The weather did its level best to keep the race officials on their toes yesterday morning for the second day of Skandia Cowes Week. The day started with no wind at all.
Forecasts suggested the possibility of a light breeze out of the north-east but then would that get cancelled by a south-westerly sea breeze?
The sceptics would have been looking forward to a day's serious chilling under a blazing sun (if 'chilling' can be used in such a context) but the optimists were to be rewarded with a breeze that dropped the merest hint out of the north-east, then started to build in the east before settling down to never more than a few knots out of the south-east.
The later than scheduled start was further complicated by the need for three start lines - one at the committee boat at Browndown, the second on the Wightlink barge and the third on the Royal Yacht Squadron. Many competitors found themselves on the wrong line including the likes of Olympic gold medallist Ben AINSLIE (GBR) sailing Henri-Lloyd, the Laser SB3. But for Ainslie this proved to be a charitable donation on his part only, not a handicap; he and his super-hot crew hauled in the fleet and won the race from Full Chat by just 23 seconds.
Commenting after the finish Ainslie said, "Yes, we had a bit of confusion at the start, we thought we were on a different starting line than the one we were actually on. But from then on we sailed through the fleet. We had a huge tacking battle with the others along the shore from the entrance of Hamble River right along to just off Lee-on-Solent. We were eighth or ninth going round the leeward mark and we sailed through to first. But we took a few more risks than anyone else and went close in to shore. We payed for it once when we hit a drain pipe. Also, on the last beat one boat overtook us but we got them back again and held it finishing by five boat lengths from the next boat."
Henri-Lloyd's joint managing director Paul STRZELECKI, who was crewing for Ainslie, later announced that the prize that his company donated today for the winner of the class race would be signed by Ben and offered at the Sail4Cancer auction this coming Wednesday.
The IRM class on the committee boat line was the first group to start with Tonnerre making a keen break for the line ahead of the other starters and slightly to leeward but ahead of Bear of Britain in clean air. By comparison, HARRISON'S Chernikeeff II with Ian BUDGEN at the helm started a long way back from the leaders, arriving late on the line, but quickly put a tack in to head offshore and find some more breeze away from the fleet. Tony CANNING'S Lion followed up the pack, being last to cross the line.
It became apparent that Chernikeeff's flyer had paid off. Seeing her progress, the fleet leaders soon covered her tack with Tonnerre, Bear of Britain and Volvo For Life Team Tonic in a close battle for the lead. But Peter Harrison's Farr 52 maintained her advantage to the end and took first ahead of Volvo For Life Team Tonic and Timberland Euro Prix.
The 1720 fleet (together with the Laser SB3 fleet) was the next to get underway this afternoon. Starting on the Royal Yacht Squadron line, the large fleet took a long tack on starboard to cross the line with two boats, Boats.com and Proctor over the line at the start. Oi seemingly escaped a similar penalty by a matter of inches and took the lead, closely followed by Mad Cow on port tack and O'Fiver on starboard, looking for deeper water to make best use of the tide. Yesterday's winner, Glenn BOURKE on Yachts and Yachting, was surprisingly slow off the line, and remained stuck in the pack and dirty air as the fleet headed eastwards. It wasn't long however, before Bourke coaxed her to the front of the fleet and once again took first place, making it two wins out of two for the week.
Class 0 and Class 1 IRC both had clean starts at the Royal Yacht Squadron and committee boat lines.
In Class 1, Desperado separated from the fleet and crossed the line at the committee boat end while Independent Bear took the fleet lead and Alvine XIII headed the Swan 45s. For the second day running both McFly and Fever were late across the line, tacking offshore to find clean air. However, it was all to be in vain as the class later timed out due to lack of wind and no results were posted.
Snow Lion in Class 0, the only US boat in the fleet, had a good start. A Nelson/Marek designed 50-footer, she's certainly not the largest in her class, but has proved very nimble. She, together with Full Pelt, the Jo RICHARDS designed 36-footer, and the Swan 60 Island Fling, made up the leaders of the Class 0 fleet at the start. But it was Aera, the Kerr 55 helmed by Jez FANSTONE, that secured first place, winning by a margin of about 23 minutes.
Fanstone, who hasn't sailed a Cowes Week for many years, chatted about today's race: "We started at the port end of the line and chipped our way up the first beat and raced a pretty even match around much of the course. The race was won for us on the last long upwind leg up to the finish. It was a good half-an-hour leg and we managed to put some distance between us and the rest of the fleet. We sailed much better today than we did yesterday - it's a new boat and we're just getting to know her, so we were a bit untidy."
The Etchells' start on the RYS line, headed by Fuzzy Duck IV, saw individual recalls issued to a number of boats. The comparatively strong tides off Cowes once again took many by surprise, pushing the leading boats across the start line before the gun. In the end it was the local Cowes boat El Toro that took first ahead of Mayhem and Blue Genes.
Having exerted its influence at the beginning, the weather provided the final twist in the tail when just after 4.00pm a developing westerly sea breeze in the region of Norris caused problems for quite a few boats. Those running to the west under spinnaker suddenly found themselves losing the wind altogether before a useful west-going tide pushed them straight into a beat and those beating to the east suddenly had to reach for the spinnakers. It was a near repeat of one Skandia Cowes Week race last year when it was possible to view yachts running under spinnaker towards the Squadron from the East and West Solent approaches.
Fun? Not for those to the west including the Sigma 33s who, having enjoyed a close, interesting run down to Spanker, were faced with a strengthening west going ebbing tide and very little wind. As crews dropped their kites and tried to round up, the tidal stream and virtually zero wind made it impossible to make headway, forcing them in totally the wrong direction. However, as the wind shifted round to the west (turning the beat into a run), the fleet was able to stem the tide and make headway once again. Even so they were one of several classes not placed as this report was completed, with definite time-outs for the Mumm 30s and Class 1, likely time-outs for Class 4 and 5 among others and just one finisher in Class 3.
Highlighting the situation Jez Fanstone commented, "Sailing at Cowes is very unique - with the tidal situations and sea breezes cancelling each other out it can be very interesting and tactical. There aren't many other regattas out there where you go round a mark leaving it to starboard when another class is leaving it to port!"
For those tearing their hair out in yesterday's light wind race, the good news is there's a bit of a respite promised today with the weather forecast offering a south-easterly F3-4 as early mist burns off. Tuesday and Wednesday might have thunderstorms in them with perhaps some associated squalls but fundamentally this looks set to be a light airs regatta right out to the final day on Saturday.