Solent swathed in warm sunshine on day one of Skandia Cowes Week 2/8/08

Dark and drizzly clouds rolled away to leave the Solent swathed in warm sunshine but light variable breezes made for slow progress for the 968 craft that took to the race track on the first day of Skandia Cowes Week.

Having been crowned the Volkswagen Touareg King of Cowes just a few hours before in the pre-regatta event on Friday, Giles Peckham switched from the Laser SB3 to more familiar territory, his 47 year-old Daring Dauntless and immediately demonstrated why he is a champion of champions.

Within minutes of the gun, he and the same four crew who have won Skandia Cowes Week for the past two years, had established a healthy 50 metre lead over Christopher Hill’s Division Belle, crewed by a group of House of Commons veterans who will be joined later this week by adventurer Bear Grylls.

This sequence continued through to the finish though Peckham, sharing helming duties with Milo Carver as usual, crossed with a just a 41 second advantage over Division Belle to add a bullet to his brand new Volkswagen Touareg.

3 Sad Old Blokes happy

The Laser SB3 fleet is missing two key campaigners this year as Russell Peters moves across to the TP52 Stay Calm and Aussie Glenn Bourke remains chained to his desk in Hamilton Island.

In their absence, the class has attracted some healthy new blood in the shape of Eddie Warden-Owen who joins the fray on Monday in Gwladys, which was campaigned (and sunk) as Alfie by Lawrie Smith in the SB3 UK Nationals last year.

Drawing first blood however was Jerry Hill in 3 Sad Old Blokes, one of the favourites for the 2008 title.

Having been in 10th place at the first mark, he took the lead from Geoff Carveth during the beat from Royal Southern to DAKS and his lead was extended when he and second-placed Italian entry Vita Spericolata rounded the mark just before a container ship came through which left the rest of the fleet lagging behind.

The win was an emphatic one minute and 50 seconds over the Italians who recorded one of their best results in the past five years with Lucky Lady in third, giving James and Sarah Boyce an unbelievable start to their Laser SB3 experience at Cowes.

“Some of the people who we expected to do well seemed to be well down the fleet and that was a surprise,” said Jerry who also won the SB3 National Championships in Largs and will compete in the Worlds in Dublin in September.

“Cowes Week is hard. It is all about eliminating errors and we were able to do that today but there is a long way to go.”

Ran sets out her stall in TP52s

Andy Soriano’s Mills 68 Alegre is the biggest boat racing in Skandia Cowes Week and not surprisingly, it also proved the fastest in Class Zero IRC finishing more than 15 minutes ahead of the next boat, Nyklas Zennstrom’s Ran.

But on handicap, Alegre dropped to fourth place with Stuart Robinson’s Stay Calm in second and Benny Kelly’s Panthera in third as the TP52s recorded a 1-2-3.

“It was a great course because there is a good competitive pack of TP52 racing here and it was testing for all of us. It is fantastic to win,” said Ran team manager Bob Swann who is missing many of his regular crew to the Copa del Rey regatta in Majorca.

Driven by Stuart Childerley, Ran was placed second throughout the entire course.

“It sets the mark for the rest of the week and it shows that all our training is paying off. Our confidence is right up there now,” added Swann.

Betty’s back in business

Confidence is riding high too on Betty after Jon Powell and Sarah Norbury produced a blinder in the Hunter 707 class having not raced at Cowes for four years. The boat has been sitting in the dinghy park at Warsash for all that time but Norbury and Powell dusted it down and quickly hit their straps in a highly competitive field.

“It came down to whether to hoist a spinnaker on the penultimate leg and then when to hoist it,” reported Miles Dalby who crossed the finish line in second place just 28 agonising seconds behind Betty.

“They hoisted theirs last and to be fair, they sailed a very good race but we will be back up there tomorrow because it is very disappointing to come a close second like that.”

There were few surprises in the inaugural Beneteau 40.7 class which for the first time had its own start. Tim Spalding who posted six wins in eight races in Class 4 IRC last year claimed his first win in 2008 while Kees Kaan, who came second overall in his class on his Grand Soleil 43 Roark in 2007 took a 38 second win in Class 2, with Peter Bainbridge’s new J/122 Sky Hunter runners up.

Extreme 40s make tumultuous start

The Extreme 40s, racing in the iShares Cup at Skandia Cowes Week off the beach at Lepe produced some blistering speeds – to their cost – as the breeze picked up significantly to around 15 knots and then to 22 knots which proved way too much and gave the boats a bit of a battering.

Between races two and three, the fleet was struck by a violent squall which turned Team Aqua on her nose. Organisers immediately stipulated no fifth man for the fourth race after the boat suffered a broken mast.

Frank Cammas on BMW Oracle retired after the fourth race having posted two wins and a second when his front beam broke following a collision while James Spithill’s BMW Oracle, Team Volvo and Team Origin all capsized.

BT also retired which prompted organisers to suspend racing for the day with Cammas posting two wins and Alinghi and Team Origin one a piece.