming around the 18.7 nautical mile course to beat their nearest rivals, the syndicate ownedRooby a whopping 41 minutes on the water and almost 12 minutes on corrected time. Yesterday’s winner,Carbon Tiger 2was relegated to third place and this hugely popular 14 boat fleet is now wide open with variable conditions favouring the different designs of boat on a day by day basis.

The J-Sprit 1 Class were the next away on the Black Group start line with some fantastically close racing in this fleet amongst the J-109 fleet that grabbed the top ten places with Michael Jones’sJoyridelanding the win by 44 seconds over Belfast’s Andrew Allen sailingNo Naked Flames.Joyrideis now looking solid in first place after yesterday’s winnerKing Louieof Fiona and Malcolm Thorpe were forced to take a time penalty, dropping them down to fifth place today.

There’s a truly international feel at this year’s Skandia Cowes Week with boats and crews travelling from all corners of the globe to compete. A total of eleven countries are represented with entries coming from as far afield as the Czech Republic, Australia, Hong Kong and the USA. In the competitive 14-boat X332 class the Dutch entry ofYellow Roseentered by Marten Jan Ringers scored their second win of the regatta after some desperately close racing that was only settled on the final run to the finish line from Ian Smyth’sPittolo BillandFatjaxof Iain Kirkpatrick.

With the wind now building on the Island shore just off the mouth of the Medina River, Principal Race Officer Peter Bateson and Chief Race Officer Malcolm McKeag took the decision to lower the postponement flag for the White Group fleets feeling that the wind pressure was as good as they were going to get. However the first start on the inshore line saw the young, dynamic 66-strong sportsboat fleet, the Laser SB3s cause the second general recall of Skandia Cowes Week much to the annoyance of the Race Officers and further delaying the White Group starting sequence. A black flag was imposed on the fleet with the threat of abandoning the class for the day if a further general recall was implemented. Thankfully by the time they got away some 20 minutes later it was a clean start with Simon Relph sailingMailspeed Marinepowering away off the Alpha buoy to tack clear with a three boat-length advantage. Relph’s lead didn’t last though with the outstanding performer of the day beingSpank the Monkeyof Nigel Olive-Jones who recorded a remarkable victory by over two minutes from the Scottish entry of Ben and Jono Shelley,PWC.Jerry Hill sailingVolkswagen Touaregnotched a third place to add to his second place from yesterday to now comfortably top the leader-board.

Out on the Committee Boat start line the glamour boats at the top end of the IRC rating bands fought for supremacy and bragging rights on tricky courses encompassing both the eastern and western ends of the Solent. In IRC Class Zero, the all-conquering Ker 55Aeraof Greek shipping magnate Nick Lykiardopulo scored a big win over Kit Hobday’s ever-popular young crew aboard Bear of Britain after a four-hour race over 18.7 nautical miles. Richard Matthews’s beautiful Rob Humphreys designed Oyster 72,Oystercatcher XXVtook third spot but once again all eyes were on Australian Grant Wharington’s 98ft Super Maxi,Skandia Wild Thingas she hared around the Solent setting acres of sail-area and firmly sealing her place as the shoreside spectators’ favourite craft.

Back on the Black and White Group lines the fleets got away racing with the wind building to a steady 12 knots. With the Black Group away on time, the only problem left for the race officers was getting all the inshore classes off before the first finishers of the Black Group came in. Unfortunately, once the Hunter 707’s had got underway, the decision was made to raise the postponement flag again for the remaining nine classes as the race committee shifted the starting line from the Alpha buoy to the Beta buoy. Remarkably there was little confusion from the competitors and after a small delay, racing was once again underway. The line shift also meant that a huge bias favoured the inshore starters and unsurprisingly in the International Flying Fifteen class it was Rupert and John Mander sailingMen Behaving Badlywho read the conditions to perfection and powered away to yet another victory. Equally dominant, and starting at the same time as the Flying Fifteen’s was the RS Elite of Mike Tong and Peter Wareham,Ciao Bellawho shot out to an enormous lead on the first leg up to Gurnard Bay leaving the rest of the fleet playing catch-up all afternoon.

