Day five of Skandia Cowes Week saw some of the trickiest sailing conditions encountered so far as a fickle South, South Easterly breeze dominated the race track with the promise of heavier conditions as the afternoon progressed.
Patchy sunshine filtered through cotton wool clouds for all 882 boats as the Royal Yacht Squadron Flag Officers got racing underway on time setting courses in the Eastern Solent. Principal Race Officer John GRANDY and Chief Race Officer Paddy O'RIORDAN enjoyed an uneventful starting sequence as an ebb tide kept the majority behind the line, allowing all classes to get away with the only tactical decision being whether to escape the lee of the Squadron out in the tide or start right under the battlements and chance your luck with the puffs pulsing down the Medina River.
It was a decision that dogged the fleets of the inshore, White Group Classes with many boats caught downtide as the clock ticked down. However for three boats in particular they seemed to have their respective classes licked by the first mark. The Sonar Billy, sailed by class builder Duncan BATES now has four class wins and a second place to his name to leapfrog the absent today Glenn BOURKE (Laser SB3 Musto) and seal his position at the top of White Group overall. For Rupert MANDER, sailing Men Behaving Badly, it was very much a stroll in the park as he aced the Flying Fifteen class after pulling out into an enormous lead by the first turning mark of Snowdon to go on and record a victory just shy of 5 minutes from Gil MCCUTCHEON sailing Fritillary.
In the 25 strong Redwing Class, there's a familiar name at the top of the fleet with James WILSON'S Quail pushing extremely hard for White Group supremacy scoring his fourth win of the week with a discard of third to sit just behind Billy in the overall standings. Meri BENHAM in Paroquet pushed hard as the wind pressure increased in the afternoon to secure second place but the winner of the past four Skandia Cowes Week's, Quail, looks a racing certainty to take a fifth title.
Avenging last year's loss on discard and heading the fleet overall in the National Squibs is Sarah EVERETT sailing Firestreak who streaked to victory after a blistering start to record a 4 minute 35 second victory over Richard BOWTELL'S Vanessa III. Firestreak's position as overall leader was further cemented today as her nearest rival, David WHINES sailing White Magic was adjudged OCS but this competitive class could still produce a thrilling climax as Skandia Cowes Week draws to a close on Saturday.
The International Dragon Class saw a disastrous start for yesterday's winner Graham BAILEY sailing Aimee who was forced to return having been OCS but this wily London based lawyer fought his way back through the fleet to snatch an unlikely third place. Len JONES sailing Chouette scored his first win of Skandia Cowes Week and now heads the overall standings whilst overnight leader Eric WILLIAMS sailing Ecstatic saw his chances greatly diminished with an OCS.
The race for the title in the Sportsboats is now looking like being a two way head to head between the home built Prototype Pure 6 of Rory MCCLURE and Edward FISHWICK'S J-80, Redshift. Just 43 seconds separated the two boats today on handicap as Pure 6 found the conditions more to her design with a big gap down to third placed Liz SAVAGE sailing the J-80, Just Savage. Kevin DOWNER'S Abstension II, the overnight runner-up, had a tough day at the office scoring a lowly sixth place and drops into third place overall.
For the biggest class at Skandia Cowes Week, the 83 strong XOD fleet, it was a Committee Boat start up Southampton Water off Hill Head but once again four-time winner of the Captain's Cup, Stuart JARDINE, pulled out all the stops to secure his second Class win of the week. Jardine's grip on the overall title is now so strong that it will be a major upset if he were to lose as his nearest rivals dropped out of contention. With his brother Adrian securing a second place and son Mark landing a ninth there's the outside possibility that the Jardine family could land a clean sweep of first, second and third spots. If it were to happen then we would be watching history in the making!
The glamour boats of IRM today were fighting it out on the Black Group line for the most prestigious trophy awarded at Skandia Cowes Week, the Britannia Cup, first presented to the RYA in 1950 by King George VI. With a massive course in the Eastern Solent that encompassed 15 marks and almost 33 miles, the course setters certainly made the IRM fleet fight for the coveted trophy. The big Farr 52's of Peter HARRISON'S Chernikeeff 2, Nick Hewson's Team Tonic and Kit HOBDAY'S Bear of Britain stole the early thunder but as the course unfolded it was Glynn WILLIAMS'S Wolf that grabbed the initiative. After handicap, Wolf scored a one minute 14 second victory from Chernikeeff 2, relegating Team Tonic into a distant third place.
It wasn't all bad news for Kit HOBDAY though who, having seen his young crew on Bear of Britain finish fourth in the IRM division, watched his other entry, Red Bear take the winner's gun in Class 1 IRC and with it the Royal Yacht Squadron Trophy. A big corrected time victory of over three and a half minutes, secured the win from the Swan 68, Chippewa of Clay DEUTSCH with the Russian entry Follow Me following the leaders home in third place.
One of the interesting sights in Class 1 IRC is the canting keeled Jo RICHARD'S designed Full Pelt X. This absolute flying machine that looks akin to an oversized 49er is the course finder for the fleet as it rockets away from the start line. However its enormous IRC handicap of 1.635 has prevented it from taking any chocolates so far. With a daggerboard behind the canting keel there has certainly been an awful lot of thought that has gone in from Team GBR America's Cup designer Richards and it's fascinating to see the boat heeled to windward before the start, flapping its sails before sheeting on and shooting off into the distance!
The race for Class 2 IRC is certainly hotting up with the Grand Soleil 44 Holmatro skippered by ex-Whitbread veteran Hans HORROVOETS taking the day's race whilst his nearest rival, the Grand Soleil 45 Satori of French racing ace Jimmy PUHUN could only manage a third place. These two are the stand out competitors in Class 2 IRC and are now separated by the slenderest of margins.
Stephen JAMES'S perennial winner, the 1973 built Nautor Swan, Jacobite scooped the Class 4 IRC win after a close tussle with the Hanse 371 of Dominic HORNER, Schueddelfrost. With his nearest rival for overall honours Tim HARRINGTON'S Capitali$m finishing back in 8th place, James is challenging hard. Significantly Major Peter SCOLFIELD'S HOD 35 Zarafa, scored his third class win in a row over Capitali$m to now head this small but competitive class that races within Class 4 IRC.
In the Contessa 32 Class it was once again a Blanco benefit as the Rouse, Richards and Vanner owned boat took a 4 minute win over Sebastian Gardner's Polar Star. In the Etchells Ante RAZMILOVIC sailing Swedish Blue now has the overall title in his sights with a conservative third placing today whilst Carbon Tiger 2 raced into an unassailable lead in the multihull fleet taking the winner's gun from Gerber Firebird after a very line-shy start.
The only boat now to hold a perfect score of five firsts from five starts is Ipswich based David PINNER sailing the X332 Kiss. In scoring an enormous win today on corrected time of over seven minutes from Ian SMYTH'S Pittolo Bill, Kiss is the runaway leader in both the class and Black Group overall. It's a remarkable performance but certainly deserved as Pinner's crew are performing out of their skins, executing near-perfect sail and boat handling manoeuvres. They hit the start line with a perfect spinnaker hoist today to thoroughly demoralise the rest of the fleet and if the form books hold they look the most likely to take a perfect score from the rest of the week.
As a few rain clouds passed overhead as the evening drew in, Cowes Town was alive with happy sailors who, for the most part, had another superb day of racing. With the rain came some increased wind pressure and this is expected to settle in overnight producing South-Westerly force 3-4 winds but heavy showers and some clatters of thunder are expected as the afternoon progresses. Messing about in boats has never been better as Skandia Cowes Week 2004 turns into a vintage year!