Skandia Cowes Week comes to a thrilling conclusion

After a quite simply stunning firework display on Friday evening to commemorate the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar a total of 833 crews dusted off the nights’ frivolities and set sail after a short delay for a lovely afternoon of short-course Solent Racing. There was all to play for across many of the fleets with overall titles still up for grabs and competitors were rewarded with a moderate south-westerly breeze of around 10 knots as a persistent band of mid-level cloud cover negated the threatened sea-breeze as the sun couldn’t quite break through, leaving a steely grey atmosphere to the last day of Skandia Cowes Week.

Principal Race Officer Simon Hand, acting on behalf of the Third Triumvirate under the auspices of the Royal Southern Yacht Club sensibly elected to split the White Group under special sailing instructions sensing that time was of the essence. Therefore nine individual classes got away off the Skandia Barge on running starts to the eastern and middle Solent whilst the bulk of the Black Group fleet started on the Royal Yacht Squadron line with the Committee Boat being situated off Beaulieu for six classes in the Black Group.

The early starters on the Squadron line had tricky tactical decisions to make as a High Water time of 13.13 meant the first of the ebb tide would be running off the Medina River some two hours earlier, right on their start. The first away was a rather depleted Laser SB3 fleet who have been one of the most impressive sights at Skandia Cowes Week and they very quickly showed the classes behind them just what the order of the day would be on the water – A long starboard tack into the beach before Egypt Point and then a real fight upwind through the parked maxis and catamarans waiting for the Rolex Fastnet start tomorrow (Sunday) off the Green before heading into Gurnard Bay. Meanwhile on the outer Black Group starting line, there were split decisions between starting at the outer distance Alpha buoy to head to the Island shore or to tack early onto port and climb to the mainland shore.

The best starter of a very line shy Class 0 IRC fleet was Mark Cambell-James steering Kit Hobday’s ‘Bear of Britain’ who led out on port tack to the mainland shore on a 23 nautical mile course in the western Solent. With the all-conquering ‘Patches’ of Eamon Conneely and Nick Lykiardopulo’s ‘Aera’ not competing today it was a day of surprises for the class with a very popular class win scored by Nick Griffiths’s Marten 49 ‘Okasama’ who beat a class field by exactly six minutes on corrected time. In doing so, Griffiths takes home the Coronation Challenge Bowl whilst the Farr 52 sisterships ‘Bear of Britain’ and Peter Harrison’s ‘Chernikeeff 2’ took second and third places respectively. Class 0 IRC has had some great racing all week and this glamorous fleet has certainly added a great deal of cache to the regatta with the likes of the 98ft Skandia Wild Thing and the 76ft sled ‘Nokia Enigma’ providing an awesome spectacle for everyone both on and off the water.

Class 1 IRC has seen a late charge to victory by County Monkstown, Dublin residents Tim Costello and Noel Butler aboard ‘Tiamat’ rewarded with overall victory and with the race win today they scooped the Spanish Admiral’s Cup Trophy. Second place on the water today and in the series went to Frenchman Jean Claude Nicoleau’s ‘Codiam ENSP DH’ whose trip across the English Channel to compete at Skandia Cowes Week has been an undoubted success. Tony de Mulder’s evergreen ‘Victric’ took third on the water today but couldn’t quite squeeze into the overall chocolates as ‘Fidessa-Fastwave’ of Peter Harding secured third place despite finishing fifth today on corrected time.

Without doubt, one of the true stories of the week that has managed somehow to stay out of the newspaper headlines around the globe has been the outstanding performance in Class 2 IRC of Colm Barrington’s ‘Flying Glove.’ Today they showed some incredible boat-handling off the line to lead the fleet right from the starting gun and this has been a key factor to their overall success all week. Six wins and a second place narrowly relegated Barrington’s crack crew from Dublin into second place overall in the Black Group standings but it’s been a terrific week for both boat and crew who have absolutely dominated Class 2. A further footnote to the class is the remarkable performance by Frenchman Francois Goubau sailing the Beneteau First 47.7 ‘Moana’ to victory in a very hot contest for the Skandia Young Skipper’s Trophy. Goubau edged out Mark Cambell-James in ‘Bear of Britain’ after securing a third place today in Class 2 IRC and lifts this prestigious trophy after putting together a fantastically consistent series dropping out of the top five just once. Congratulations Francois and we hope to see you at many more Skandia Cowes Week’s in the future!

