An outstanding day of racing for all classes on Windy Wednesday!

After the delays and lighter winds that dogged the opening few days of Skandia Cowes Week, day five delivered near-perfect conditions for the racing competitors with a blustery and shifty force 4-5 from the north west producing challenging conditions. With the ebb tide strengthening all afternoon, Principal Race Officer John Grandy of the Royal Yacht Squadron got every fleet away on time with exemplary race management displayed by his team on downwind courses away to the eastern Solent. For the inshore White Group it was deemed necessary to insist on personal buoyancy being worn as a vicious chop began being churned up by the record number of 1,036 entries as they jostled for position on the starting lines. For some of the smaller boats it was a continual battle with the bailer whilst for the larger boats just getting around the long courses set today was a victory.

One of the truly memorable sights of the week was produced by the 66-strong Laser SB3 fleet that streaked away from the start-line, launching their asymmetric spinnakers before touching speeds around 15 knots, pushing great plumes of spray and white water all around the entrance to the Medina River. Just when the spectators thought that couldn’t be bettered, five minutes later on the outer Squadron line, north of the Alpha buoy, the largest boats of the regatta – Class 0 IRC – launched their massive sail areas to scream away from the line, challenging for one of sailing’s great inshore trophies, the Britannia Cup. The thousands that packed along the Green bore witness to a classic morning of starts with plenty of incidents to report, including broken masts, twisted spinnakers, nose-dives and broaches. In short, it was a very good day to be at Skandia Cowes Week.

With the aforementioned Britannia Cup up for grabs in Class 0 IRC it was unsurprising to see the predominantly professional sailors of the class pushing hard for pole-position at the start. However for four boats -Aera, Island Fling, Spirit of JethouandFull Pelt/Slam- their race was in vain as they jumped the gun to each score an OCS. That left the trophy wide open but it is the familiar name of Eamon Conneely’s TP 52Patchesthat will be inscribed on the beautiful silver trophy after recording a 3 minute 19 second corrected time victory over Carphone Warehouse CEO Charles Dunstone’sNokia Enigma. The course for Class 0 IRC sent the fleet off to the most easterly marker buoy in the regatta, North Sturbridge, and then back up to marks to the east of Cowes on a 31.1 nautical mile course. Third place was Peter Harrison’sChernikeeff 2who just pipped her sister ship, Kit Hobday’sBear of Britainby 16 seconds on corrected time.

Undoubtedly the class attracting the most attention today were the Laser SB3s who had a cracking day of racing over a 17 mile course with a fascinating battle emerging for the lead. From the shore you could see the lead changing hands several times with Ben Shelley’sPWCand Ian Southworth’sWKD Vodka Redhead and shoulders ahead of the fleet enjoying a very high-speed match-race to the finish. The lead was only finally decided on the penultimate reaching leg down to West Ryde Middle marker buoy with Southworth mis-timing his approach gybe allowing Shelley to surf through at speeds touching 19 knots. The final beat to the finish line saw the two boats virtually tethered together after two and a half hours racing with just 15 seconds the margin of victory to Shelley. Neil McGrigor sailingBoo IIscored a third place and interestingly just 38 seconds separated the placings from 3rd to 9th making this one of the tightest fleets at Skandia Cowes Week. AboardBoo IItoday was Solent legend Jeremy Rogers who at 66 was the oldest man in the SB3 fleet but, with his son Ben steering, thoroughly enjoyed blast-reaching after a scary broach at the top mark. “In all the years that I’ve competed at Cowes I have never travelled from west to east across the mouth of the river so fast as I did today. The speedo was recording 18 knots and I just held on for dear life and enjoyed the ride!” For some of the more inexperienced SB3 sailors it was a long day as fatigue and gear failure claimed casualties but for the top boats the days racing was a spectacle like no other as gusts of up to 24 knots gave perfect planning conditions for this ultra-quick design.

There was an interesting tussle in the Sonar fleet with yesterday’s winner, Simon Barter’sBertiepushing too hard on the inshore starting line at the inner distance mark and being adjudged OCS. RegrettablyBertiecontinued to race whilst another early starter, Duncan Bates aboardBillydropped his spinnaker and re-crossed the line before sailing an outstanding race to win the day by a touch under two minutes. John McIntosh led the chasing bunch to land second place inEchowith Sunderland resident John Robertson sailingRepostea further two minutes astern in third place. For Simon Barter though he can consider today his discard although any further mistakes could be punished by the hard-drivingBillycrew.

On a day that favoured the heavy-weather specialists there was no surprise to see the great Dane, Poul Ricard Hoj-Jensen return to winning ways in the International Dragon fleet whilst his nearest rival and overnight leader, Graham Bailey sailingAimeewas called OCS by the start line spotters. There were familiar faces too at the head of Class 2 IRC with Colm Barrington’s beautifully prepared Ker 39Flying Gloveracking up their third win of Skandia Cowes Week whilst the outstanding performer in the White Group, the International Flying Fifteen of Rupert and John Mander,Men Behaving Badlyscored a narrow victory to secure their grip on the overall title. In Class 7 IRC, Gold Roman Bowl winner from the 2005 Round the Island RacePurple Hazeof Tony Dodd posted their third class victory of the regatta and in the RS Elite fleet overnight leaderCiao Bellaof Mike Tong and Peter Wareham extended their advantage after leading off the start line to record a 33 second win from Jeff Monger’sEclipse.