As finishers now streaked across the line, it was a tough opening leg for the remaining starters who had to pick a course through the oncoming rush of spinnakers. In the Redwing class, James Wilson’sQuailshowed a clean pair of heels on an inshore start to lead from start to finish and avenge yesterday’s second place whilst in the beautiful Solent Sunbeam fleet, a mid-line start for Dr Mike Moss paid handsome dividends as he brought the fleet home by a little under a minute sailingDaisy.One of the best performances of the day however came in the Hunter 707 fleet as Iain May’s hard partying crew aboardCharlie Fishdug deep to force a 33 second victory over Mark Gillett’sPocket Battleship.Defending Skandia Cowes Week championCharlie Fishis comfortably leading the 28 boat fleet now with two class victories and will have to stay sober after their Rum-Ball in the Jungle party on Fireworks night in aid of the John Merricks Sailing Trust – to win the regatta.

Several one-design classes experienced dramatically close finishes today as the smaller courses caused little fleet separation. None however was as close as the Contessa 33 class that witnessed a dead-heat betweenWild ThymeandPolar Starfor third place. The fleet was won by around five boatlengths by class stalwart Eldred Himsworth’sDrumbeatfrom Lymington Estate Agent Ray Mitchell sailing his lovingly restoredEnglish Rosewho managed to extricate himself quickly from a brief rock-hopping incident just metres from the line. The Sigma 33 class also saw a dramatic finish as just one minute separated the first seven boats with Allan Fraser sailingProspero of Hamblejust sneaking the race win from Ian le Maitre’sAlexa.

The final class of the day, the XODs, saw 75 boats packing the start-line with yesterday’s clear winner Lt Col Stuart Jardine sailingLone Starburied in mid-fleet whilst his son Mark Jardine helmingKathleengot away cleanly at the Squadron end of the line. The tactical short course across on the mainland shore by Beaulieu saw a few two-sail reaching legs but by the finish Kim Slater’sAlvine Xscored a narrow victory of 38 seconds over William Norris’sBeatrix.This fleet is deemed by many to be the hardest to win at Skandia Cowes Week as consistency is the ultimate paymaster and results in the early teens are absolutely no disgrace. For the record,Lone Starclawed into eighth place to firm up Stuart Jardine’s grip on the Captain’s Cup but there’s a lot of sailing left to be done this week and the XOD fleet will be a riveting battle to the finish.

With temperatures in the mid 70’s and the rain thankfully staying on the mainland shores, the crowds thronged the town of Cowes and all along the foreshore listening intently to the excellent commentary of Dick Johnson and Simon Vigar from Cowes Radio 106.2FM who are celebrating their 20th year at the event. All afternoon spectators were treated to a feast of sailing as the downwind spinnaker finishers filed through along the Green and this evening a 1943 Spitfire, piloted by the world’s most famous warbird pilot, Ray Hanna, will be blitzing the skies with a demonstration to mark the 60th Anniversary of the end of World War II. Meanwhile out on the water this evening the flagship of the Royal Navy,HMS Invincible, will exchange a gun salute with the Royal Yacht Squadron to mark its decommissioning on August 1st after serving for over 28 years having been launched by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 3 May 1977.

One final positive to note from the second day of Skandia Cowes Week is the extraordinary popularity of the ‘Skandia Try Sailing Initiative’ that was originally planned to give up to 400 people the opportunity to get out on the water on Colgate Keelboats with expert tuition from instructors of the United Kingdom Sailing Academy. All available spaces were snapped up within hours so Skandia has extended the initiative by commissioning more boats that will now see almost 500 people of all ages from eight years upwards being given the opportunity to try the sport.

The forecast for Monday’s racing is once again light as a slow-moving ridge of high pressure covers southern England but for the record breaking 1,036 boats at Skandia Cowes Week, little can dampen the enthusiasm for what is fast becoming a vintage regatta year.