Wind, rain and spinnaker troubles aboard Spirit of Jethou

Wind and rain – welcome to regatta racing in the UK in July. It’s a far cry from the cobalt seas of Antigua or Sardinia, but the choppy Solent has provided the Swan Euopean Regatta with plenty of tactical challenges and drama this week in very squally conditions.

Today I was on Sir Peter Ogden’s Swan 601 Spirit of Jethou, as another warm front rolled through, laden with cloud, thick drizzle and winds topping 25 knots. Sir Peter has a great crew of professionals and talented part-timers, friendly and slick in equal measure. They include tactician Ian Budgen, Sir Peter on the helm, navigator Nat Ives and crew boss Stuart Branson, and they were fresh from ‘two bullets’ on yesterday’s races. This, however, was not Spirit of Jethou’s day.

As the wind built, a peel from spinnaker to asymmetric on the first race got out of hand – literally – and ended in a major trawl. The crew wrestled the streaming A2 kite back on board and carried on to finish 4th on corrected time, but it went wrong again on the second race of the day, this time with disastrous results.

At the end of the first downwind leg, we squared away and the spinnaker was dropped and hauled in. As it came in a fold went into the water and spooled away behind us. The bottom of the kite tore with a noisy rip and half of it disappeared to leeward, complete with guy and sheet. The acreage of pink sailcloth bobbed forlornly before luckily being picked up by a RIB and returned after the race. Tonight is jigsaw night at North Sails?.

Ours was the most spectacular and costly mistake of the day, but we weren’t the only ones in trouble. On the downwind leg of the second race as the front arrived in earnest several other yachts could be seen wiping out. We were too far away to hear the raised voices, but you could write the script anyway.

More on the regatta in the next Yachting World?..