Having spent the first two days of Skandia Cowes Week fighting fickle Solent breezes, competitors were rewarded with a fresh, building south-easterly wind this morning as they made their way to the start line following a short postponement.
For the first time ever in the history of the class the XODs made a decision to forsake the Squadron in favour of a committee boat start just off Osborne Bay, after the option had been offered by Cowes Combined Clubs. Most of the other fleets started as expected, either from the Squadron or from a committee boat in the Western Solent.
Around 10 knots of ESE breeze and a strong flooding tidal stream provided classic Skandia Cowes Week sailing at midday with slightly stronger wind speeds out of the south-east by 1400. Competitors jostled for position, some straying over the line, singularly or in whole batches, necessitating individual and, in some cases, general recalls.
In IRC 0 Slam, the Jo RICHARDS designed 36ft flyer, positioned herself at the Squadron end of the line in clear air and on the gun, powered up for what was possibly the best start of the fleet. However, Aera, the Kerr 55, which also had a good start, was able to pull through and take her second win of the week. The Swan 60, Island Fling, which started slightly further down the line in an effort to make the most of the flooding tidal stream, also sailed a good race but had to settle for second. Despite her good start Slam finished eighth.
Peter HARRISON'S Chernikeeff 2, Nick HEWSON'S Volvo For Life Team Tonic and Kit HOBDAY'S Bear of Britain revelled in the fresh breeze today, managing to stay locked in a battle for the entire two-and-a-half-hour's race and finished in that order. Speaking after the racing Hobday said, "I think we were just over 25 seconds behind Chernikeeff and we were five or six seconds ahead of Team Tonic. You can't get much closer than that. And going round the first mark there was about a boat's length between all three of us. I think we lost out when we stayed on the mainland shore in the tide too long while Tonic gybed across early. When we eventually crossed the tide we were two or three boat lengths behind Tonic and continued a battle with her while Chernikeeff pulled ahead."
Accolade for closest race of the day went elsewhere however. After an intimate battle in the Western Solent in up to 14 knots of wind, Victric, Tony DE MULDER'S chartered IC45, and Ed Leask's Timberland Euro Prix crossed the line together in the Europrix 45 section of the IRM fleet and were unable to be separated on time. Neil MACKLEY, the trimmer onboard Victric, explained: "We had a really good race with the other IC45s> Once around the mark at Gurnard we had a long run against the tide so it was a case of hitting the mainland shore where there was less tide. We did lose out a bit in the middle of the race but picked up again on the last beat and then on the long run to the finish we were neck and neck with Timberland Euro Prix."
Elsewhere on the Solent, Richard LOFTOS' Swan 65 Desperado made mincemeat of IRC Class 1, which now puts her top of the fleet after three races. After a good start at the pin end of the line this elegant lady powered her way into a lead that she held for 45 minutes, beating the Swan 45s, Corbys and other super-fast flyers. Journalist Bob FISHER was onboard and after the race chatted about his satisfactory day on the Solent. "Today well and truly made up for yesterday's disastrous race where none of us finished. After our good start today we were rewarded with being first to the weather mark. We beat all of the new Swan 45s down to the next mark too, which was even better. It was inevitable they would overtake us because they have to give us three minutes 36 seconds per hour, so to be ahead of them after 45 minutes of racing was not bad going."
Tony MACK, owner and skipper of the Swan 45 McFly added: "The handicap difference between us and Desperado is quite large and that's why we moved down to second on corrected time, despite our five-and-a-half minute lead. Desperado goes well in stronger winds, so we're hoping for a little less wind tomorrow to give us a chance - although I wouldn't change anything we did today as we sailed a very tidy race."
As the Hunter 707s approached their start the wind increased further, creating a nasty chop in Cowes Roads. Being careful not to force a general recall the fleet held back from the line in the ever-strengthening flooding tide and as the gun went, were dead on cue for a text book start. Former top class dinghy sailor Ian SOUTHWORTH, sailing Chilli Chaser, had a reasonable start sixth off the line but by the windward mark he had taken control. Southworth commented: "After taking the lead at the weather mark we were able to build on what we had and hold the lead to the finish. I'd say that Black Sheep is our main rival within the fleet but because Nigel Smith and I have sailed a lot together and the boat's set up well, we're feeling fairly positive right now."
Although Southworth is starting to build up a consistent string of results which include first, second and third placings, there are several other 707 teams in addition to Black Sheep that deserve to be monitored including local Warsash Sailing Club member Jon POWELL sailing Betty, who won yesterday's light winds race and finished third today. The first day's winner Charlie Fish, helmed by Iain May, is another one to watch, in addition to last year's 707 class winners sailing Doh!
In the 22-strong Laser SB3 class Jonty SHERWILL took Yachting World to her first win of the week, beating the super-fast Stress Bunny team helmed by former J/24 sailor Colin SIMONDS by over three minutes. A relieved Matthew SHEAHAN, middleman onboard Yachting World, talked about today's win: "We won at last which has made up for the previous two dreadful days where we didn't actually score a result. Despite crossing the line third on Saturday we signed off too late. And yesterday, we just missed the time limit. Today was much better, excellent racing in a good breeze. We started right out on the pin end of the line, had a good beat to Peel Bank and then had a downwind blast right over to the River Hamble doing 16 knots across the Solent."
SB3s might lose out to the 1720s upwind but their ability to plane downwind makes for extremely exciting sailing. Sheahan, rubbing hands polished by much rope handling, ruefully conceded that crewing such craft competitively requires a lot of energy.
Yachting World's technical editor also commented that it was nice to get back to Cowes a bit earlier in the day, an observation no doubt reflected by many others. Tomorrow they should get back just that bit earlier again, unless they don't make it at all, as the forecast promises decent wind out of the south-east that just might perform a dying swan impression as the day wears on. Meantime we face the possibility of a shower tonight from building low cloud but as the heat of the day drops away no-one appears to be complaining.