Frustrating day

Mass retirements and course shortening at Cowes Week

Wednesday August 5th 2009, Author: Rupert Holmes, Location: United Kingdom
In contrast to yesterday's excitement this was a day of light winds and challenging conditions for competitors and race officers alike.

The day started with a gentle southerly breeze, but a slow-moving and weak cold front just to the west of the Solent, threatened to reduce the wind to nearly zero in its wake.

Waiting for the wind

Subsequent starts on all lines were postponed as the wind dropped to a zephyr and started to clock round to the west. Speaking during the postponement, Ed Peel, who was leading in the Redwing class, said: "This year the racing and the courses have been awesome. I'm really looking forward to getting out there again today - it looks like we can start going west on a beat, although I'm fully expecting to need the kedge when we get to the top mark."

The race officers took the first opportunity to get the starting sequence under way, with Laser SB3s starting on the Royal Yacht Squadron line at 11:25. The spring ebb tide was already flowing strongly, pushing fleets over as they headed west towards the more reliable winds in the west Solent. After a general recall, the class restarted cleanly 20 minutes later, with the entire fleet a comfortable distance behind the line in a westerly wind that had built rapidly to 8-12 knots. At 12:45 it had increased further to a consistent west-south-westerly of 14-16 knots, giving ideal sailing conditions and the prospect of another great day's racing.

However, by the time of the Flying 15 start at 13:35 the wind was down to 8-10 knots. With the tide building, competitors were finding it harder to stay on the correct side of the line, and with 20 seconds to go six boats were still pointing away from the course.
First away was Nick Clarke's Black, followed by Ffreefire 20, who was just to windward of Rupert Mander's Men Behaving Badly. However, Mander, who has a legendary winning record in this class at Cowes, took the lead when Clarke had to duck the stern of a Swallow after tacking onto port. Mander retained a narrow lead in a super-tight finish that saw the first five boats - Men Behaving Badly, Ffuraha, Black and Fflux - finishing in little more than 80 seconds.

His worst nightmare?

Just after the Flying 15s were away, the front moved over Cowes, bringing with it one of regatta CEO Stuart Quarrie's worst nightmares - rain and next to no wind. The next start, for the Victory class, saw so many boats swept over the line by the tide that a general recall was needed. But it took so long for competitors to return against the tide, the start had to be abandoned, together with the final start of the day, for the XOD class.
With little prospect of a reliable wind later in the day, race officers made preparations to shorten numerous courses. Contessa 32s, Quarter Tonners, Sonatas, and Multihulls were finished at Berthon. Ray Rouse's Contessa 32 Blanco was first to finish at 13:57, just 63 seconds ahead of Simon and Kay Porter's Equator. A local Cowes boat, Eldred Himsworth's Drumbeat took third place two and a half minutes later.

Ten White Group Classes - RS Elite, Artemis 20, Sonar, Redwing, Sunbeam, Flying 15, Swallow, Squib, H707, Mermaid - were finished at Quinnell, less than three miles into their planned 12.7 mile course.

The RS Elite fleet saw a tight pack of six boats at the outer end of the line starting abreast. It was Mike Tong's Ciao Bella and Mike Dawe's Duel that pulled ahead of the pack at the start of the fleet. Following the lead of two successful Dragons in the previous start, Paul Jenkins' Activ Freebie tried a port tack start but crossed well astern of the leaders.

The RS Elite fleet had a close finish, with more than half the fleet finishing within two and a half minutes. Ciao Bella took her first bullet of the week, 17 seconds ahead of Paul Woodman and Ray Mitchell's Fuzzy Duck Vll. Jono Brown's Aeolus was third. After five races, the front of this fleet is wide open, with just one point separating the first four places.

In the Redwing class Hugo Cuddigan's Capella ll was first away at the start, leading a close pack including Nick Wakefield's Bizarre, while Ed Peel, who notched up three wins in his first four races this week was in sixth place a couple of minutes into the race.

By the finish, however, it was Peter Romer Lee and Colin Samuelson's Toucan who took first blood, nearly two minutes ahead of Peel. It was another 18 minutes before the next boat, Andrew Eddy's Plover, finished but only two of the 25 starters retired. It was, however, a frustratingly slow race for the back markers, with the last boat finishing nearly an hour and a half after Toucan.

Despite the difficult conditions for yacht racing, overall fewer than 100 retirements had been logged by 19:00. In Black Group the J/109 fleet took over five and a half hours to cover their 21-mile course. Running in light airs against the spring tide racing past Hampstead Ledge was a challenge for many in this fleet and IRC Class 2, with boats gybing as close as they dared to the shore, yet still failing to make any distance towards Cowes. A number of boats pushed their luck on the depth, getting stuck on the falling tide.

Despite these challenges, at least 30 of the 32 starters in the J/109 fleet finished, with Matthew Boyle's Shiva winning ahead of Gillian Ross and Richard Sainsbury's Jambhala by a margin of 35 seconds, followed by William Edwards' Juno in third place.

More photos on the following pages...

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