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8 August 2003, 09:42 am
Drifting Match Is Order of the Day
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Skandia Cowes Week
Cowes, Isle of Wight

Despite the light wind forecast, a small breeze filled in during the morning giving the officials on the Royal Yacht Squadron platform the perfect opportunity to commence racing on time.
However, as the first of the Black and White fleets bobbed around in preparation for their start there was little to convince anyone that today's racing would become anything other than a drifting match.

Those classes first off the starting blocks, including IRC Class 0 competing for the New York Challenge Cup, benefited from what looked to be a fairly consistent light breeze as they headed east along the Solent. Alfa Romeo, Neville CRICHTON'S super maxi, with Adrian STEAD on the helm, popped her kite on the long downwind leg and took an early lead leaving the rest of the fleet trailing in her wake before the wind dropped off further leaving the initial leaders in a hole.

For the crew aboard Alfa Romeo it was an incredibly frustrating day. Chatting after the racing Crichton commented: "It was very frustrating, very light air and for a 90 footer that's designed to go in heavy weather it's pretty hard to keep it moving. We really just wanted to sail the course as quickly as possible and maintain the lead, but the further we went, the less the wind, so it became pretty difficult. We could see the smaller boats catching up, which in light winds, can sail just as quickly as us."

Slam, Stephen FEIN'S Richards 36 helmed by Jo RICHARDS had its best race of the week today in the light tricky conditions. Richards and his super-hot team sailed an excellent, tactical race notching up second overall. Speaking after the race, Richards commented: "It was an ordinary race with not much excitement - we had a good start in the top two or three across the line. The larger boats overhauled us on the way down to the first mark, but on the way back those in front stopped dead in a hole near Norris, allowing us to sail around them."

"It's hard in a 36-footer when you're competing against boats with twice your sail area. Obviously that's what your handicap is for, but it doesn't allow for events such as when you've got to sail through another class fleet - the 50-footers can sail straight through, but it's not as easy for us."

For Richards and his team this is the last time they will be sailing together on this boat because she's been sold and will be hoisted out this evening and shipped to Switzerland to her new owner.

Glynn WILLIAMS' Wolf the Europrix 45 was undoubtedly the star of the show today having sailed a solid race and picked up an overall Class 0 win alonng with the New York Challenge Cup. Williams, who also skippers the boat, commented shortly after arriving back on shore: "Today we had a race in which there was more than one option, which we didn't have yesterday in the Britannia Cup. That was a very one-sided course." Initially it looked like the option that Wolf went for was not going to pay off. Williams continued: "From the start we hooked in to a good pressure lane, but two or three of the boats had slightly better breeze towards the mainland shore. At one point Bounder (another Europrix 45) rounded a mark 14 minutes ahead of us which is a hell of a lead."

But Wolf gradually worked her way up the fleet, electing to sail a longer course in better breeze. "At the penultimate mark we were in a fairly average position but just worked our way through these pressure lanes. The key thing we began to understand was that the westerly sea breeze was going to win so we actually went round the long way, picked up the sea breeze with the spinnaker and then just came in and did a fantastic job," continued Williams. Wolf's persistence paid off. Crossing the line five minutes after Slam, they took them by eight minutes on corrected time. Another Europrix 45, Timberland, took third.

The three Farr 52s, Team Tonic, Bear of Britain and Chernikeeff continued their week-long battle with not much between them as they approached the first mark. But as the wind dropped, Volvo for Life Team Tonic managed to pull ahead of Chernikeeff and Bear of Britain, despite having to settle for eighth overall.

Once away from the line, the Hunter 707s with their brightly coloured magenta and blue spinnakers engaged themselves in their usual close battle. Sparkle, sailed by Paul CURTIS and team was first to emerge from the melee and, by making the most of the flooding tide, headed for the channel where she was able get just enough clean air to establish a five-boat length lead as they headed to the first mark. However, as the wind dropped and shifted, and the fleet turned itself around, Ian SOUTHWORTH sailing Chilli Chaser, the overall class leader, took his role at the front of the fleet. Although he lost and regained it several times, he managed to take the overall race win by seven and a half minutes. Chris MCCLOUGHLIN Chilli Chaser crew commented: "At 450kg we think we're the second heaviest crew in the class. We spent much of today with the two heaviest guys sat down below on top of the keel, and the race was no cake walk." With six firsts behind them they can afford to take it easy tomorrow, and were considering not racing to spend the day on a motor boat watching and learning from the other 707s. However, they've decided that not wanting to sail seemed discourteous to the rest of the class, so they will be on the start line again tomorrow.

While those on the eastern end of the Solent were able to enjoy a reasonable sail in what little breeze there was, those back at base were struggling. In scorching sunshine, and zero breeze, the remainder of the White Group fleets yet to start, wallowed around in glassy waters in the hope of a sea breeze filling in. But it wasn't to be. After what seemed like hours basking in the sun, the race officer finally made the decision at 1400 to abandon leaving the Dragons, Redwings, Flying Fifteens, RS K6s, Sunbeams, Sonars, Sonatas, Squibs, Swallows, Mermaids, Victories and XODs unable to race.

Interestingly, not far away just over to the mainland shore, there was just enough breeze for the race officer to keep the Black Group starts rolling, albeit incredibly slowly. One by one each class drifted its way over the start line with the help of the strong flooding tidal stream. Class 8, the mixed fleet including Sigma 41s, Bavaria 43s, Dufours, Dehler 41s and a Sweden 38 had one of the closest starts with the team aboard Associate, Chris RUSSELL'S Sweden 38, first to pop their kite. Jessica DAW IPC Marine Media's publisher crewing on board Associate chatted about the race: "It seemed to take forever to reach the first mark and then the lack of wind turned in to a drama after we rounded DB marine. Everyone was bunching up and drifting in to each other and, with the tide increasing in strength, it was time to drop the anchor and wait for the wind to fill in. The Maxi 1050, Oshun turned on her engine in an effort to avoid our anchor chain and immediately retired from the race. The race was then shortened and we headed back to shore for a well-earned G&T."

Unfortunately as the day progressed there was little in the way of improvement and no sign of a stable sea breeze. The race officers therefore finally made a decision shorten all the Black Group fleets at West Lepe.

The bad news is that there's not much change to the weather tomorrow. The hot sunny weather will continue as the high pressure dominates the area. Winds will again be light in the morning, with just 1-3 knots expected from the east, gradually veering to the south and (hopefully) increasing to 4-6 knots through the day.

Sue Pelling, Mike Kopman and Dominic Byers/Yachting World

Sue Pelling, Mike Kopman and Dominic Byers/Yachting World
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