The Laser SB3s have overtaken the XODs as the biggest fleet at Skandia Cowes Week 2006 28/7/06

With entries still pouring in on the eve of Skandia Cowes Week, this year’s event is gearing up to be one of the biggest. The weather in Cowes is currently a warm 25 degrees Celsius, blue skies and sunshine with a fresh 10 knot westerly breeze blowing down the Solent.

The biggest class this year is the Laser SB3 class, with a staggering 89 boat entries. This tops all classes including the X One Designs who were the biggest class in 2005 with 90 boats (down this year to 73 entries). Designed in 2002 by Tony Castro, the 20ft Laser SB3 is a fairly new keelboat. Like a “big dinghy” it provides fast and exciting racing making it a class worth looking out for.

The Laser SB3 is a simple easy-to-handle boat with basic controls and an asymmetric spinnaker flown off a retractable bowsprit. With its flat deck and open transom it can easily sit a crew of three, so gives dinghy sailors a chance to move up a size and big boat sailors a chance to get their hands dirty.

Also part of the appeal is that all entries to Skandia Cowes Week receive a free spinnaker sporting Laser SB3s sponsor Volkswagon Touareg. Entrants also receive a free Musto clothing and shore bag, a DVD, mast sock for the trailer and a free kite. Rules to promote equal racing, such as the “no sit out” rule should also attract a wider range of sailors.

Chris Darling, a first-time Laser SB3 sailor, says he’s looking forward to Cowes Week: “This is the first time I’ve ever done Cowes Week and the first big event in an SB3. It should be interesting!”

Chris has sailed National 12s and currently owns an RS200. He was inspired to buy an SB3 because as he said; “Everybody’s talking about them!”

“They look a lot of fun and there’s been very good reviews about them in the magazines.” Being a club sailor in Itchenor on the south coast for years, Chris also wanted to get into sailing in the Solent for a change of direction.

As Chris said getting a Laser SB3, “was an inexpensive way of getting into Cowes and the Solent.” A new Laser SB3 costs around £17,075 including VAT, but with a trailer and extras is a total of £20,500 including VAT. And you can pick up a used one between £14-15,000.

Chris has only had the chance to give his Laser SB3 a test drive in two weekends. He said: “I did the Round the Island race, it was our first time out with a couple of friends that sailed Laser SB3s before – we did a Grand Prix event with them as well. The three of us are doing the Nationals.”

Asked if he is worried about racing in such a big fleet, he contends: “I’ve done big fleet sailing before, it doesn’t worry me too much but it should be pretty interesting. Mark rounding is going to be quite fun, on a Cowes Week kind of course. One of our guys in the crew is a bit of an expert on tides so I’m hoping that he’ll show us the right way to go.”

For Chris doing Skandia Cowes Week was a chance to be in a big fleet, and helm his own boat. “Other Cowes sailing I’ve done has been with 15 people on a big boat, which is good fun but I should like to try something different really. It will be more like dinghy style sailing, getting off the start correctly, how we read the tides and the wind and getting round the marks.”

Chris Darling will be racing with a couple of other friends and his 17 year old daughter Alice who has done a lot of dinghy sailing. Asking if she was looking forward to it, Chris answered: “I think she’s more looking forward to going to the parties actually!”