A vigorous and unstable cold front, associated with an unseasonally deep low pressure system moving across southern England, upset plans for racing at Cowes Week today. Although mean wind speeds for much of the day were not forecast to be particularly severe, the possibility of sustained squalls of 33-34 knots was a serious concern for race officials.
As a result racing was abandoned for the dayboat classes in White Group and also for the smaller boats in Black Group, while Sunsail F40s raced without spinnakers. It turned out to be a frustrating morning for many, with big holes in the wind between the showers, along with mammoth wind shifts. Between 1340 and 1350 the wind at Lymington Starting Platform varied from 9 to 33 knots, shifting by almost 40 degrees. Over the next 10 minutes it held a more constant direction, but rapidly strengthened to an average of 27 knots, with peak gusts of over 42 knots.
The squalls moved quickly up the Solent, with the first big gusts hitting Cowes just after 1400, as the leaders in IRC Class 4 were closing the finish. Flogging sails could be seen on boats that weren’t ready for the sudden change in conditions, while those who were prepared to quickly change gear for the stronger winds powered past, making good gains.
In gusts of 35 knots, David Franks’ JPK 10.10 Strait Dealer took line honours, 17 seconds ahead of Peter Hodgkinson and Sarah Bailey’s X-362 Xcitable. It had been a challenging race with the wind shifting 180 degrees and reducing to as little as eight knots at times.
“The Race Committee got the committee boat start line right, with a big port bias to balance the tidal advantage of starting close inshore,” said Graham Sunderland, Strait Dealer’s tactician. “Most boats started inshore, but we did well mid-line and may have done even better at the outer end. After the start we had a huge windshift – it went from 135 to 85° – and close to the north shore we dug out the light headsail when the wind dropped to 8 knots.”
Strait Dealer was not able to quite able to save her time on Xcitable, which won by just 16 seconds on handicap. Anonther X-362, Neville Hodkin’s Extra Djinn, was third both on the water and on corrected time.
IRC Class 3 started from the Black Group fixed start line, off the Royal Yacht Squadron. Bernard Olesinski’s X-40 Xinska, winner of the first four races, was positioned close to the southern end of the line, but despite wriggling to find a gap among the tightly-packed boats, was squeezed out and had an uncharacteristically poor start.
Sailing Logic and Tim Thubron’s Reflex 38 Visitmalta.com made the best start at southern end of the line and quickly extended on the fleet, revelling in the breezy conditions on the first leg to South Ryde Middle buoy. At the opposite end of the line, Jim Macgregor’s Elan 410 Premier Flair quickly pulled clear of the smaller boats around her.
As they beat upwind towards the finish in the increasing wind, Premier Flair’s crew was working the boat hard in the gusts, keeping her nicely trimmed and, when seen from a distance, appeared to be making light of the difficult conditions. She took line honours more than one and a half minutes ahead of Frank Lang’s French X-40 Optim’x, but wasn’t able to save her time on the French boat, and took second on handicap, 18 seconds ahead of Didier Gaudoux’s JPK 110 Lann Ael.
The tightest margin?
IRC Class 5, a mix of relatively large family cruisers and smaller race boats, started their race with a long windward leg against the tide. Grant Gordon’s J/97 Fever Glenfiddich, the leader after the first four days, found a gap on the line shortly before the start, while Adam Gosling’s Corby 30 Yes! luffed Richard Sainsbury’s J/92S Bojangles sharply to create space around her. It was a move that paid off, with Yes! gaining clear air and pulling ahead of the fleet.
One of the X-99s responded to an individual recall at the start, returning to the correct side of the line. However, Pierre Viard and Nicolas Siloret’s Prism 28 Adrenaline was also OCS, but sadly didn’t return. At the finish, Tom Snowball’s First 34.7 Mongoose led the fleet home exactly five minutes ahead of Fever Glenfiddich. It was just enough to claim first place on corrected time – by a margin of three seconds over Fever.
This, however, wasn’t the tightest race of the day – that distinction went to IRC Class 0, which was competing for the day’s biggest trophy, the New York Yacht Club Challenge Cup. While Peter Cunningham’s Powerplay finished 1m 59 seconds ahead of another TP52, Johnny Vincent’s Pace, she must give Pace 29 seconds per hour on handicap.
They took more than four and a half hours to complete the 31.4-mile course, with the crews working hard to keep the powerful boats sailing at their optimum in the changing conditions, especially on the gusty beat to the finish. When the handicaps were worked out, Pace took the cup by a margin of just one second.
More from Rick Tomlinson/www.rick-tomlinson.com