Class 3 IRC has seen a great tussle all week between the top three boats with Robin Dollar’s Beneteau First 40.7 ‘Grand Cru II’ eventually topping the pile despite a sixth place today that was their worst performance of the week. Tim Spalding’s ‘Love Shack,’ another Beneteau First 40.7 must rate themselves as the unluckiest boat in the fleet after scoring three first places in the regatta but a brace of poor results at the beginning and mid way stage hands them second place both today and in the overall standings. Third today on the water and third overall by dint of a count-back to split them from ‘Love Shack’ was Paul Mcnamara’s ‘Incognito,’ again another 40.7! How the rest of the fleet will beat the Beneteau’s in future regattas in Class 3 is anyone’s guess!

The great story of Class 4 IRC has been the ongoing battle between Jimmy Pahun’s ‘Region Ile de France’ and Harry Evans’s ‘Jacobite – Alvine.’ Going into today’s race, Evans had the upper hand after a superb victory yesterday and the two boats entered a match race from the starting gun with Pahun getting the upper hand early on during a short tacking duel up the Green on the Island side. Evans tried everything to recover but after ducking a series of starboard tackers and being forced to bear away around the large obstacle of multihull B&Q, the advantage was handed to ‘Region Ile de France’ who never looked back and went on to secure a big three minute victory over the fleet. Anxious eyes were cast at the finishers from ‘Region Ile de France’ as ‘Jacobite-Alvine’ made a late charge but at the death they could only secure a fourth place and thus hand the overall to title to the affable French team by just one point after discard. A cracking week for this 42 strong class who sport such a wide diversity of designs within a tight rating band that makes for very close racing.

Class 5 IRC has been an Adam Gosling beneficiary all week as this ex-Etchells World Champion totally dominated to win not only the class with six firsts but also the overall title of Black Group winner. However today, with the series sewn up, Gosling decided to stay shoreside to allow John de Trafford to skipper his Beneteau First 33.7 ‘Jalicia’ to a 33 second corrected time victory and collect the Bramble Challenge Cup for his efforts. Interestingly Andy Budgen’s all-conquering Sigma 38, ‘The Project’ elected to sail in Class 5 today and scored a respectable second place ahead of Frenchman Luc Berthillier in ‘Morrina IV.’ With 63 boats in the Class, it’s been a great festival of sailing with ‘Yes!’ a very worthy winner of the overall title and Nigel Colley’s ‘Quervain VI’ heading the rest of the pack in second overall.

To round up the rest of the Black Group, in Class 6 IRC Mike Tattersall’s ‘Electra’ sealed the overall win despite scoring his worst result of the week today in seventh place whilst in Class 7 IRC, Tony Dodds tucked another Solent title under his belt in ‘Purple Haze’ just ahead of the Clyde linear ‘Mikado’ of Michael Briggs. Class 8 ISC sees ‘Cloudy Bay’ of Richard Scarff and Sara Grant take home the silverware whilst in Class 9 ISC Terry Rowe’s Corby 25 ‘Drakes Drum’ scored five firsts to win the week. The J-Sprit 1 crown was taken by ‘Zelda’ of Michael Ewart-Smith with Robin and Jill Stevenson landing the J-Sprit 2 fleet in ‘MoJo.’ The X332 class saw a return to winning form today of the Dutch entered ‘Yellow Rose’ of Jan Marten Ringers who landed the overall title after managing to fend off a late charge by Iain Kirkpatrick’s ‘Fatjax.’

In sailing, especially top-flight racing, the word ‘awesome’ is a phrase used with alarming frequency but today, the last of Skandia Cowes Week 2005, Lt. Colonel Stuart Jardine sailing ‘Lone Star’ was quite simply – ‘awesome!’ In securing his sixth Captain’s Cup of an outstanding career with a race win just shy of a minute from his brother Adrian in ‘Lucrezia,’ Jardine has set a record that many believe will never be beaten. A stunned fleet doffed their sailing caps to this quiet former Olympian from Lymington who sailed an outstanding regatta from start to finish to win five races from the 79-strong fleet and never positioned outside the top eight. Jardine was a class apart all week with an unflappable manner and stunning turns of pace and guile around the racecourse. This was history in the making and it will live long in the memory of all that were lucky to witness it.

The International Dragon fleet saw a real duel to the death this afternoon with the two outstanding sailors of the fleet Graham Bailey sailing ‘Aimee’ and Poul-Ricard Hoj-Jensen sailing ‘Danish Blue’ going head to head right from the five minute gun in a classic match race. With a small glimmer of daylight in favour of Bailey in the overnight standings, the racing almost matched the fireworks of the night before as they stuck together as if tethered by rope around a 13 nautical mile course in mid-Solent. At the finishing gun, Hoj-Jensen secured the race win by the slenderest of margins of 24 seconds whilst Bailey crossed in second ecstatic to take the regatta victory after coming so desperately close last year. These two sailors, locked in such an epic battle have been one of the highlights of the one-design fleets, showing supreme understanding of just what makes these tricky boats tick and really stamping their authority on the class. A memorable week for the Dragons.

