Modern yachts may lend themselves to close combat but you cannot beat a vintage scrap.

Modern yachts may lend themselves to close combat but you cannot beat a vintage scrap.

The XOD (X One Design) was designed in 1908 and with 75 on the start line this year, it is the largest class afloat at Skandia Life Cowes Week and one of the oldest Solent classes still to race and compete at such events. At just over 20ft LOA, the sloop-rigged, carvel-built keel boat traditionally sails with three crew, and her sail inventory includes a small kite flown from a double-ended pole.

In the black corner we have the 1934 Victory class. A smaller fleet, these keel boats sail out of Portsmouth. Similar to the XOD, but based around a distinctive clinker-built hull that the class rules say must be painted in Ford Model T livery, the Victory is slightly slower than the XOD and doesn’t point so high.

Racing on the same course as one another, the two fleets inadvertently mingle at Skandia Life Cowes Week and this doesn’t help inter-class rivalry. Being quicker than the Victory, one would expect the XOD to be the first to start but race officers routinely expect the XODs to have false starts and so give them a time that is 10-minutes later. Unfortunately the strategy doesn’t always work.

The director of Cowes Combined Clubs, Stuart Quarrie, describes the Xs as a “pushy lot” that receive “at least five to six general recalls a week.” Last year was the first in 47 years that an XOD race was started without need of a general recall.

For that reason XODs and Victorys tend to rumble even on the start line. At the beginning of the week Victory class captain, Peter Madden, came back from his race and said, “today we ran into the back of one (XOD), and two ran into the back of us!”

“The XODs are like bees swarming all over you,” Peter continued, “stinging you and bumping into you. This year the organisers have brought our start times so close together that it is a certainty that we shall have them breathing down our necks. The XODs sail faster, and if you get in the middle of a pack of them, you are severely disadvantaged.”

Mind you, Victorys can have a good tussle between themselves, if today is anything to go by. Whilst racing at close-quarters at the start, Nigel Sefton-Smith’s Woozle had what must rate a bit of a unique moment with Merganser, helmed by Alfred Lytton. Cowes Week Radio’s Dick Johnson saw the action:

“Woozle was to leeward and therefore with rights; Merganser was chancing her arm that Woozle was going to give them room. As it happened, Woozle did leave just enough room to begin with, but then luffed to push Merganser up. Merganser was a little late in responding and as the two boats came in close proximity and Merganser pitched up as Woozle dipped down, the former’s bow roller hooked into the straps on the lifejacket of Woozle’s forward hand and plucked him neatly from the boat. The hapless hand was left hanging like an odd figurehead from the bow of the Victory. Woozle came back to recover their crewmate, but seemed to be laughing so much that accurate sailing wasn’t possible. Eventually the isolated man leapt from Merganser into the water and swam back to Woozle to get on with the racing.”

It’s one of the most open Skandia Life Cowes Weeks for many years as far as the Victorys are concerned. But two front runners are beginning to emerge – John Tremlett’s Zinnia, which took her first pole today to top the class by three points and Shaun Hopkins’ Zephyrus, with two firsts earlier in the week but only a third today. Woozle placed fifth today, none the worse for her crewjacking but Merganser retired, through shock perhaps as much as anything else.