Amazing spectacle as glamour comes to Skandia Cowes Week

Day six of Skandia Cowes Week and the super-maxisSkandia Wild ThingandICAP Maximuswent head to head in a pro-celebrity race entitled ‘The Open’ alongside a smattering of some of the world’s leading offshore sailors aboard the wide-bodied Open 60 class.

Professional sailors including Ben Ainslie, Mike Golding, Conrad Humphries, Emma Richards and Alex Thomson were joined by the likes of motor-racing ace David Coulthard and TV personalities Davina McCall, Lee Sharpe and Champagne Mumm ambassador Bear Grylls on a 50 mile course in the western Solent. The first start of the day got underway as helicopters buzzed overhead and a flotilla of spectator boats surrounded the seven yachts who jostled for position in just under 10 knots of breeze after a one-hour wind delay. As the time ticked down the 100ft New Zealand entryICAP Maximusjumped the gun at the start, to hand an early race track advantage to the Melbourne based 98ftSkandia Wild Thingof Grant Wharington. Ben Ainslie made the best start of the Open 60’s, leading the fleet away aboardHugo Bossbefore succumbing to some bad windshift luck later in the race allowing Conrad Humphries, sailingHellomototo capitalise. However, all eyes were on the exciting duel between the maxis asICAP Maximuspeeled away after the start to return to the line before beginning a long climb back into the race to catch and passSkandia Wild Thing.The fleet disappeared from view off to the west and out into Poole Bay before coming thundering down the Solent in the early afternoon withICAP Maximusthe clear winner on the water from Skandia Wild Thing. As a Cowes spectacle, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Once the commotion of the maxis subsided, the Race Officers of the Royal Yacht Squadron lowered the AP flag to begin the starting sequence and very quickly signalled their intent to get the fleets away with the sight of a Black Flag flying for the first start of the day, the Laser SB3 class. Fortunately the 66-strong fleet played the game and got away to a flying start for a 19.9 nautical mile course predominantly across to the mainland shore. However, Principal Race Officer John Grandy could not possibly foresee the situation that one of the quieter classes at Skandia Cowes Week, Class 3 IRC, would inflict on the Black Group starting sequence as two general recalls delayed the entire schedule. When the fleet did finally get away at midday on the fast running ebb tide for a long beat westwards it was Peter Jackson’s, J-39,Assassinand the Beneteau 40.7Anticipationof Peter Newlands that made the best starts. The fleet was desperately tight all afternoon and in a dead-heatAnticipationandAssassincould only be split on handicap with Peter Newlands claiming a 34-second win on corrected time.

The story though that is on the lips of all the competitors here at Skandia Cowes Week is in Class 0 IRC where Irish businessman, Eamon Conneely sailingPatcheswith a stellar collection of professional sailors had it all his own way once again, storming around the race-track to totally outclass a very competitive field and scoop the prestigious New York Yacht Club Challenge Cup.Patches,named after Conneely’s hometown in Connemara is one of the new breed of TP52 high-performance boats that are proving to be very popular around Europe and with a crew-list spearheaded by double Olympic medallists Shirley Robertson and Ian Walker are enjoying a very dominant week with four wins from five starts. Second today in Class 0 IRC was once again Charles Dunstone’sNokia Enigmawith Nick Lykiardopulo’sAerain third but there’s a saying doing the rounds here at Cowes that ‘no-one’s got a patch onPatches!

Patcheshowever, whilst stealing the headlines is still not in the running for the overall Black Group title which is going right down to the wire with still very little daylight between the Sigma 38 of Andy Budgen,The Projectand the Corby 29 of Adam Gosling,Yes!Once again both boats aced their fleets by big margins and only a hair’s width separates them for the overall title as they both have perfect scores of five races sailed, five won. Watching both boats from the shoreline is a treat as they streak away from their fleets with fantastic combinations of great starting, superb boat-handling and that critical ingredient that makes any sailor a tactical genius – boatspeed!

