If there was just one thing you could say about Skandia Cowes Week, it would be that there are never two days alike.
For the first time this week, the wind veered around to the south-west ensuring that all starts to windward gave a challenging beat against the tide, particularly for the smaller classes.
The light breeze didn't help matters, forcing boats close inshore into slacker tide and causing an unparalleled number of groundings; at one point no less than four boats were aground just off Gurnard with coloured crew shirts swinging off shrouds and bent over rails in a desperate effort to heel their yachts.
In IRC Class 0 racing for the Britannia Cup, Bear of Britain seemed to make a conscious effort to steer well clear of the three big boats (Enigma, the Swan 60 Island Fling and Shockwave) to ensure that they had a good clean start. Although Enigma was close, they went left and headed inshore as soon as possible to cheat the strengthening tidal stream. The breeze then started to lift left and that's really where they started to make the most ground and, with seemingly transformed boatspeed, led Chernikeeff and Volvo For Life Team Tonic while Shockwave and Enigma started to pull out the overall lead on the water.
On the first downwind leg, Aera increased her lead and went on to take another class win and with it the Britannia Cup. She also still leads the Black Group but is now on equal points with the X332 Crikey V!. Jez FANSTONE, skipper of Aera, commented: "I think it's the first time the owner has won the Britannia Cup and that's a great feeling to win a very prestigious race like this. But, it's no different to any other race really; we always go out and do the best we can."
Meanwhile, Bear managed to hold off her nearest rivals to the end and take a well-deserved second overall from Chernikeeff. Speaking to Ross MONSON, downwind trimmer aboard Bear of Britain, it seems the changes they made to the rig last night following their two-race loss in last night's match racing event, have made a big difference: "We changed the rig extensively overnight because we had a lot of forestay sag problems. We tightened up the whole rig, went up on jack pressure and it really seemed to pay off today. Basically for the Admiral's Cup we changed the rig a lot to get speed from our new mainsail but after last night's disappointing results we changed the rig back to our original settings. The match racing did us a big favour in a way because I don't think we would have changed anything if we hadn't done that."
The Class 2 start was prime example of the larger boats looking for wind with less worry about the tide than smaller classes. Consequently they bunched towards the north end of the Royal Yacht Squadron line for their start shortly after 1100 this morning. Jockeying for position, there were quite a few close calls, with a couple of boats, including Alice, a Mumm 30, trying a port tack start in a brave attempt to find space. However, after a long, taxing light air race it was Nick HARRISON'S Chernikeeff 3 that squeezed ahead on handicap to take an overall win to add to the two fourths, a third and a second on the first four days. This result improves her overall Black Group position from 24th after yesterday's race to 12th.
Royal Blue Addict, Paul HANDLEY'S Beneteau 40.7, was the star of the show in Class 3 today snatching victory from Salvo the overall class leader who has so far not been outside the top three.
After yesterday's relatively shy start, the Hunter 707 fleet fell victim to several individual recalls. But with a race on between Ian SOUTHWORTH'S Chilli Chaser and Jon POWELL'S Betty for the overall class lead, the scene was set for exciting, close racing. It was a fine balance for the 707s, as well as for the subsequent classes that started inshore, to find the optimum course, trading less wind for less foul tide closer to shore. Chilli Chaser took an early lead as it slowly edged past Gurnard and with skilful short tacking up the shore managed to inch ahead to what was to become a winning lead. Meanwhile Betty, yesterday's race winner, had to settle for sixth which now leaves her in second place overall, six points adrift of Chilli Chaser. A second place for Kim VASEY'S Spike puts her in third place overall.
The Darings had an equally slow start, with those choosing to brave the tide and looking for more wind offshore almost imperceptibly nudging ahead of those further inshore. Daring Do was amongst the first to cross the line, as she has been most days, but currently ranking 24 in the class, her starts appear to be her only forte! A number of Darings that stoically pushed further inshore predictably ended up with their keels bouncing off the bottom. As the fleet ghosted out of sight, Dionysus held firmly onto the lead, looking to further her current 33 point margin between first and second overall. But it was Dauntless, who's been clocking up some respectable results including a couple of thirds, who today showed her form by taking a class win, pushing her up to fifth overall. Dionysus however, still retains her lead at the top of the White Group by just one point from the Seaview Mermaid Sirena.
In the Etchells fleet former national champions Chris PROUDLOVE and team from Lymington scored their first win of the week sailing their borrowed Petticrow boat Fuzzy Duck. After a fairly average start they rounded the top mark in 10th, then immediately gybed out in to the tide and took about four boats during the following windward/leeward legs. Proudlove, who handles the tactics and navigation, commented: "We then overtook the boat lying in first and second and by the end of the race had extended our lead to over two minutes."
After an epic race yesterday when Jonty SHERWILL and team aboard the Laser SB3 Yachting World took a second place after a string of mishaps (see yesterday's report), they went on to record another second today after a disastrous start. In the strong east-going tide they started well down the fleet as low as 18th while Chris HANSON'S Turbo Services International took an amazing lead rounding the windward mark over 20 minutes ahead of Yachting World.
Matthew SHEAHAN, middleman on Yachting World commented: "We managed to work our way up the fleet but were seemingly still miles from the leader. However, a breeze filled in from the south-east and killed the wind coming up from the west leaving the leaders, who were miles ahead, in a hole. For us, well down the fleet, we saw what was happening and simply sailed round the hole in to second place behind Henri-Lloyd and retained these positions to the finish."
If today was a tough call in terms of weather and shortened courses then tomorrow is not exactly promising anything easier. A high-pressure system sat just to the west of England will provide a very light gradient wind out of the north or north-west. The morning promises mist that the sun will burn off, but the only hope that race officers and competitors have of any action will come from the development of a sea breeze out of the south-west.
Who would be a meteorologist? You either get caned for missing the unexpected half-a-gale or you get mentally strangled for not whistling up.