Bright sunshine and a building easterly breeze that broke the 20-knot barrier before the day was out set the scene for the fourth day at Skandia Cowes Week. For the first time this week there were no postponements and racing commenced on schedule.
And even the 64-strong XOD fleet reverted to their traditional Squadron line start, much to the pleasure of the crowds ashore for whom the classic dayboat class always makes a great spectacle.
The close racing between Kit HOBDAY's Bear of Britain, Peter HARRISION's Chernikeeff 2, and Nick HEWSON's Volvo for Life Team Tonic, continued where it left off yesterday with all three immediately engaging in a close battle for the front of the fleet. Chernikeeff led off the line after a good start heading east along the Solent and, in a shifty easterly 8 knots of breeze headed off the island shore picking up a couple of useful shifts. Meanwhile Volvo for Life Team Tonic helmed by Jeremy ROBINSON headed to the north (mainland) shore for clean air away from the pack and made up some valuable time.
Commenting after the race Neal and Lisa MCDONALD from Team Tonic said: "It's always tricky with big boats to keep in clean air - we disappeared off to the north shore for this reason and it paid off. It was a terrific race for us today - with all three of the Farr 52s nose to tail all the way round the course, it was very tactical and almost like a three-boat match race. Both Bear and Chernikeeff have slightly bigger sails, hence the different handicap ratings. So our tactic is to keep slightly ahead of them, knowing that they've got to finish a minute ahead to beat us on corrected time."
But to focus solely on Chernikeeff, the Bear and Team Tonic would be to miss the point because, having completed their mini IRM regatta yesterday, they now find themselves in Class 0 IRC and there the plaudits once again went to Aera with Jez FANSTONE enjoying an excellent return to Cowes at the helm. With a second and two firsts to her name before today, the Kerr 55 asserted her strong position in class by taking another first over four minutes ahead of Volvo for Life Team Tonic (just under three minutes on corrected time), a result that also places her at the head of the Black Group tonight.
The 707 fleet has to be one of the closest racing fleets here at Cowes. These equally matched David THOMAS-designed small keelboat are known for offering incredibly competitive racing and today's performance was no exception.
After a reasonable start Jon POWELL and his super-hot team aboard Betty powered their boat up in the good working easterly wind and rounded the windward mark in third position. A smart spinnaker hoist on the bear-off enabled Betty to squeeze in to the lead ahead of Synchro and Sharkin Mad in a broad reach heading towards the mouth of the River Hamble. With a lot at stake, the cool, calm and collected Powell kept the power on and, together with Synchro, started to pull away from the fleet rounding the leeward mark 10 seconds ahead.
From here on Betty continued to increase her lead and crossed the finish line two minutes ahead of Censored. Synchro missed out a mark and had to retire.
Powell commented: "We've got some really good boat speed this week. Up the first beat we headed out in to the stronger tide and reached the top mark in third. Once ahead we just concentrated in keeping in clear air to increase our lead. The race committee are generally tending to set us windward/leeward courses because they think we want them. For us however, with our non-asymmetric spinnakers, we would prefer courses with some good reaching legs."
Betty now sits at the head of the Hunter 707 standings, but only narrowly so against early pace-maker Chilli Chaser which could only manage a disappointing sixth today.
Another of the smaller classes to enjoy exciting, close racing today was the Laser SB3 class. Yesterday's race winner, Yachting World, helmed by Jonty SHERWILL, started the race as they meant to continue by taking an immediate lead on the first beat. But during the bear-off, in a building breeze, the spinnaker ended up under the boat that resulted in them losing five places.
Having worked themselves up to second place once again Yachting World was thwarted once again when the metal plate on the jib clew pulled off. Determined to continue, the crew managed to fix the jib and work their way up the fleet once again into fourth place at the last leeward mark. Sitting out by their toenails, they then managed to take another place on the final beat and just missed second place by one second. No doubt it should make some good copy for Yachting World's technical editor on his penultimate race here at Skandia Cowes Week 2003.
Meanwhile Michael EWART-SMITH and team aboard Sublime kept their cool and crossed the line in first place. A tired and weary Sheahan commented after the race: "Despite our mishaps, we had a really fun day on the water and we're really pleased with the result even though we just missed second place. Our biggest tactical decision today was undoubtedly our move to sail well out of our way north around the Brambles Bank avoiding the worst of the tidal stream. It was here, on the long downwind leg, where we made up most of our lost places."
Laser SB3 group leader Stress Bunny hauled in only ninth today but the former J/24 sailor Colin SIMONDS can still look over his shoulder a comfortable distance to his next nearest challenger at this stage. Perhaps more stressed should be the SB3 Misb3have which suffered the ignominy of being hauled off the Brambles Bank by the Skandia Cowes Week website/Yachting World news reporting RIB.
In the Sportsboat fleet John ROBERSON is starting to make an impact taking his second win of the week in today's race which puts him in second place overall behind the J/80 Redshift. Sailing the Fremantle 8 Skandia Contribution, Roberson and team, which included co-owner Andrew THORPE, former Skandia Cowes Week Media Centre Manager Lou-Lou RENDALL, Alex TAYLOR from the Volvo Youth Squad and Mike RIDLEY from London Corinthian Sailing Club, started from the Squadron end of the line in clear air and soon found themselves engaged in what was to become a race-long battle with the J/80 Abstention 2. Roberson commented: "On the last leg we managed to get away from them. And at the last mark were one minute ahead. But they pushed us all the way."
Another Skandia Squad team member to come good in today's racing was Skandia Commitment, Simon OSGOOD's Folkboat racing in Class 9. Osgood's team was selected as a Skandia Squad member for the courage and commitment one of his crewmembers has shown in recovering from a serious motorbike accident. "I'm also committed to getting more people, especially younger people, into Folkboat racing,"
The team was, however, fortunate in having Olympic class sailor Steve MITCHELL on board today on the tiller. Osgood continued: "He certainly kept the boat upright! He did a bit of everything and I think he enjoyed his day. He hasn't sailed a Folkboat before, only a Sonata in 1990 that he thinks is the closest he's got! It took him length of the second beat to get the hang of the helming but he did quite well, better than Iain PERCY yesterday! Had a DNF yesterday so there was a bit of competition between Iain and Steve and Steve came out on top despite us being OCS at the start. We went back round the line, had a committee boat start off Beaulieu."
At the head White Group this evening is the Victory Unity after scoring another win today, his third of the week (the fourth race having been abandoned on Sunday). Helmsman John TREMLETT and co-owner Jeremy LEAR were two seconds late to the line but lead the fleet all the way to the windward mark and for there on to the finish line. All of which is a little surprising as the boat had been sitting in a garden providing a microclimate for moss for eight years prior to the start of this season. Lear would usually have been sailing Victory sail number 69, but his usual steed is on a compulsory year's sabbatical out of the water while awaiting refit. So the decision was made to buy into another Victory as the owner was not exactly looking to take the sabbatical himself. Unity is carrying 69's sails, even though numbered 70, which has confused some but there's no confusion about the way this team has set about its racing here this week.
All in all Tuesday was the best day yet, with salt-encrusted crew able to get back to the beer tent in good time. But will the wind last? The low pressure out to the west that provided a useful gradient wind against the high to the east is moving north now. As it does so the wind speed will drop and the direction will veer to west or south-west on Wednesday morning. While there is not much for anyone to get excited about on today's synoptic, that south-westerly direction bodes well for the development of an afternoon sea breeze.