"Another tricky day"
"It's going to be another tricky day," said regatta CEO Stuart Quarrie as competitors were getting ready to go afloat.
The front that killed the wind on Wednesday afternoon was forecast to remain almost stationary over the race area, with sporadic shower activity moving erratically north-eastwards along the line of the front. Overnight this brought spectacular thunderstorms, with torrential rain in the early hours of the morning, which cleared before dawn to reveal a fresher day with a north-north-westerly wind of 7-9 knots, enabling starts to get away on schedule.
However, the forecast for the rest of the day was less promising. If the skies cleared up then there was a chance of some sea breeze activity in the afternoon, but this would be preceded by a calm period. On the other hand if the front produced more showers, these were again likely to kill the wind.
By 09:00 the weather radar was already showing a band of scattered showers to the south-west of the race area and an hour later these had merged and strengthened into a number of heavy downpours. But the light northwesterly was still holding firm in the central Solent.
As the start in sequence got underway the wind speed stayed up, but clicked further round towards the north, at 350 degrees. In the Daring class, Giles Peckham and Milo Carver's Dauntless has an almost unassailable lead, but Anthony Balme's Dynamite and Messrs Bilbo, Marwood and Miller's Audax have been enjoying a close battle for second place and were both on 23 points.
Starting going east, with the last of the flood tide pushing the fleet over the line, the class played safe, with even the front-runners comfortably behind the line. Kim Orchard's Dancer was closest to the line at the gun, but was unable to accelerate fast enough to match the speed of the boats coming in from behind. Division Belle led away from the line, pulling two lengths ahead of Dauntless, with Audax close behind in third. But the first leg saw plenty of place changing, and Audax was soon taken by Mike Fox's Diamond to leeward and James Tew's Darius to windward.
A number of Darings tried kites although some of these clearly figured it was a bad idea and dropped them almost immediately, although three boats held on to them as the fleet headed east towards their first mark, Sunsail Events. At the finish, Division Belle took her first win of the week, ahead of Dauntless and David Gower's Dolphin.
Starting in the sun
By 1045 there were already showers at the Needles and the wind had backed to the north-north-east in the western-most part of the Solent. In the central Solent its strength was only marginally down, at 6-8 knots, with the direction remaining consistent, and the temperature rising as the sun broke through the clouds.
Although the Darings had struggled with their conventional spinnakers, it was a different story when the 1720s started 10 minutes later. Michael Wilson's Yknot was best-placed for the start, hoisting her huge masthead asymmetric moments before the gun. Wilson's boat flew away from the pack to take an early lead of nearly 10 boat lengths.
The two boats carrying Inflexion branding were next away from the line, with both boats hoisting as quickly as possible. The class leader after five races, Neil Angel's All Talk was lying seventh two minutes into the race, but played the puffs skilfully to pass James Flynn's Crescendo with an impressive speed advantage. It was also a bad start to the day for young skipper Richard Clay and his team on Finn M'Coul, who were well back from the front. This order was not, however, reflected at the end of the three-hour race, when the familiar trio of All Talk, Yknot and Finn M'Coul took the top three places.
By 11:30 the wind had dropped further and veered to 310 degrees. At the same time, the tide had started to run to the west so when the Sonars started, the fleet struggled to fill their spinnakers and were slow to clear the line.
The front of the Sunbeam fleet has seen one of the regatta's most intense battles develop as the week has progressed. After five races Roger Wicken's Danny and Tim Hill's Query were tied on points at the front of the class. Today most of the fleet was racing to the line well before the start, with the tide sweeping west and a relentless hole in the breeze there was barely enough wind to make ground against it.
Graham Colbourne and Bill Dickson's Honey started nearest the line, with their kite just filling with wind at the gun. Danny was next, but Query was lying further back in the pack - a mistake that may cost dearly in the overall results.
As the fleet made its way to the east, Honey split away from the other Sunbeams heading closer inshore and looking to be making good progress. But it was Jonathan Money's Penny that took her first win of the week, while Wickens took second to consolidate his overall lead.
Tide beats wind
The Swallow fleet had struggled valiantly to clear the line after their start - the back markers were only a few lengths clear five minutes after the start - Principal Race Officer of the White Group, Ian Lallow decided to postpone the Redwing start. These Charles Nicholson design keelboats are only allowed 200 square fleet of sail, so don't carry spinnakers.
Initially Lallow had intended to re-set the line, with classes starting to the west. But within 10 minutes of the AP breaking out, the wind had freshened by a couple of knots and by 12:20 it was back up to 7-8 knots from 325 degrees.
The breeze reduced for Squib's start, 20 minutes after the Redwings, which prompted a postponement for the Seaview Mermaids and subsequent classes, as Squibs hadn't cleared the line.
When the 80 boats in the XOD class started at 13:25, different elements of the fleet could be seen moving in different directions - those with a clear wind were moving ahead steadily, but others were being swept backwards by the tide, and it took more than seven minutes for the bulk of the fleet to clear the line.
Wind fights back
By 14:30 the front had become very active, but fortuitously at this time was centred just to the west of Cowes, with the town and central Solent remaining dry and wind keeping up, with occasional stronger gusts reaching up to 15 knots.
IRC Class 1 got away from the Black Group committee vessel in Thorness Bay on schedule at 11:00 in a light north-easterly wind, but subsequent starts were postponed for over an hour. "Just before our start it went very light, and swung 90 degrees into the north-west," explained Peter Scholfield of SeaTrack in IRC Class 3. Once it did fill in, there was a good sailing wind of 10-12 knots from the north-west, but it was very shifty."
In contrast, Black Group starts got away off the RYS line on schedule. In IRC Class 2 on the RYS line, Stewart Hawthorn's new Santa Cruz 37 was closest to the line at the start, and one of few boats to be hoisting a kite at this stage. Unfortunately her asymmetric went up with a giant twist, allowing Andy Middleton's First 47.7 Caspian Services to get away first.
John and Jill Patterson's J/122 Panacea was first of the front runners to hoist and accelerated quickly, but Michael Bartholomew's King 40 Tokoloshe was able to pull ahead into a clear lead. These two led the fleet past East Cowes on the way to West Ryde Middle at the start of a short 13.6-mile course in the East Solent.
A few minutes after the start, the only front-runner under white sails was Richard Loftus' big Swan 65 ketch Desperado, with the 32-tonne yacht maintaining a very respectable turn of speed in the light conditions.
At the finish Bernard Gouy's Ker 39 Inis Mor, was first across the line in a time just inside two hours five minutes, three seconds before the Swallow and Flying 15 fleets started on the same line. Tokoloshe was next to finish 50 seconds later, to win on corrected time by 27 seconds ahead of Gouy, with Panacea third on handicap, a further minute behind.
The third and final day of racing for the Mini Maxis, saw Roger Sturgeon's STP65 Rosebud/Team DYT score their second bullet out of three to claim the Class Zero prize. This was despite being tied on points with their fellow STP65 Luna Rossa sailed by an all-star cast including five time Olympic medallist and Volvo Ocean Race winner, Torben Grael. Niklas Zennstrom's J/V 72 Ran 2 ended up third with the new Farr 80 Beau Geste bringing up the rear.
More photos on the following pages....
Overall results here