Those same qualities apply to the overall leader of the White Group, the International Flying Fifteen, Men Behaving Badly of John and Rupert Mander. This beautifully well worked out day boat is proving to be just a click faster than the rest of the fleet and you have to go back to the opening race of Skandia Cowes Week 2004 to find a race the Mander’s have not won. This impressive regatta record was again stretched today as they sailed away to a 2 minute 37 second victory over Laurence and Lena Mead’sHoomaloowith Andrew Millband’sBlack ‘n’ Bluecapturing an excellent third place.

The Laser SB3s had a tactical afternoon of sailing as the wind filled before cloud cover negated the wind mid-race to frustrate the early leaders. There are big gains to be made in the fleet downwind as gybing angles seem to be key to filling the large asymmetric spinnakers flown off an extended bowsprit. Sailing technique and experience would appear to be paying in the class as, after a shaky start, multiple world champion Ian Southworth sailing four-up onWKD Vodka Redwriggled through the fleet to score the race win over new face at the head of the fleet, Rob Stanley sailingFlamin’ Galah.Jerry Hill pushed hard all afternoon sailingTeam Touaregto eventually be rewarded with a third place but Southworth is proving, as he has done in so many one-design fleets, to be the man to beat.

The International Etchells had a close day of racing but Jervis Tilly’sBushfiremanaged to get away on a long run from Lepe Spit down to a marker buoy off Hill Head to score a flattering 3 minute victory over Mark Watson’sEl Toro.Tilly, a long-time Etchells sailor, is proving to be remarkably consistent at Skandia Cowes Week, scoring his third victory and heading the fleet in the overall standings from Simon Williams’sFresh Guidancewho scored a handy third place today.

The huge fleet of Sunsail 37s had a desperate start to their race as the wind dropped to a very light 5 knots right on their gun but one of the faster starters in clear air was crewed by a team from National Grid Transco who had a great day of sailing before eventually succumbing to third place. The star performers once again were the Sunsail 29 of the British Police from Portsmouth who consolidated their lead at the top of the overall standings after the discard is applied with a second place today. Taking the winners gun by a resounding 1 minute 22 seconds was the team from Malcolm Hollis Property who without discard are the overnight leaders of the class and it’s looking like a fight right to the end between them and the British Police. The Sunsail fleet are having a superb regatta with the excellent on-shore Sunsail beer tent really creating a marvellous atmosphere. Old rivalries are being re-kindled whilst new ones ignited and it’s hard to find anything but smiling, happy, exhausted sailors all around the Sunsail stands.

Out on the Committee Boat vessel starting line by Lee-on-Solent, Class 1 IRC enjoyed a 28 nautical mile course in the eastern Solent with the two outstanding fleet performers having a tactical tussle around the race track.Tiamatthe Mills 40 of Tim Costello and Noel Butler from County Monkstown in Ireland eventually came in big corrected time winners over the second placed French entered IMX 45 of Jean Claude Nicoleau,Codiam ENSP DH.Nigel Bramwell’s ever-green Swan 45Hawkjust sneaked into third place over the DK 46Fidessa-Fastwavealthough some lowly results earlier in the week leaves them in 17th place overall in this 32 boat fleet.

The race for Class 2 IRC, also on the Committee Boat start-line, once again proved to be aFlying Glovebeneficiary as Colm Barrington’s Irish charge stormed home to record their fourth victory in five starts over the fleet and now stand in third place overall in the Black Group. Leo Clifford’s heavily decaledVespucci’s Black Sheepfinished some 1 minute 38 seconds behindFlying Gloveon corrected time with the Belgian entry of Rudi Floridor, sailingAllardin third.

Still with the IRC classes, in Class 4 IRC another overseas entry,Region Ile De Franceof Jimmy Pahun from Locmiquelic in France recorded his third win of Skandia Cowes Week from Harry Evans aboard the famous Swan 48,Jacobite – Alvine.These two yachts have been trading blows all week, never out of the top two places and with just two races to go to decide the series and just one point separating the pair it will be fascinating to see who comes out on top.

