The last day of Skandia Cowes Week got off to yet another hazy, lazy start; as much a result of the previous evening's fireworks and ensuing partying as the lack of wind and muggy conditions.
But it seemed like it would be business as usual for the competitors and committee; in other words, waiting for the wind.
With the 600 mile Rolex Fastnet Race starting today and several classes having finished their racing on Friday, numbers were down and there was a distinct 'last day of the holidays' feeling hanging over the fleet. Notably absent were some of the bigger boats including Alfa Romeo, Enigma, Aera and Hugo Boss. The committee made a good decision to get the fleet out on the water early and no postponement was posted, something that initially seemed a little optimistic. However, soon the first stirrings of the promised south-easterly were felt. With this breeze forecast to blow throughout the day, and a strong west-going tide running, a decision was made to set downwind starts, and after a 30 minute delay to re-set the line, racing commenced.
With the wind and tide behind them, skippers were conservative on the line, wanting to avoid a time-consuming recall at all costs. The depleted Class 0 fleet got off to a clean start with no boats over the line on a 17-mile course that would take them first to NE Gurnard. With the Europrix 45 Wolf launching a lone attack from the Island end of the line, Peter Harrison's Chernikeeff 2 quickly found her pace amongst the rest of the pack at the mainland end and went on to win the Class.
Anyone watching NE Gurnard would have been rewarded with some exciting mark rounding action as boats came in with good speed, spinnakers drawing well in the cool, fresh breeze. After a short first leg, most classes were still tightly grouped and boats were hanging onto their kites until the last possible moment. A lot of shouting but no contact accompanied the Class 0 fleet around with Chernikeeff 2 chased by Bear of Britain, the Swan 60 Island Fling and Corby 49 Flirt leading the fleet on a long starboard tack towards the mainland shore.
Minutes later Class 1 arrived with a lot more shouting, but once again no collisions with yesterday's second placed yacht, Nick Haigh's Farr 40 Too Steamy, bringing up the rear. Class 2's rounding was a little more interesting. There was the usual screaming, but all was going relatively smoothly until the arrival of the Humphreys 40 Eclipse VII, tight reaching on a port tack. She threw in a well-executed gybe right on the mark and snuck inside William Edwards' Mumm 30 Sardonyx VI. In the mayhem, Sardonyx's bow connected with Eclipse on her starboard quarter. Eclipse responded with a protest flag. Owner Douglas Hassell was at the wheel, with his son John calling tactics, and he claims that Eclipse had an obvious overlap and was not given sufficient water at the mark. Hassell despaired, "You put yourself in a position where you can take advantage of the rules, and no one understands them!"
The White Group boats also enjoyed lively off the wind downwind starts but were sent instead on a longer downwind leg close to the Island's shore, the idea being that by the time they headed back the tide would have turned to assist them on their beat back to the finish.
The XOD's, starting just after 1300, faced a bunch of 1720s and SB3's racing back through them. Jonty Sherwill's SB3 Yachting World was again looking good, with a good lead over CC and Mini Summerhayes' Short and Curlies and Colin Simonds' Stress Bunny, locked in a close battle for second. Short and Curlies eventually pipped Stress Bunny to second. There was a good tussle for 1720 supremacy too between Back to Basics, Boondongle and Yachts and Yachting. Boondongle eventually took the lead ahead of Yachts and Yachting. In the Sportsboat class, another win by Edward Fishwick's consistent performer J-80 Redshift meant he finished the regatta as overall winner of the class.
While the sun struggled throughout the morning to burn off a stubborn haze that hung over most of the Solent, the south-easterly breeze wavered a little and left some classes wondering if they were doomed to another day of stemming the tide with anchors at the ready. By the time Class 3 arrived the wind at NE Gurnard seemed to have dropped off a little and after a less exciting rounding the boats struggled a little to make way against the tide as they held onto a starboard tack taking them towards the mainland shore.
Fortunately the wind decided to give the Skandia Cowes Week fleet an enthusiastic send off and freshened up again giving all classes plenty of time to make the finish.
Class 8 saw young skipper David Miller sail the Bavaria 42 Splendid into second place behind Peter Bainridge's J-42 Sky Hunter. This will certainly help his result for the Young Skipper Trophy, but not enough to displace 24-year old Ed Peel, sailing the Redwing Quail, from top spot. After finishing first in the Redwings today, Ed will receive the trophy from Seb Clover later this evening. Ed won the trophy in 2000 aboard Quail, and from next year he will no longer be eligible for the trophy, so he was determined to win it one more time.
With what may have been the most consistent breeze of Skandia Cowes Week lasting late into the afternoon, the entire fleet was comfortably finished by mid-afternoon, with the last class, the Sigma 33s, crossing the line soon after three. Amongst them was Joanna Briggs' Honey of Bosham. Yet another first for this finely sailed boat leaves her in second place overall in the Black Group. Nigel Theadom's almost unbeatable (he came second on day 2) X-332 Crikey V! is first.
As part of the Skandia Squad program, Tom and Dianne Andrews' Elan 40 Amethyst, renamed Skandia Passion, enjoyed some professional additions to her crew today. Dianne explained: "A wonderful treat! We had not one gold medallist, but two! We had Iain Percy and Steve Mitchell aboard. They were brilliant, helping us to get the best speed out of the boat." But even with the champions' help, it was not an easy race. "We found we had a reasonably good start. But it was a battle. We managed to get into the lead, but then a couple of the smaller boats managed to pass us in the run to the finish, but I think we were the first Elan."
The advice from Amethyst's crew was simple. "A lot of it is keeping on at people to concentrate," said Iain. "We had a good day. Everyone learnt a lot. We almost lost our voice giving advice!" Steve agreed, "Yes, it was good fun. We had a chance to sail, myself and Iain, on the same boat which is a bit more natural for us because that's how we work generally. It was a good day and hopefully the guys learnt a lot. It's worse when they say 'Oh, we'd have done better without you on board...' Sailing's a fickle sport, you can always pull that one out of the bag!"
The consensus among competitors was that it had been a very enjoyable week's sailing, if a little light. Today's racing at least left sailors with a reminder of what it can be like when the wind actually blows, even if it's just a little.
Full results and more photos are availiable on the event website at the address below.