The Sunsail fleet with 66 entries is the largest of the Black Group and this excellent class that encourages sailors of all ages and experience to charter and race at Skandia Cowes Week is seeing some very close racing. Picking a daily winner from these equally matched boats replete with new sails for 2005 is almost impossible but carrying on their form from yesterday, the British Police chartered Sunsail 29 scored a resounding 2 minute 34 second victory over the Pinsent Masons chartered Sunsail 21. With discard applied the British Police are leading overall but a low score in their opening Saturday race is making life tough for the team and they know they can’t afford any mistakes if they are to win this challenging fleet.

The Beneteau 47.7 fleet, sailing in Class 2 IRC are enjoying a good week of sailing with the Belgian entry of Francois GoubauMoanabeing the boat to beat after scoring a perfect four wins from four starts.Moana’sclosest competitor is the evergreenKirribilliof Doug and Lynne Flynn who scored their fourth second place of the regatta today, and are noticeably scratching their heads on how to overturn the Belgian entry’s dominance.

In the multi-hull fleet, the conditions today were just about perfect for hull flying, goggle-wearing and extreme sailing. And so it was for the syndicate owned Grainger Raider 30Roofrom Christchurch in Dorset who tore around the 27.4 nautical mile course to score their third win of the regatta and lead the fleet on discard. Brian Haynes aboardCarbon Tiger 2kept the pressure onRooin the overall standings with another second place to add to Sunday’s result with John Fildes’sFirebirdrecording a third place after leading the depleted fleet of just three finishers home on the water.

After an interesting race yesterday in the RS-K6 fleet where the racing was abandoned due to the time-limit but now looks like being re-instated at the class’s behest, today’s racing regrettably saw a number of broken masts in the fleet although thirteen boats successfully made it around an inshore course. The performance of the day in the class was the syndicate entered boat of Justin Deal, Theo Botha and Sarah Marriott,Fat Facewho aced the conditions to record a 2 minute 26 second victory from Mark Darling sailingShaggy.In the Hunter 707 fleet,Charlie Fishsailed by Iain May and an all-star crew secured their overall lead with a second place today just finishing behind Howard Morris inDouble Trouble.The International Etchells meanwhile enjoyed a wet jaunt around the Solent with several retirements due to gear failure (and a broken mast) with class stalwart Jervis Tilly bringingBushfirehome ahead of the chasing pack led by the American entry of Simon Williams,Fresh Guidancewith Mark Downer’sMoonlightin third.

The J-Sprit 2 fleet where the J-105 and J-92 classes enjoy a combined start had an interesting day of sailing with the Jaques family entered J-105,J-Spotmaking the best of the conditions to win both the overall class and top the individual J-105 fleet. In the J-92s meanwhile, the Dutch enteredJimJamsof Paul van der Pol scored the fleet win whilst scoring third overall in the J-Sprit class just behind the J-105 of Guy BrearyVoador.

The XOD fleet had a very wet day, starting off a Committee Boat line in Osborne Bay with a course encompassing 12.1 nautical miles in the eastern Solent. The conditions though were perfect for Lt Colonel Stuart Jardine who wriggled through the fleet inLone Starmaking no navigational mistakes and posting a 23-second class victory over Kim Slater’sAlvine X.Jardine, therefore extends his lead from Slater with David Tabb’sZoeslipping down the rankings after a seventh place today. Third on the water was Kiwi David Lindsay’sCapricewho is now pushing hard in second place overall after the single discard is applied. Despite Jardine’s apparent dominance there’s still plenty of sailing left for the Captain’s Cup.

The battle for the overall Black Group is now looking like a two-boat affair between Adam Gosling’s Corby 29Yes!and the Sigma 38 of Andy Budgen,The Project.The way the overall fleet title is decided relies heavily on class entries and with 44 boats in Class 5 IRC whereYes!is the dominant force versus 19 boats in the Sigma 38 class; if the results continue to go their way then Gosling will be crowned as the overall champion. Today both boats scored emphatic victories in their respective classes to ease head and shoulders above the pack whilst their nearest competitor, the X332Yellow Roseof Jan Marten Ringers dropped away after succumbing to their first loss of the regatta at the hands of Iain Kirkpatrick’sFatjax.

The seaworthy Contessa 32 fleet revelled in the stronger breezes today although some weary cockpit winch grinders stepped ashore having winched the boats’ large over-lapping jib all afternoon. Seb Gardner’sPolar Starbrought the bunched fleet home to record a 2 minutes and 9 second victory over Ray Mitchell’sEnglish Rosewho is now pushing hard for the overall class victory. The Sportsboats were another fleet that enjoyed the challenging conditions with the J-80’s utterly dominant, securing the top four places. Liz Savage sailingJust Savageclocked a big win by almost five minutes over Michael Livingstone and Paul Lewis aboardJoker’s Wildjust ahead of Jervis Devonshire’s third placedJuno.

After the racing today, the yacht clubs, bars and beer tents filled to capacity with delighted sailors swapping tales from the race course whilst the chandlers and sail makers did brisk business to get the fleets back on the water for tomorrow’s racing. This evening a charity fund-raiser, the Stars of Sailing Challenge, is being sailed for the official charity of Skandia Cowes Week – Sail4Cancer – whereby members of the public have the opportunity to sail with some of the Great Britain Olympic Team including Ben Ainslie, Shirley Robertson, Iain Percy and Steve Mitchell.

The forecast for tomorrow is for a slight abatement in the wind strength as a high pressure system to the south of Cowes and a low to the north give a light west-north westerly wind becoming a moderate south westerly in the afternoon. However ‘Windy Wednesday’ will live long in the memories of all that competed today under sunny skies and fair breezes and proved just why Skandia Cowes Week is rightly described as a ‘must-do’ event.