A weak but wide occluded front which moved over the Solent from 0900 onwards gave rain for competitors and spectators alike, while a shifty Force 3-4 forecast to veer erratically by 90 degrees over the day promised to be challenging for course setters and competitors.
All classes starting on the Royal Yacht Squadron line were sent to the west, with an ebb tide sweeping the fleets towards the course side of the start. The first start, for the Laser SB3 class at 1005, saw the wind in the mid Solent settling into a southerly at 11-13 knots, although in the lee of the island the breeze was more fitful.
A testing start
Ten minutes later, boats in the wind shadow off the Squadron were struggling to return to the correct side of the line in a fitful wind. Among them was last year's class winner, Stephen and Graham Bailey's Etchells Arbitrator. As the start time clicked closer Bailey moved further offshore in an effort to gain more wind, but remained OCS until a puff of stronger wind two minutes before the start propelled Arbitrator to the correct side of the line.
With less than a minute to go at least half the fleet was still heading east, away from the start. Judging the approach to the start in these conditions is always a tough call, but two boats - Robert Tyrwhitt-Drake's Desperate and Hugh Evans' / Roger Reynolds' Shamal - immediately drew clear ahead of the fleet, followed closely by Mark Downer's Moonlight. At the end of the 21-mile course Arbitrator had a 26 second lead on Moonlight, with Marco Cimarosti's Lady D taking third place, just 25 seconds later.
By the time the Daring class started at 1035, the first Laser SB3s could just be seen through the murk close to the north shore on a spinnaker reach, the fleet soon coming into full view as the sky brightened and the visibility rapidly improved.
Despite the west-going tide and light wind, White Group starts remained clean until the fourth start, when four J/80s - including Rob and Jon Fox's Jevan and Sam Atkins' Exwuss - were OCS. On hearing the second gun Jevan immediately found a gap in the fleet and executed a deft manoeuvre to return to the right side of the line. The others, however, carried on, presumably unaware of their infringement. Atkins continued to pull away from the rest of the fleet, with Exwuss finishing more than three minutes clear of Henry Bomby's Team Baltic. Jevan skillfully picked her way back through the fleet to take second place, just six seconds ahead of John Cooper's Oi!!
The Hunter 707 class started closely bunched, but last year's class winner, Jon Powell and Sarah Norbury's Betty moved up to second at the first mark. They subsequently took the lead, gradually extending it to win by almost seven minutes over Andrew Hughes and Anthony Cooper's Sharky, with Paul and Bronwyn Curtis' Sparkle finishing third, just 19 seconds later.
A class for all
The XOD may be the oldest class in the regatta, but the boats have a strong appeal to sailors of all ages. 17-year-old Anna Bailey, for instance, is racing an XOD for the third year in succession. Interviewed before the start she said: "I love the class because It's really fun, competitive, one design, and is a relatively cheap class to get into which makes it very attractive class for young sailors."
At the other end of age the spectrum are twins Stuart and Adrian Jardine, who've been racing XODs for more than 65 years. Both competed in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico, with Ado winning a bronze medal in the 5.5 Metre class. Today it was Stuart's turn to be out of the blocks first, making a near-perfect start towards the leeward end of the line. A few minutes after the start his Lone Star started to slip back into the following pack, but he quickly found a spurt of speed to pull ahead of the pack, close on the heels of James Markby's Xpeditious, who was OCS at the start. In a tight finish Stuart took first gun, with brother Adrian's Lucrezia in fifth place, little more than two minutes after the winning gun.
The Queen's Cup
The first Black Group start was for the 16 diverse yachts in IRC Class 1 who were competing in a 41-mile challenge for the Queen's Cup, one of the most prestigious prizes awarded during the week, having been first presented by Queen Victoria in 1897. Competitors racked up on the start line ranged from Natalie Jobling's state-of-the-art Class 40 Orca, through four Farr 45s and two TP52s to Italia, Richard Rankin's 65ft America's Cup challenger from 1967.
The highest-rated boat in the fleet, Charles Dunstone's TP52 Rio, led the class around the course, extending her lead throughout and finishing eight minutes clear of the other TP52, Johnny Vincent's Pace, which took second place both on the water and on corrected time. Dutch veteran offshore racer Piet Vroon's took third place in his new Ker 46 Tonnerre de Breskens.
"It was difficult conditions in which to set a good course, because the breeze was very much out the south," said Rio's strategist, Peter Morton. "With the Solent being quite narrow there was a lot of zig-zagging with 15 different marks to go round so it was quite challenging for the crew. On the penultimate leg we went from Lymington out to Needles and then had a fantastic run back to Cowes."
More photos on the following pages....