Thrills and spills

Drama at day one of the America's Cup Jubilee

Sunday August 19th 2001, Author: Keith Taylor, Location: United Kingdom
Winds, gusting up to 30 knots at times, combined with an opposing current to create thrilling racing on the Solent for Phillips Day, the first day of competition in the America's Cup Jubilee.

As often happens in these types of conditions, the results were spectacular in all senses of the word. The sight of the three J-class boats, Velsheda, Endeavour and Shamrock V, powering along the Solent with Cambria, the 23-Metre, was nothing short of extraordinary. At the same time, those same conditions have likely caused an early end to the Jubilee for at least half a dozen boats.

The overwhelming sentiment on Phillips Day was about the spectacle this historic event presents. From the majesty of the J-Class to the largest collection of 12-Metres ever assembled, history was being made from one end of the Solent to the other.

The spectators assembled ashore and on the water were a testament to the uniqueness of the occasion. In a part of the world where hundreds of boats on the Solent are an everyday event, people seemed to realise this was something special. It hasn't happened before, and apart from the rest of this week, it likely won't happen again any time soon.

To spare excessive damage, racing in the English Channel for the America's Cup Class boats was postponed for another day before the first start gun was fired. The fleet was held at the Forts on the Eastern Solent, the Race Committee wisely deciding that conditions on the open sea were too much for the newest thoroughbreds of the America's Cup family.

Similarly, the 12-metre Class failed to start an official race. The Race Committee abandoned competition after a short practice race. The Prada 12-Metre World Championship will now start on Monday.

In the J-Class, the flagship class of the Jubilee fleet, a 35-mile course was the order of the day. The Race Committee sent them out on a long beat to the Needles, around Bridge Buoy, before a stretch run downwind to East Lepe off the Beaulieu River Estuary. A shorter beat followed to Hamstead Ledge ahead of the final run home to the Squadron line. Endeavour was first home in 04:13, followed by Shamrock V and Velsheda. Cambria, the 23-metre, retired from the race after one lap of the course. It was her first start taken in over 40 years.

In The Spirit of Tradition Class, for boats built since 1960 using modern materials and techniques but designed along classic lines, the winners on Phillips Day were: Savannah (Division One), Zaca A Te Moana (Division Two), Eleanor Mary (Division Four).

The Vintage Class, for boats launched pre-1950, had four Division winners: Belle Aventure (Division One), Mariette (Division Two), Fortune (Division Three) and Owl MK (Division Four).

In the Classic Class, boats designed pre-1976, Crusade of Dee won Division One while Zwerver took honours in Division Three.

In the IRC Modern Class, which makes up the bulk of the 200-plus entries in the Jubilee, some of tomorrow's classics renewed rivalries from Cowes Week. The biggest among them were sent on the same course as the J-Class fleet, and the enormous ketch Mari Cha III took line honours' in Division One, but John McCaw's Extra Beat corrected out on top, no doubt partly thanks to having America's Cup veteran Dennis Conner at the helm. Stealth won line honours in Division Two, before correcting down to 12th. Bear of Britain was the handicap Division Two winner, with Team Tonic handicap winner in Division Three. Lady in Red had line honours.

The IMS winners were Serano (Division Two) and Gandalf Wight Sorcerer (Division Three).

The type of conditions seen on the Solent today led to a significant number of retirements, some due to damage (torn sails, a broken gooseneck and more than one dismasting), others due to prudent seamanship by skippers responsible for craft dating back over fifty years.

The biggest casualty on the day may well be the unfortunate French boat, La Folie des Grinders which ran aground on Gurnard Ledge. The crew will be forced to wait for a few hours for the tide to rise enough for it to be towed off. The boat isn't taking on water, although an extensive damage report will have to wait until the boat can be hauled out.

At the Phillips Day Prizegiving ceremony on Sunday evening, all race winners were presented with gold sovereigns from 1851 by single-handed sailing star Ellen MacArthur MBE.

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