Warm sunshine, sea breezes and an excellent fleet of Quarter Tonners are ingredients guaranteed to produce an outstanding day on the water and the opening day of the 2014 Coutts Quarter Ton Cup certainly lived up to everyone's expectations.
Initially the race committee, headed by Race Officer Rob Lamb, was forced to postpone while the sea breeze established itself, but once it arrived three great races were laid on for the 33-strong fleet. As always with the Quarter Tonners it was nip and tuck at every mark and the place changing was constant.
The quality of racing in the Coutts Quarter Ton fleet is always outstanding and for this tenth anniversary edition it seems that the teams have pulled out all the stops. As well as performing beautifully the boats and crews are also looking quite wonderful this year. The oldest boat in the fleet is Tony Hayward's Blackfun, a 1977 Davidson design, whilst the youngest is Richard Fleck's Per Elisa, which was designed by Ceccarelli and won the Quarter Ton Cups of 1995 (Gdynia) and 1996 (Travemunde).
With three races in the bag and a 2, 2, 3 scoreline Rickard Melander's Alice II, a 1990 Phil Morrison design, leads the fleet by a 4.5 point margin. Alice II has regularly featured on the Coutts Quarter Ton Cup podium since her first appearance in 2010 and must surely hope that this year they will finally be the bride and not a bridesmaid.
Lying in second overall is Peter Morton's Bullit, a 1979 Fauroux that won the Quarter Ton Cup in San Remo the year she was launched. Under Peter's ownership she also won the 2012 Coutts Quarter Ton Cup in Cowes and the team clearly have their eye on adding their name to the trophy for a third time. Their performance improved as the day wore on, starting with a seventh in race one, followed by a dead heat for third with Tony Haywood's Blackfun (a 1977 Davidson design) in race two, and finally a win in race three.
Tonight's overall top three is rounded out by Willie McNeill's Illegal Immigrant, a 1991 Ceccarelli design which acquired her name when customs officers found an illegal immigrant in the boat when she arrived at the UK border after Willie purchased her from Greece. After a slightly wobbly start with an eleventh in race one Illegal Immigrant went on to add a second and a win to her score line putting her 2.5 points behind Bullit.
The racing is so close that dead heats on corrected time are common. In addition to the tie between Bullit and Blackfun noted above there were three further dead heats today: In race two Enigma, the 1977 Dubois design now owned by the Stewart/Young/Smith partnership, and Graham Hetherington's Great Bear IV (1986 Joubert Nivelt) tied for thirteenth, and in race three Eric Reynolds' Magnum Evolution (1976 Everitt) and Phil Cook's Purple Haze (1976 Thomas) tied for twelfth and Rob Gray's Cote (1990 Gonzalez) and Cartoon tied for fourteenth.
In the Corinthian Division for the all-amateur crews Illes Pitiuses, a 1983 Fauroux design owned by Jason and Dominic Losty, leads the pack by single point margin from Pierre Paris's Pinguin Playboy (1986 Castro) with Phil Cook's Purple Haze, the beautiful varnished 1976 version of the Thomas designed Bolero which won the inaugural revival Quarter Ton Cup in 2005, in third. Illes Pitiuses got their day off to a great start by winning race one overall and went on to also claim fourth overall in race three, added to their seventeenth in race two they now lie seventh overall as well as leading the Corinthians.
Whilst the racing at the Coutts Quarter Ton Cup is always spectacularly close, the regatta is about more than just the results. It's wonderful to see such beautifully restored and maintained historic little boats being enjoyed by their owners whether they are leading the fleet or not. Joining the regatta for the first time this year is Cartoon, a 1986 Fauroux design owned by Ken Lawless from Ireland. Cartoon is unique in the fleet in that she still sports her original rig configuration, boasting runners, check stays and 'almost' in line spreaders, and has not been optimised for IRC. She underwent a refit last winter and to keep the boat in as close to original condition as possible they even went to the lengths of finding fittings from Jack Holt's 1986 catalogue for authenticity.
Paul Colton's Cri-Cri is another boat that might not be at the top of the leaderboard but is nonetheless having a great time. Cri Cri was one of the first Kevlar and Nomex boats built and was designed for the 1979 Quarter Ton Cup in San Remo by Alain Jezequel. Cri Cri is a pet name for Christoph and the boat was named after the original owner's son. Alain Jezequel's boats filled five of the top ten in the 1979 Cup - Cri Cri finished eighth. Subsequently he attempted to take his designs forward into the Half and One Ton classes, but he was unable to make the transition so 1979 was to be the zenith of his design career. After racing Paul Colton's Irish humour came to the fore as he joked 'I'd quite happily have 50 starts a day and then a 100 yard race. We're considering running our GoPro footage backwards so it all ends up in a draw rather like the Grand National in reverse. But seriously the racing is stunning although it was a very tough day at the office. We're a crew thrown together this year but always really enjoy the racing here and are looking forward to tomorrow and to hopefully eking out one or two results.'
Today's racing wasn't without its fair share of controversy. In the final race of the day the race committee announced an individual recall for three boats. Lucy Wood's Rum Bleu (1979 de Ridder) turned back and restarted correctly, but Jamie McWilliams' Sai Kung Belle, a 1981 Fauroux design which has shipped all the way from Hong Kong for the event, and Ian Southworth and Led Pritchard's Whiskers (1979 Joubert Nivelt) both ignored the call to return. On the line neither received a gun which was particularly painful for the Whiskers crew who crossed the line in first place. An appeal to the Protest Committee, chaired by Sonia Mays, failed to see them reinstated so they find themselves in eighteenth overall and looking forward to the introduction of the discard.
Tomorrow the fleet looks forward to three more races and with a forecast for easterly breezes in the mid to upper teens we can expect more great racing and perhaps a few of the thrills and spills for which these lively little boats are famous. The regatta continues until Friday 27 June with up to nine races scheduled. Three races constitute a series and if six or more races are sailed a discard will be applied. Provisional Overall Top Five After Three Races
1. SWE744 Alice II - Rickard Melander - 2, 2, 3 = 7
2. FRA7891 Bullit - Peter Morton - 7, 3.5, 1 = 11.5
3. GBR501 Illegal Immigrant - William McNeil - 11, 1, 2 = 14
4. GBR8414R Aquila - Sam Laidlaw - 5, 5, 7 = 17
5. GBR50R Espada - Louise Morton - 4, 6, 8 = 18 Provisional Corinthian Top Three After Three Races
1. IRL1392 Illes Pitiuses - Jason and Dominic Losty - 1, 2, 1 = 4
2. FRA12130 Pinguin Playboy - Pierre Paris - 2, 1, 2 = 5
3. GBR7070 Purple Haze - Phil Cook - 3, 3, 3 = 9 Event website RCYC website