Dick's viewpoint

Cowes radio commentator Dick Johnson gives his view of today's Cowes Week action

Thursday August 8th 2002, Author: Dick Johnson, Location: United Kingdom
With yet another postponement to wait for wind being the order of the day for Skandia Life Cowes Week Day Six, it looked as though the wind had again deserted the Solent.

But with a flourish, the westerly wind arrived just after 1200, just as official forecaster Chris Tibbs had predicted and by the end of the day the rising wind had even managed to break a few masts, tear a few sails and cause more than enough excitement for one day.

Big race of the day was for the New York Yacht Club Challenge Cup, raced for by both Class 0 and Class 1, though the two fleets stuck to their different start times - Class 0 starting ten minutes before their smaller sisters. They sailed the same course, but with the tide changing during the race, there might have been a small advantage to one class or the other. It remained to be seen if it was to be a small boat day or a big boat day - one hint might have been that the windward work was to be done with the tide, the downwind with the tide, a recipe for a smaller boat benefit?

The sweeping tide was in danger of taking the big White Group fleets over the line too early and of causing more carnage at the outer limit mark, Alpha. The Etchells looked to be getting too close at their start, but managed to stay the right side of the line, though a few boats were luffed outside Alpha and had to go round again. The Etchells enjoyed the building breeze, surfing along on their offwind legs to a finish at just after 1500. Mike Sparks, 007, won from Diva, Gareth Jones, with Pointless, Messers Ewart-Smith and Richards in 3rd.

Right after the Etchells started, the big class, Class 0 came to the line. A good start by Adam Gosling and Peter Morton's Mandrake saw them lead out of the box. Team Tonic, Nick Hewson, followed Bear of Britain, Kit Hobday and Tim Louis, the latter being blanketed at the start by Peter Ogden's Spirit of Jethou - allowing Team Tonic to lead in the battle of the Farr 52s. Was it going to be a repeat of yesterday's one-second win for the Hewson Farr?

When Class 1 got underway, the big boats in the class, McFly, the Swan 45OD owned by Tony Mack, and Charles Dunstone's Carphone Warehouse and Kirribilli, Douglas and Lynn Flynn, looked as though they might get to the front first, but for a while there was an exact line of bows with Kung Fu Fighter in the middle. Messers Mesdag and a cast of thousands sailing the US Swan 62RS Constanter looked as though they had achieved a cracking start. As they approached the outer limit mark of the outer line, West Bramble, however, they were not allowed room by Chris Skelhorn's Independent Bear Mk 2 and had to go round the wrong side and when they finally got it all back together they were well behind poor dears.

After the majority of starts were concluded, the final two classes, the Victorys and the X One Designs came to the inner line, expecting some fun as the wind had risen to about Force Three to Four and the tide was almost at its strongest.

The Victorys were first up and most were hanging back to make sure that they were not swept over and then had a long struggle to return. The more practised went for timed runs at the middle of the line, the more timid opting to reach down from outside Alpha and then harden up as the gun fired. Two boats, Woozle, Nigel Sefton Smith and Merganser, Alfred Lytton, were of the latter persuasion, with Woozle being to leeward and therefore with rights, Merganser chancing her arm that Woozle were going to give them room, vertently or inadvertently.

As it happened, Woozle did leave just enough room to begin with, but then luffed to push Merganser up. Merganser was a little late in responding and as the two boats came in close proximity and Merganser pitched up as Woozle dipped down, the former's bow roller hooked into the straps on the lifejacket of Woozle's forward hand and plucked him neatly from the boat. The hapless hand was left hanging like an odd figurehead from the bow of the Victory. Woozle came back to recover their crewmate, but seemed to be laughing so much that accurate sailing wasn't possible. Eventually the isolated man leapt from Merganser into the water and swam back to Woozle to get on with the racing.

When the X One Designs came to the line everyone, including the race officers, were expecting a general recall to occur, but against all the odds, with an immense amount of luck and with some poetic licence on the part of the race committee, the whole fleet were allowed to start first time.

From the beginning, X177, Alistair Ashford's Relaxation took the front, but with 140, Adrian Jardine's Lucrezia close by and his twin Stuart in the first ten with Lone Star, 119.

Eventually Relaxation dropped back to 4th, with X188, Phoenix, James Froy winning from the two-tone Kyperini, X40, Kim Slater and Alistair Evans, Lucrezia in 3rd. Overall class leader, Simon Russell's Lass, recovered from a disastrous start to get home in 8th place and hold on to top slot.

Finally the big boats came back to the Squadron line, with Bear of Britain well in front and looking good for the big prize. Team Tonic had suffered a poor 2nd leg and were never in contention from then on. Ben Ainslie at the helm of Volvo for Life came home 2nd on the water, but a poor 1st leg dropped them out of it. Wolf, Glynn Williams and Kevin Sproul and Mandrake came home close enough to look good initially, but then from out of Gurnard came McFly with the little Ker 11.3 Kung Fu Fighter hanging on to her quarter wave. Carphone Warehouse followed.

Off the wind, with all the crew packed into the back of the bus, Kung Fu Fighter with her Fat Face logos on the hull, her plain blue spinnaker, slowly surfed past the bigger McFly, and into the lead on the water in Class 1. Rob Greenhalgh's motley crew - you'd think that Fat Face could spring for some crew shirts wouldn't you? - worked the boat every inch, getting clear ahead by the time they reached the moored Mandrake, her crew enjoying their lunch. As Kung Fu Fighter surged past Mandrake a hail of tomatoes rained down on the Ker, though Rob managed to field a few and return them, but it was all to no avail, Kung Fu Fighter came home in front. When the Next Generation results computer had done its thing, the winner of Class 1 and the winner of the New York Yacht Club Challenge Cup was Rob Greenhalgh and crew from Richard Loftus's massive Swan 65 ketch Desperado, steered by Johnny Caulcutt, with Douglas and Lynn Flynn's Kiribilli. Not so much a big boat day, but certainly the day for Class 1.

The brisk winds caught some people unawares, with a few broaches and a couple of men overboard - the Farr 40 Lion, Antony Canning, losing one just east of Egypt Point during a big broach, but getting him back without trouble. Folkboat Madelaine, Edward Donald, was towed home with her wooden spar in two and Sunsail Sunfast 41, West LB-Global Financial Markets was in the Yacht Haven with a stumpy rigged 37 footer.

Mixed conditions seem set to prevail for tomorrow as a front comes over Cowes, but there is still a rumour of a big blow for Saturday to round things off with a bang.

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