The true spirit of Cowes is kept alive by the crew onboard J/109 Batfish 07/8/07

With almost a thousand boats racing this year, Skandia Cowes Week is the largest sailing event in the World and features some of the best sailors to-date. With such strong competition and sizable fleets it is not surprising that stress levels can rise. However, after meeting the crew onboardBatfish, the J/109 skippered by Bill Blaine, I was reminded that Cowes is not all about the winning.

Before I turned up on Tuesday, Bill had told me to bring minimal gear: “It takes up beer space.” A big clue as to how the day would go. Bill hasn’t had the best of the week’s racing results, coming in last yesterday, having one OCS start, and with a best so far of 16 out of 27. However, the general mood onboard is far from a disappointed one. It would appear that forBatfish, like so many of the crews at Cowes, it’s not the winning, it’s the taking part.

After a frustrating morning the J/109s were finally awarded a start time, and only three hours later than billed. But the building wind was worth waiting for, and the high spirits on board (that’s the cheerfulness not the rum) kept us amused, and gave me time to assess the boat.

Designed by Rod Johnston the J/109 is a stylish, modern looking boat, with plenty of room on-deckanddown below. My first impression was its size. It’s a little over 35-foot, and with a big rig and sail area I was pleased to see that there were plenty of hands onboard. But I needn’t have worried. From the quick, painless task of hoisting the main, to the snap jibing of the asymmetric spinnaker, thanks to its retractable bowsprit, the J/109’s ease and simplicity make it a highly desirable boat, especially this week.

And it moves well too – fast and responsive. Even when winds got into double figures, and with no one on the windward rail, there was no excessive heeling. (Amongst a crew who enjoy the occasional beer, I cannot help but think that this matters.)

TheBatfishcrew are a welcome relief after a hectic and demanding few days. Never frontrunners, and near the bottom of the class table, they are simply happy to be involved in this historic event. The skipper Bill told me: “This is a great sailing regatta. Just look out there on the water – how often do you see a view like that? It’s true we’re a ‘fun’ boat, not a ‘serious’ boat, but all that matters is that we’re here and part of it.” Of course he’s right. He even taught me the boat song while onboard:

“We’re the curse of the Solent,
we’re theBatfishcrew,
know where we’re going
‘cos we’re following you.”

Listen out for it tomorrow.

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