The first day of Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week dealt perfect sailing conditions, with the morning’s light breezes gradually building to give a steady 15 knots by the end of the day.
For many of the dayboat classes in White Group, the leading boats came to the fore within the first 10 minutes of their respective starts. Short tacking against a light west-south-west wind and a building adverse tide meant getting close inshore could result in big gains. However, a patch of very light wind right under the Royal Yacht Squadron, plus the Grantham Rocks just to the west, made it vital not to stray too close to the beach.
The 40-strong Laser SB3 fleet was first off from the Royal Yacht Squadron line, starting cleanly at 1025, just seven minutes after low water and one boat pushed too far inshore, grounding on the rocks. Five minutes after the start Mark Stokes’s Eau No! was holding a consistent lead as they tacked past the Green. At the end of the 15.5 mile race, Stokes had failed to maintain his lead, but was still in the running, finishing fourth behind Nicholas Thompson’s Red Rocket, Ben Saxton’s Rola-Trac and Alec Russell’s eDigitalResearch.
The Etchells fleet was missing Graham Bailey who has dominated the class for many years. Wilfried Wagner’s Wake started furthest from shore, while Geoff Gibbons’ Mayhem and Rob Goddard’s Ragtime started closest to the shore. However, it was Laurence Mead’s Freelance that found the best spot, one-third of the way out from the shore.
After the first couple of tacks Mead skilfully judged exactly how close to skim the rocks, crossing just ahead of Gibbons, who continued a length too far inshore, spoiling an otherwise respectable start and leaving second place in the early stages of the race to the Downer family’s Moonlight. The leaders overhauled the front of the SB3 fleet, demonstrating the advantage of the Etchells’ comparatively long water line length. Mead retained the lead to finish three and a half minutes ahead of R Elliot’s Esprit, with Moonlight third just 20 seconds later.
The Cowes-based Daring fleet opted to start towards the offshore end of the line, with Peter Scott’s Derring Do a length ahead of the pack, and earning the distinction of being the event’s first boat to be over the line at the start.
Ben Rogers’ Damsel was closest inshore and took pole position as the fleet flipped over onto the offshore tack. With an Etchells still on the rocks, the Darings initially took a cautious line, staying well offshore until past most of the rocks. However, when they finally tacked inshore Damsel clipped the western edge of the shallows, handing the lead to Jeremy Preston’s Defender, with Hamish Janson, Malcolm Lofts and George Dibben’s Streak close behind in second.
Having been prevented earlier from tacking inshore by other boats, Giles Peckham’s Dauntless took the first available opportunity to get out of the tide and soon pulled into third place. Once in a more commanding position he continued to press ahead, finishing with a commanding lead of more than nine minutes over Preston. Lavinia Perry’s Dreamer took third, 45 seconds ahead of Mike Bilbo and Roger Marwood’s Audax.
In the 26-strong J/80 class, after the first three short tacks, Ian Atkins’ boats.com was well ahead on the water, but she was the only one of the three competitors over the line at the start not to return. This left Mike Turner’s Nemo to take an early lead, just ahead of William Goldsmith’s Exess.
With yet more boats piling onto Grantham Rocks, two boats that had started prematurely – Jon Powell’s La Bete and Stewart Hawthorn’s Jumpin Jenga – were able to work their way back through the fleet, but neither was able to catch the top four boats. RAF Benevolent Fund Team Spitfire was first to finish, Turner second, Doug Neville-Jones’s Jasmine third and Goldsmith fourth.
A weak weather front passed over Cowes just before the 1230 scheduled start for the 145 boats in the XOD fleet, causing a postponement while the windward mark was repositioned. The huge fleet got away cleanly at the start, with Simon Osgood and Jamie Lea’s Sox first to tack onto port near the committee boat, while Simon Russell, Darren Maple and Richard Lovering’s Swallow and George Cooper’s Xin Bai followed suit mid-line.
If getting away from the start line mêlée was the first big hurdle, the second was judging exactly where to tack to for the windward mark. This was in deep water and strong tide to the south of the shoals east of the Bramble Bank. While tacking too late would give away ground unnecessarily, doing so too soon would risk getting swept away to oblivion.
The first three boats, Tom Tait’s Xtravagance, Michael Martell, Fraser Graham and Tim Copsey’s Astralita and Sox tacked too soon, although the crew of Sox recovered before loosing too much ground, and finished a very respectable 12th. Steve and Peter Lawrence’s Catherine almost made the mark, but had to tack two lengths below, allowing John Long and Tina Scott’s Relaxation and Oren Richards, Chris Sanders’s Exit to round ahead.
It wasn’t long before this mark was the scene of hectic action, with port tack boats trying to claw back uptide pushing as close as they dared to the near continuous line of right of way boats heading for the mark on starboard. As the leaders approached the leeward mark the fleet was stretched across several miles of the eastern Solent in sparkling sunlight. Relaxation held the lead at the start, but Catherine had climbed into second at the start of the second beat.
By the finish she led the fleet, 37 seconds ahead of David da Cunha’s Mayday, with Relaxation just six seconds adrift in third. Over the next two minutes boats piled over the line – with an average gap of only eight seconds between each one, after almost three hours of racing. This class may be celebrating its centenary this year, but a measure of the fierceness of the competition is that eight times overall class winner and former Olympic sailor Stuart Jardine finished 60th.
In the bigger boat classes, Paul McNamara and Tony Lowe’s Incognito made a good start to round the first windward mark second in the 26-strong First 40.7 fleet. However at the finish Nicolas Gaumont-Prat’s Tradition Philosophi held pole position, more than four minutes ahead of Incognito on corrected time.
IRC Class 0 was racing for one of the event’s biggest trophies, the Queen’s Cup that was first presented in 1897. Rob Gray, Sam Laidlaw and Tony Hayward’s Farr 52 Bob finished a couple of minutes behind the two TP52s – Johnny Vincent’s Pace and Charles Dunstone’s Team Origin. However, the older boat’s more favourable handicap saw her win the class with a comfortable 12-minute margin over Pace, with Team Origin third.
Cowes Week Limited has been in contact with the hospital, the owner of the boat, and ABP since the collision between a tanker and the racing yacht Atalanta earlier this afternoon. They are delighted to confirm that the hospital has discharged the injured crew member.
An official investigation on the incident will be carried out in due course.
Report by Rupert Holmes
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