Big boats come to play
Competitors at Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week enjoyed a warm day of racing in north-easterly winds that peaked at 14-15 knots, despite an unpromising forecast with the possibility that a weak sea breeze effect could cancel out the northerly gradient wind.
The larger yachts in Black Group started from a committee boat start off Bembridge to the east of the Isle of Wight, where stronger and steadier winds were predicted. It was the first day on which the boats in IRC Class 0 were racing in the Big Boat mini series. These included Jochen Schumann’s 100ft maxi Esimit Europa 2, two 72ft Mini Maxis, Hap Fauth’s Bella Mente and Niklas Zennstrom’s Rán, as well as a pair of Volvo 70s. They competed alongside IRC Class 1 in a battle of the giants for one of the regatta’s most prestigious trophies – the New York Yacht Club Challenge Cup.
Esimit Europa 2 completed the 21-mile course in 1 hour 53 minutes, taking line honours almost 13 minutes ahead of Bella Mente. However, the giant 100-footer was not able to save her time and finished fourth on corrected time. Having finished more than seven minutes ahead of Ran, Bella Mente won on corrected time, with a five-minute buffer over second placed Sir Keith Mills’ TP52 5°West.
At the other end of the IRC fleet, Class 7 encompasses a wide mix of different styles of boat, including E-Boats, Contessa 26s, David Kirkley’s 1959 39ft Nicholson Conteza, Mini Tonners and Hunter Impalas. At the start of today’s race, from the Bramble line, it was Jo Richard’s H-Boat Woof and Madelaine and Isobella Donald’s Folkboat Madelaine that led the fleet away at the committee boat end of the line. However, Richards, winner of the first three races, had crossed the line moments before the gun and was scored OCS. Madelaine was quickly overtaken by William Lack’s J/24 Vinyl Solutions, who went on to win on corrected time by a margin of almost eight minutes.
The White Group dayboats started to the east from the Royal Yacht Squadron line – as with most days this week, with a strong west-going tide inshore, although the early starters were able to hook into the remains of the main east-going stream in the deep water further offshore.
It was a day in which many boats were on the wrong side of the start line at the gun and in which a number of the wrong boats returned to restart. The Etchells fleet was led into the line by Laurence Mead’s Freelance at the favoured outer end of the line, with Tarra Gill-Taylor’s Darling S to windward and Mark Downer’s Moonlight to leeward. However, the recall cannon had been for Jack Wilson’s Idea, a boat that was late leaving the River Medina and was therefore on the wrong side of the line at the start.
Frustratingly for Darling S, she was further disadvantaged by a Red Funnel car ferry shortly after it left Cowes. Mead, however, worked his way back up the fleet to finish second, a minute and a half behind Downer, and 17 seconds ahead of third-placed Rob and Ashley Goddard’s Stampede. It was a tight finish for the entire fleet, with Gill-Taylor finishing four minutes later in 12th place.
In the Daring class David Gower’s Dolphin and John Sichel, Charlie Sichel and Robin Pegna’s Darling led the fleet into the start at the outer end of the line, but were both early and gybed away some 10 seconds before the gun, leaving Giles Peckham, Milo Carver and Richard Romer-Lee’s Dauntless and Hamish Janson, George Dibben and Malcolm Lofts’ Streak looking best placed at the outer end of the line.
However both needed to luff almost head to wind to get past the outer distance mark, a manoeuvre that slowed Dauntless considerably, enabling Streak to get ahead. Andrew Norton’s Decoy, who tacked briefly onto port clear of the pack, also got away quickly. Dauntless won by almost two minutes from Robin Aisher’s Defiant. The next four boats finished within 60 seconds, with Decoy taking third place.
Back in the sun
Around midday heavy showers in the English Channel that were moving north from France threatened to give some rain to the Solent area. However, they stayed away and just after 1400 the sun poked through a thin layer of cloud, bathing Cowes in sun, but threatening the fragile conditions that were producing the northwesterly breeze. By this time it had declined from a peak of 14-18 knots to an average of marginally less than 10 knots, and had backed to the NNE. It had also become more, shifty with oscillations of up to 35°C making for extremely tactical racing.
“We had a good breeze, which was pretty shifty coming off the Stokes Bay shore, which made it very interesting,” says Joe Burnie, helmsman aboard Fleury, the winning Sunbeam. “We went up the middle [of the course] and worked the shifts …from our point of view, middle was the place to be.”
The final start on the Royal Yacht Squadron line was for the biggest fleet at the regatta, the 81-strong XOD class. With a strong west-going stream and head wind, now reduced to around 12 knots, but considerably less in patches where the big fleet decimated the wind, many boats struggled to make progress on the crowded line.
One minute before the start there were a lot of boats over the line, relying on being able to drift back on the tide. Rory, Amanda and Stuart Paton’s XL was ahead of the pack towards the inshore end of the line, while Adrian Summers, Ian Paton and Philip Lawrence’s Excalibur was also well placed mid line.
Behind the first 20 boats a big gap opened up, with those in disturbed air further back struggling to make ground against the tide. They were followed by the Red Funnel car ferry, Red Falcon, that attempted to carve its way through the fleet, but had to stop with clouds of black smoke belching from her funnel when there was no clear path. As she finally turned into the Medina River she again split the fleet, allowing the front runners to get further ahead.
John Cleave’s Genevieve, Alan Perry’s Falconet, and Romy and Peter Halliwell’s Helena all looked well placed crossing to the north of the Shrape 10 minutes after the start, and all went on to notch up a top 10 finish. However, others were still struggling to cross the start line 10 minutes after the gun. Some of the mid-fleet boats that eased sheets to bear away closer to the shore, where there was less tide, fared best at this stage, even though it was a windward leg to the first mark. Among these boats was Ado Jardine’s Lucrezia. Despite his indifferent start, Jardine gradually worked his way up through the fleet to finish third, behind XL and Excalibur.
It was, however, a disappointing race for some of the front-runners in the fleet, including John Tremlett and Jeremy Lear’s Lass, who had been second overall after three races, but finished 54th today. James Meaning’s Gleam, fourth overall after the first three days, finished 44 seconds behind Lass, in 58th place. On the other hand, Sarah Ross’s Aora finished 25th, her best result so far, although still five minutes and 10 places behind husband Dave and Paul Kelsey’s Anitra, who also scored their best result of the week.