The Laser SB3s have also had a cracking time in 2005 with 66 boats coming to Skandia Cowes Week to showcase this superb boat and will certainly set many a sailor reaching for their cheque book at the upcoming Boat Shows. Next year it would be absolutely no surprise to see over 100 SB3s gracing the start-line as they really have been the most awesome sight on the water and we hear the après-sail is almost as good! With the regatta win already sewn up by Ian Southworth sailing ‘WKD Vodka Red’ on Friday, today was a day for pure sailing enjoyment for the 12 boats that ventured out. However the fleet size didn’t diminish the quality of racing with Colin Simonds sailing ‘Doolalli’ holding off the fast charging ‘Team Touareg’ of Jerry Hill to record a 1 minute 32 second race victory. ‘Team Touareg’ have been knocking on the door of a race win all week, never quite achieving their aim, although with consistent results in the top five have secured a magnificent third place overall. For the record Southworth took the week followed by Ben and Jono Shelley in ‘PWC’ who also didn’t race today.

The International Flying Fifteen fleet saw a return to winning ways today of Rupert and John Mander in ‘Men Behaving Badly’ who sealed the class win but failed by the narrowest of margins to land the overall White Group title that they were trying so desperately hard to defend. It has been a fantastic week for the Mander’s from Kenilworth in Warwickshire who have sailed brilliantly in tricky conditions amidst a Cowes fleet that are well-used to the waters. However it was a bitter-sweet victory today as they were edged out for the overall White Group title because of fleet size by the Sonar of Duncan Bates, ‘Billy’ who scored 7.78 points after discard to the Mander’s 7.87…Now that’s tight!

The International Etchells fleet got away with the ebb tide under them and in this hard-charging fleet it was no surprise to see six boats called OCS as they jostled for early track position on the racecourse. Of those boats over the line was the significant American entry of Simon Williams, ‘Fresh Guidance’ who was pushing hard for his first win of the regatta and also Etchells specialist Mike Sparks sailing ‘007.’ However it was Mark Downer sailing ‘Moonlight’ who recorded his third win on the regatta to rocket up the leader board and take second place overall after discard just ahead of ‘Fresh Guidance.’ The overall winner of the week was ‘Bushfire’ of Jervis Tilly who despite finishing first on the water today was forced to take a time penalty that relegated him to sixth today.

In summation for the White Group, Mike Fenwick strung a superb series together to win the National Squib fleet overall as well as score a final race victory today sailing ‘Ghost Rider’ whilst in the National Swallow’s ‘Migrant’ took the overall victory despite a lowly eighth place today. The Redwing’s saw Dr Jeremy Cuddigan’s ‘Capella II’ end the long running dominance of ‘Quail’ to take the title and in the RS-K6 fleet, Bill Masterman sailing ‘Scooby Doo Too’ scored a second on the water today to give him the overall Skandia Cowes Week victory. The Seaview Mermaid’s, who had a superb week and now return to base just down the Island coast, saw Ben Few-Brown sailing ‘Sheen’ as the most consistent boat taking second place today and the overall title whilst in the Solent Sunbeam fleet John and Valerie Davies recorded their fourth victory of the week in ‘Fleury’ to comfortably win overall. Liz Savage continued her consistent streak in the J-80 ‘Just Savage’ with a second place today that gave them overall victory whilst in the Victory class a third place today by Shaun Hopkins in ‘Zephyrus’ landed them the narrowest of overall wins by a point from Jeremy Lear’s ‘Zinnia’ who took the race win today.

So, with Skandia Cowes Week coming to an end this evening, the sailors depart to count down the calendar to the next time they can race at the home of world yachting in the largest regatta on the planet. It has been a tremendous week, full of highs with something for everyone. The sailing has seen all conditions from gales to flat calm (and quite a lot in between) to test the sailors to the limit and shoreside the welcoming town of Cowes has been alive with parties and general bonhomie. Just coming to the regatta is a treat and now with sailing firmly established as a sport for all, Skandia Cowes Week is truly regarded as one of the pinnacle events in world sport.

Thank you to Skandia who have kept the entry fees down through their amazing sponsorship of the regatta and are the most visible proponents of the sport of sailing on a global basis. Thanks also must go to the supporting sponsors – Henri-Lloyd, Champagne Mumm, Timberland, Wightlink, VW Touareg and Wightcable – whose support is vital to making the event the colossus it has become.

Skandia Cowes Week 2006 29th July – 5th August 2006.