After Monday's drenching and thunderstorms, the 897 boats competing on day four of Skandia Cowes Week were greeted with clear skies, baking sunshine and a stable Force 2-3 South Westerly breeze.
It was close to perfection as the flag officers of the Royal Yacht Squadron took charge of the day's proceedings with Principal Race Officer John GRANDY and Chief Race Officer Rear Admiral Paddy O'RIORDAN firing the canon on time for the first start of the day, the 1720 and Laser SB3 combined class.
However these ever competitive sportsboats had other ideas to the schedule causing their second general recall of the week after the ebb tide and a fair bit of bravado swept the bulk of the fleet over the line at the outer, Alpha buoy. With the inshore fleets delayed therefore, the multihulls got underway on the Black Group line with the wind touching 10 knots as they set out on a Western Solent course of some 22 miles in length.
Finally the 1720 and Laser SB3 fleets got away to a clean start 10 minutes later and unsurprisingly it was the overall White Group leader and triple World Laser Champion Glenn BOURKE sailing the SB3 Musto, that proved to the fleet his credentials by taking his third win in the series. After his second place yesterday, Bourke is proving almost too hot to handle in the fleet with only Colin SIMONDS sailing Doolalli offering any resistance. In the 1720 class ex Sigma 38 Skandia Cowes Week champion, Stephen PORTER sailing Polyphagus, extended his overall lead in the class with a 1 minute 26 second win from Richard CLAY'S Finn M'Coul.
The competition for top spot in the overall standings in the White Group is looking very much like being a head to head between the aforementioned Glenn BOURKE and Cowes based Sonar sailor, Duncan BATES in Billy. Bates scored another convincing win today taking the winners gun by exactly 1 minute 30 seconds and is waiting for Bourke to slip up to scoop the title. It will go to the wire but these two are the stand-out performers in the inshore classes.
Another name that is dominating Skandia Cowes Week in more ways than one is the hugely popular Hunter 707 crew of Charlie Fish. Having made a massive impression back in January at the sister event of Skandia Cowes Week, Skandia Geelong Week, Charlie Fish have stepped up their efforts for this year's title scoring another race win today. With discard applied they are head and shoulders ahead of the fleet but an OCS in Saturday's race means they can ill afford any more slip ups. The fleet though is pushing Iain MAY'S Charlie Fish crew hard with Adrian BARDEN'S Wolseley UK and Tom DAVIDSON'S Doh! taking second and third places today respectively.
Back from the depths for a very popular race win today was Jamie SHELDON'S RS-K6, Courageous. After being involved in a collision with the Class 2 Beneteau 44.7 of Adam GOSLING, Yes! Team Murphy & Nye, in Saturday's opening race it was a remarkable feat of salvage and boat-building to get Courageous back on the water after she was struck cleanly behind the chainplates and sent to a watery grave in the Eastern Solent. Terry WILKINSON'S The Red Macgregor squeaked into second place just 12 seconds ahead of Alex and Becca WILLARD in Cru Classe after a very tight race.
In the Offshore Black Group fleets there were some interesting tactical decisions to be made as the fleets mainly hugged the mainland shoreline after the tide turned at 1255. Certainly one of those fleets was the enormous, combined fleets of the Sunsail 37 and Sunsail 36 Classes. The outstanding performer of the week in the Sunsail 37's is the Williams F1 team who have chartered sail number 78 for the week and are currently lying fourth overall in the Black Group after a second place to GE Capital (Sunsail 76) in today's racing.
In the Sigma 38 Class two stars of GBR sailing, the brothers Andy and Ian BUDGEN sailing The Project showed a clean pair of heels off the start line, sailing in clear air to eventually record a 36 second victory over Neil AITCHISON'S Dragonfly. With their biggest rival, John and Jackie EDWARDS Red Macaw only registering a fourth place today, the battle for the overall title is certainly hotting up.
However one class that is virtually sewn up already is the X332s with David PINNER from Ipswich sailing Kiss taking his fourth win from four races by nearly 8 minutes and leapfrogging Red Macaw to the top spot overall in the Black Group. There was a minor incident in the X332 fleet at the finish for fourth placed Pittolo Bill of Ian SMYTH who had been holding a comfortable third place on their downwind run against the tide to the Squadron line. Chancing his luck on an inshore course, Smyth grounded on the rocks that lie just north of the Squadron and watched helplessly as Rick WATERHOUSE cruised into third spot sailing Elixir as Pittolo Bill extricated herself from her predicament!
The Contessa 32 Class had some big separation but some thrilling racing right to the finish as the Rouse, Vanner and Richards owned Blanco jostled with John CORDEN'S Fresh Herring on the final downwind leg to the finish. Ray MITCHELL'S Confusion kept a watching brief in third place and these three were a class apart from the rest of the fleet. Blanco eventually took the winner's gun and the Philip POLLOCK trophy in the closest finish of the day by just one second.
The Committee Boat once again stationed off Lee-on-Solent played host to Classes 1-4 IRC, the IRM big boat class and the Mumm 30's. However it was a tough day in the Eastern Solent as the zephyrs of breeze died before filling from the South, the South-East and eventually settling in from the South-West. In the glamour division of IRM, Kit HOBDAY'S Bear of Britain avenged their earlier results of the week with a slender 16 second victory over Charles DUNSTONE'S Farr 45, Nokia whilst Peter HARRISON'S Chernikeeff 2 had a tricky day eventually finishing in a lowly fifth place just ahead of Nick HEWSON'S Team Tonic.
Class 1 IRC produced another win for the Russian entry of Serguei SHEVTOSOV, Follow Me, which took a big corrected time win of nearly 13 minutes from Peter OGDEN'S beautiful Swan 601, Spirit of Jethou that has yet to win a race having only been launched two weeks prior to Skandia Cowes Week.
Notable victories elsewhere came in both the Etchells and Dragon fleets with Ante RAZMILOVIC sailing Swedish Blue sealing his overall lead of the regatta (after discard) in the Etchells fleet with a 45 second win over Mark DOWNER'S Moonlight. Meanwhile Graham BAILEY, sailing Aimee in the Dragon fleet secured his second win of the regatta and rocketed up the leader board with a comfortable victory. Bailey will be pushing hard all week to better his third place overall in last year's Skandia Cowes Week and needs to avoid any incidents after scoring an NOD in Saturday's race.
In the International Flying Fifteen Class, Rupert MANDER, sailing Men Behaving Badly once again proved that he's the man to beat with his third victory of the week by a stunning 3 minutes 57 seconds. Off the start line it was noticeable that Mander and his crew were the hardest hiking, keeping their boat flat and powering in search of clean air. Barry ROLFE in Friendly Fire gave chase and secured second place but it's hard to see anyone catching Mander as the week progresses.
Finally, the hugely competitive XOD Class saw Solent stalwart and ex-Olympian Stuart JARDINE take the Harold Hayles Bowl by a massive 1 minute 25 seconds and further cement his lead in the Class for a record breaking fifth Captain's Cup. Ex Fireball World Champion Kim SLATER sailing Kyperini bounced back from yesterday's OCS to take second place from Bill DUNSDON'S Skiffle with the big guns of Mark JARDINE (Kathleen) and Peter BAINES (Palassie) down in fifth and sixth places respectively.
The forecast for Wednesday shows increasing breeze as the low pressure system moves east with rain showers expected over the next 36 hours. The breeze will fill though and that's good news for the sailors and is expected to top 15 knots from the South to South East. Fingers crossed for another great day of sailing tomorrow at Skandia Cowes Week.