The penultimate day of Skandia Cowes Week found the engraver poised to etch names, new and old, on some cherished silverware as the Solent was cleared of racing boats to prepare for a tumultuous fireworks display.
At the start of the day, 17 of the 37 classes had already been decided and five boats out of the 2008 entry of 976 had maintained their remarkable unbeaten records.
Conditions in the Solent once again suited Niklas Zennstrom’s Ran, which crossed the finish line just over a minute ahead of Charles Dunstone’s Rio which gave Stuart Robinson’s Stay Calm second place on corrected time. It also handed Ran a comprehensive IRC Class Zero win overall for 2008.
Liz and Chris Savage in Savage Sailing Team had made a clean sweep in the J80 class taking their tally of wins to 17 in 20 races in the past three years.
Similarly, Jon Powell and Sarah Norbury were undefeated in the Hunter 707s, Edward Donald’s Njordic Folkboat Madelaine was invincible in IRC Class 9 and Ian Braham’s MG346 Dean & Dyball Enigma had produced a matchless performance in IRC Class 6 to reclaim their 2006 title.
However, by the end of the day, as freaky Friday took its course, all five had been beaten to tarnish an otherwise flawless week for their crews. Team Pindar scoops Laser SB3 prize at first attempt
Match-racer Ian Williams completed a breathtaking class win in the Laser SB3s today, after driving Team Pindar to their second victory of the week by a nerve jangling 17 seconds.
With two points separating Team Pindar, Geoff Carveth’s Team Earls Court and Jerry Hill’s 3 Sad Old Blokes at the start of today, the 13 nm course was a make or break affair and Williams, racing with his world match-racing team Simon Shaw and Mark Nicoles, was keen to wrap up a win today.
But it was not so straightforward and after making a cracking start, they had to wait until the last beat before they finally went into the lead.
'It was quite tense because we were in 5th place at the first mark and if we had stayed there, we would not have won overall,' said Williams who prior to this week had raced Laser SB3s over just two weekends in 2007.
'We have taken this very seriously. We are professional sailors so treated it as part of our training programme and feel that we made a clear progression. It has been a fantastic regatta and we are really pleased to have won.' Men Behaving Badly in clean sweep
There were a few classes where the outcome seemed to be predictable from the first gun as in the Flying 15s, which have been dominated by Rupert Mander in Men Behaving Badly.
A former Flying 15 world champion, Rupert has reigned supreme over the class for the past four years, winning a staggering 29 races out of the last 35 at Cowes.
But far from being resentful at his success, the other skippers in the class are accepting that Cowes is a happy hunting ground for the Warwickshire based sailor.
'He is such a nice chap that none of us mind,' said Andrew Rutherford, who has been campaigning Double Trouble in 2008.
'I have been sailing Flying 15s for 25 years. I used to race with my dad and now I race with my 11 year-old daughter Eleanor.
They are lovely boats and we love being out there. You might not think it but it is a very competitive class and some of the younger guys are hopeful that they might topple Rupert one day.'Ribard wins Skandia Young Skipper Trophy
The Skandia Young Skipper award was also decided. Young Sebastian Ribard, 21, racing the J80 AgainstMalaria.com has spent his week sitting on the Savage’s heels but today he converted near misses into a famous win.
He was runner up four times and third twice, which was not enough for a class win but was sufficiently emphatic to beat fellow young skipper contender Jack Grogan on The Apprentice, who was a top five finisher in every IRC Class 9 race. Kite hoist costs Healthsure
Pete Newland’s Healthsure, which has been busy raising funds for the Ellen MacArthur Trust all week, needed to finish second behind Amey Love Shack in the Beneteau 40.7 class to take the overall inaugural prize but hoisting their reaching kite after they had rounded the first mark at the front of the fleet, left them with a broken bowsprit and cost them six places, which they struggled to recoup.
In the end, they finished in third place, one minute and 11 seconds behind Tim Spalding’s Amey Love Shack and the top prize was snatched from under their noses.
'The crew are pretty disappointed but it was all my fault,' admitted Newlands whose crew of nurses, teachers and IT professionals have raised in excess of £12,000 for the EMT this week.
'My tactician advised me not to put it up because we were in the lead and only needed to stay in front of Amey Love Shack to win the overall prize. But I wanted to put it up for a bit of fun.' Everything to play for in finale
The Squibs will be out racing tomorrow but tonight Mike Probert was thinking he and his crew on Pani Munta had done enough to win, having posted a 90 second victory over fierce rivals Ghost Rider, with whom they have been battling royally all week. A win tomorrow will earn him the Overall White Group trophy.
Graham and Stephen Bailey were hoping to have the Etchells title back in their grasp by the time the fireworks started in Cowes tonight, but one of the closest contests in years means their return to the race track tomorrow morning will decide their destiny.
'This was not in the plan at all but it is very exciting,' said Stephen whose 2007 winner Arbitrator is leading by a single point over Mark Downer’s Moonlight.
'If they win tomorrow and we come second we win overall. If they win and we come third, they win overall. If we win, we win,' he explained. The climax of the Dragon racing
is similarly nip and tuck with Julia Bailey, wife of Graham, favourite to win the title tomorrow though a seventh today means that her work is by no means complete.
Len Jones and Rumours, lying equal on points going into the last race said it was a re-run of 2007 when Julia finished one point behind Len with David Palmer on Princess Jalina taking honours.
To win this year, Rumours has to win and Aimee needs to finish 4th or below, explained Len.
'The forecast is for wind which suits us because we are the fat boys of the fleet, but Julia has to be favourite because she is a very good competitor. She’s clever, with a very good crew.'