Another desperately tight contest is being played out for the Skandia Young Skipper’s Trophy with France’s Francois Goubau sailing the Beneteau First 47.7Moanain Class 2 IRC just leading the standings from Mark Cambell-James sailing the Class 0 IRCBear of Britain.The criteria for winning this prestigious award is that the skipper must be under 25 and this year a total of 31 boats are entered from all across the classes which is encouraging for the future of Skandia Cowes Week.

The International Dragon class saw one of the great bounce-backs of the regatta so far with Graham Bailey, still smarting from yesterday’s OCS, winning today’s race through sheer determination aboardAimeeto now top the overall standings after discard is applied. The previously all-conqueringDanish Blueof Poul Ricard Hoj-Jensen who leads the fleet before discard could only count a fourth place today which sits uneasily with his Sunday placing of 9th and opens the door for Bailey to mount a late charge to victory. The Dragons are a real nail-biter now.

A quick round up of the inshore White Group fleets sees a return to winning ways of Iain May’s Hunter 707Charlie Fishand in the National Squibs, Captain David Wines scored his third victory. Neville Upton brought the National Swallow fleet home onGoosanderwhilst Dr Jeremy Cuddigan’sCapella IIoverhauled the fleet to secure victory in the Bembridge Redwings. Justin Deal’sFat Facescored a big win in the RS-K6 fleet and Ben Few-Brown extended his overall lead in the Seaview Mermaid fleet with a 1 minute 29 second win inSheen.Another boat with sights set on overall class victory at Skandia Cowes Week is John and Valerie Davis aboard the Solent Sunbeam,Fleurywho recorded a close victory from Julian Money’sPennyas the Sonar of Duncan Bates made no mistakes to score today’s win by over 3 minutes. Liz Savage continued her winning ways in the Sportsboats bringing her J-80Just Savagehome to victory by a massive 7 minutes whilst Roddy Bowerman outsailed the Victory fleet by over 5 minutes aboardSteadfast.The XOD results are being scrutinised at time of going to press with 15 boats being adjudged as OCS including class leaderLone Starof Lt Colonel Stuart Jardine. The race win currently stands for Lymington sailor Rory Paton onDianafrom Alistair Ashford’sRelaxationas the XOD fleet are currently scrutinising the video tapes…

To round up the Black Group,Yellow Rosethe X332 of Jan Marten Ringers was again beaten to the class win by Iain Kirkpatrick’s East Coast entryFatjaxto drop them further down the overall title standings. Ian Stewart’s X362Henri-Lloydscored her first win of the regatta from class leader Diarmid De Burgh-Milne’sEx Rolloxwhilst the Sigma 33,Whippa Snappaof Richard Puddifoot led from start to finish to score a big win over Jeff Worboys onWorkout.The multi-hulls sawCarbon Tiger 2take the honours for Brian Haynes and the Jacques family scored another win in the J-105’s from Guy Breary’sVoador.Pat Stables sailingGoogle Eyeenjoyed a first taste of victory in Class 7 IRC, Tony Wyeth’sOcean Venturebrought Class 8 ISC home andDrakes Drumstreaked away from the start line to record a handy win for Cowes resident Terry Rowe in Class 9 ISC. The Contessa 32’s meanwhile had fun and games over a tactical course with Seb Gardner’sPolar Startaking the chocolates again today from David Richards and partners on ‘Blanco.’

The story leads of the day, however, belong to the glamour classes.ICAP Maximusproved what an awesome ocean-racing machine she truly is and confirmed her status as favourite for the Rolex Fastnet Race starting on Sunday off Cowes. Conrad Humphries meanwhile is celebrating after lifting the inaugural ‘Open Trophy’ as skipper of the Open 60HellomotoandPatchesshowed a very clean pair of heels once again in Class 0 IRC. Cowes Town is alive with gossip and chat about the quality of racing as Skandia Cowes Week lit the blue touch paper, stood back and marvelled at some of the top boats and sailors vying for supremacy on the water at the home of world yachting. Cowes in August is a great place to be!

One footnote to make is that tomorrow’s forecast is for very strong winds gusting up to 25 knots for a while from the south west and there’s a very strong possibility of rain as a band sweeps across the south coast. Friday promises fireworks both on the water and in the sky!