The sixth day of racing dawned over Cowes as another scorcher with high temperatures and little breeze to offer relief.
Late starts were predicted, with the wind only expected to fill in around 1300, but later in the morning the first zephyrs of the south-easterly were felt, and the committee decided to let racing get under way.
"This is a no wind situation!"
is how one competitor described it. "Indefinite postponement,"
were the first words from the race committee and most crews wished they had not bothered getting out of bed so early.
The hot, hazy conditions, light breeze and penultimate day of racing combined to make crews jumpy and there were individual recalls on most starts. The closely matched Mumm 30 class had a general recall, as did the big boats in Class 0.
Among the sailors in this class was racing driver David COULTHARD. Today he was behind the wheel of an entirely different Formula 1 vehicle, the Farr 65 Hugo Boss, recently launched by Alex Thomson's Formula 1 Sailing. Had this been the Monaco Grand Prix, Coulthard would not have been best pleased with his performance off the starting grid as the rest of the fleet left the big black boat stalled on the line after the second start. Things did not improve much from there; Hugo Boss rounding the first mark of the course, Gurnard, and hoisting their kite a long way down the fleet.
After flying around the track at 200mph, sailing must seem like a very sedate pastime, but Coulthard was hooked: "It was unbelievable. At the start you're jockeying for position, you're virtually brushing up against other boats and there was never a dull moment."
And that was in less than 10 knots of breeze! The many variables in yacht racing also surprised Coulthard: "It's a lot more involved than I ever imagined. I actually think there's more for a skipper to have to deal with than I have as a grand prix driver. The fact I was doing eight knots didn't even occur to me, you're so involved in trying to avoid other boats and the strategy of trying to follow the currents and find the wind that I was amazed how quickly the time flew by."
But even Coulthard's skills didn't measure up, and Hugo Boss subsequently retired.
With rumours about Maclaren entering the sailing arena, Coulthard drew many comparisons between sailing and motor racing: "A lot of aerodynamics that are designed for a Formula 1 car are run first with fluid dynamics so I guess that's why Adrian Newey sees this as a natural development for him. There's many similarities between Formula 1 and sailing: the technology that's used, the carbon fibre for the sails and the masts, you're trying to get the hull areas as slippery as possible and maximise the wing area that you can actually carry with the sail."
The Cork 1720s and Laser SB3s enjoyed an early start before the breeze began to drop off again, with Proctor Winning Masts, current leader of the 1720 class, mixing it at the front. Jonty SHERWILL eventually lead the charge home (perhaps drift would be more appropriate) in the SB3 class at the helm of Yachting World.
Around noon the breeze slackened once again and the biggest fleet at Cowes, the venerable X One Design, enjoyed some challenging racing on the start line. Xanthos, crewed by Richard and William WESTMACOTT (grandsons of Alfred WESTMACOTT, designer of the XOD) has showed there's no substitute for experience. The Westmacott brothers have been racing her since 1960 and their results came as no surprise to some.
As the XODs were getting underway from the Royal Yacht Squadron line, the X-332s were enjoying a similarly exciting start at the Committee boat line. First across the line was the bright yellow Dutch entry Yellow Rose with Crikey recovering well from a difficult boxed in position to cross the line close behind Yellow Rose and a little to weather.
With the Europrix championship ending yesterday with a win for Timberland, crews of these seven Euro Prix boats seemed to take it easy and were not a threat to other boats in IRC Class 0, except for perhaps Victric which finished third.
With the Sportsboat class enjoying a nice starboard reach across to the mainland shore, the J-Sprit class got off to a good start from the Committee Boat with top performer the J-109 Jazolo working hard to hold off contenders J Spirit (J-105) and Marionette (J-120). The J-109 Jahmali of Mike and Sarah WALLIS, currently lying second overall in the class, eventually pinched first place from Jazolo. This was an exciting development indeed because Jazolo is currently lying third overall in the Black Group and will be fighting hard to stay there.
The light breeze didn't slow the pace of competition in the Hunter 707 class. Despite not even having to race today to win the regatta, Ian Southworth's Chilli Chaser put in another great performance coming in first with Jon POWELL'S Betty less than three minutes behind. Betty's Sarah NORBURY said of Southworth's performance: "He seems to have the knack of going the right way!"
There was some close action at the West Ryde Middle mark. In Class 1, Swan 45 McFly recovered from a mediocre start to ghost around together with Farr 40 Too Steamy in breeze that had dropped to a meagre 3 or 4 knots. Close behind was the Sydney 40 Arbitrator being chased by the lower rating Prima 38s White Knuckles and Firestorm. In Class 3, the Beneteau 40.7 Royal Blue Addict led sister ship Shockwave around the same mark. By the time she reached the next mark Too Steamy had put some distance between herself and the chasing pack, but not enough to prevent another Swan 45, Fever, from taking the gun in Class 1.
Back in Class 0, the red faces on Bear of Britain could not be blamed entirely on the blazing sun. A navigational misjudgement saw them run aground during a tack. Chris Law explained: "I was pushing the start against the tide in light airs. I called Team Tonic and forced her to go about, then tacked under Chernikeeff 2. We got a nice lead behind Enigma and were tacking with about 0.5 metres under the keel. We went to tack again and hit the bottom so hard we couldn't get off."
Unfortunately Bear's grounding resulted in a retirement for them, not what they need if they hope to improve on a disappointing 17th position overall in the Black Group. By comparison, her Farr 52 sisterships and arch rivals Volvo for Life Team Tonic and Chernikeeff 2 are lying 12th and 8th respectively.
Not everyone out there today was racing. Zephyrus 5, the new Maxi Z86, put in an impressive appearance in preparation for her Fastnet race on Sunday. Also seen out on the water tuning up was Nick BUBB'S Mini 6.50 John Merricks Sailing Trust.
As the forecast southwesterly sea breeze began to fill in later in the afternoon, it met with the existing southeasterly leaving particularly fickle conditions. This resulted in the peculiar sight of boats flying spinnakers when returning from both the east and the west. There were large gains, or losses, to be made. Many boats were forced to anchor as the tide turned east and began to carry them away from their marks. Many courses were shortened requiring four finish boats out on the course, with most smaller boats finishing at South West Ryde. Fortunately, as the southwesterly began to dominate, those boats that had not retired or finished were able to enjoy a more consistent 8-10 knots of cool breeze.
As the last boats came home from the seventh day of Skandia Cowes Week, the Solent was already filling up with spectator craft waiting eagerly for this evening's fireworks display.
The weather forecast for tomorrow doesn't proffer much hope for a decent day's sail to round up the event. The high pressure system is dominating the area and the synopsis again indicates hot and sunny weather with a light and variable southeasterly wind.