A misty dawn greeted the 857 boat entrants on day one of the 178th running of Skandia Cowes Week. Quickly, though, the sun burnt off any lingering murk and the 1015 countdown began for nearly 10,000 competitors in the world's biggest regatta.
However the wind Gods, so often the bane of Race Officers and sailors alike, had different ideas with a light and shifty breeze fading and dying across the Solent.
The resultant general postponement meant a delay of just over three hours with many competitors choosing to stay shoreside beneath glorious sunshine and clear-blue skies. Finally the gradient Easterly caused by low pressure sitting over Ireland settled into the Eastern Solent producing a shifty Force 3 and racing got underway with the AP flag lowered at 1330.
Held under Triumvirate 1 (The Royal London, Royal Southampton and the Royal Thames Yacht Clubs), the Principal Race Officer, Peter BATESON and Chief Race Officer Malcolm MCKEAG elected to send the fleets to the Eastern Solent. Wary of the clock ticking down, Cowes Combined Clubs (CCC) sensibly elected for shortened courses with the big boats of the IRM class, for example, being sent on a course just under 16 miles in length to Mother Bank, Browndown, Clipper and Marsh on a flooding tide.
With the tide beneath the boats sweeping them over the start line, understandably there was caution across the IRC fleets and it wasn't until the starts of the ultra competitive One-Design classes such as the Hunter 707s and XODs that significant recalls were registered.
In the first start of the day (IRM) the ground was set for what will be an intriguing week-long battle as the Farr 52s jostled for position on the line. Renewing their long sailing rivalry, Peter HARRISON'S Chernikeeff 2 and Kit HOBDAY'S Bear of Britain locked horns to produce a thrilling encounter. Chernikeeff 2 took a windward tidal position to get away first whilst Bear of Britain elected for a mid-line start. With Nick HEWSON'S Team Tonic snapping at their heels it was a first beat battle Royale that Chernikeeff 2 edged, to steal a lead that they held to the finish, thundering down the Solent under asymmetric spinnaker to take the winner's gun by 53 seconds on the water and 40 seconds on handicap.
IRC Class 1 also produced a fantastic result with Serguei SCHEVTOSOV from Taganrog, Russia taking the class win on handicap by over five minutes after finishing in a dead-heat from the fast starting DK 46 Erivale (Mike GREVILLE). It has been a successful European Summer for Schevtosov who has competed in both the Commodore's Cup and Cork Week before coming to Skandia Cowes Week, sailing under the banner of the UTS Sport-Club Yugtranzitservice.
The One-Designs were split today with the CCC Committee implementing Special Sailing Instruction E9 to put the Etchells, Sportsboats, RS K6, RS Elite, Sonar, Sonata, Flying Fifteen and Victory classes onto the Skandia Barge Line. With a Committee vessel operating for the day's nominated classes, the Royal Yacht Squadron line was relatively quiet until the 83 boat fleet of XODs came to start. A gaggle of around nine boats pre-empted the starting gun but as the first beat shook out, the usual suspects headed the fleet with previous Captain Cup winner, Simon Russell sailing X80 Lass, taking an early lead discounting the OCS boats. However with the tide playing havoc amongst the XODs, it was a surprise winner in Felix (Mr & Mrs Taylor) who stole the limelight to win the Eric Hiscock Wanderer III trophy from Richard BATCHELOR in Carolet.
With a High Water time of 1659 and the tide beginning to turn on the Island side nearly three hours before, the slower One-Designs were always going to struggle on a day where tidal gates and eddies came into play producing, at times, massive discrepancies.
In the highly competitive Laser SB3s a 22 boat fleet hit the start line with Volvo Ocean Race supremo, Glenn BOURKE, showing absolute dynamite boatspeed and technique aboard Musto to steal a five minute race win from Colin SIMONDS in Doolalli. The evergreen Darings, sporting 27 entries for the week, made a clean start off the Squadron and early on it was Jamie CLARK'S Loup Garou VIII that was making the best of the port tack gaining lanes to head the fleet. By the finish though, Clark had been overhauled by the syndicate owned Darius (DAK 30) who took the AW Barlow Challenge Cup by a little under a minute.
The ever-competitive Etchells fleet, starting off the barge line saw another class stalwart and Solent legend Chris TORRENS score a popular win as groundings and light inshore weather off Osbourne Bay claimed their victims down the fleet.
The tide claimed it's first major scalp in the International Dragon fleet with class stalwart Graham Bailey being adjudged OCS. Chris Caws sailing Apalala made the cleanest start although he was eventually beaten into second place by David Palmer sailing Princess Jalina by a little over a minute and a half.
Last year's runner-up in the White Group overall, the Redwing Quail (James WILSON) from Bembridge on the Isle of Wight opened his Skandia Cowes Week account with a 50 second win and will be pushing hard all week to go one better than 2003. Another winner from last year back for more is Nick EMERY in the National Squib 'Artful Dodger,' who annihilated this competitive fleet by over five and a half minutes to notch an opening day win.
Overall the opening day of Skandia Cowes Week 2004 was a success with all classes save the Sigma 38s and IRC Class 6 posting results. The forecasters for tomorrow expect an increase in wind pressure as the low currently sitting over Ireland moves NNE to the west of Ireland heralding rain and a wind range of 15-20 knots with wind gusts expected at one third higher. Skandia Cowes Week is about to come roaring to life!
Full results are available on the event website at the address below.