Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week has now completed its fifth day of racing on the Solent which was sandwiched between areas of high and low pressure. It was yet another day of hard, wet beats to windward, followed by high speed downwind blasts that had competitors grinning from ear to ear as they came ashore.
Unsurprisingly, there was also a lot of gear damage, including three J/109s, among them William Edwards’ Sardonyx and Robert Stiles’ Diamond Jem, who retired with broken rigs.
'This makes it quite tricky to forecast wind speeds precisely,' said CEO Stuart Quarrie after the race officials’ early morning briefing. 'Small movements of either weather system will create a big difference in the wind speeds we experience.' As he spoke the wind began a relentless non-stop upwards trend that lasted for five hours, peaking with mean speeds of 25 knots and gusts well over 30 through the afternoon.
One of the largest boats in IRC Class 0, Richard Matthew’s Humphreys 54 Oystercatcher XXVlll, suffered the same fate, dashing Matthew’s entry in the Rolex Fastnet Race. The boisterous afternoon conditions also forced the cancellation of racing in the Extreme Sailing Series for the first time in five years.
Today’s first start was for the pro-celebrity Artemis Challenge charity dash around the Isle of Wight, the fleet of IMOCA 60s making a fine sight in the sunlight as they passed the mouth of the Medina river under spinnaker with boat speeds that topped the fourteen knot wind speed.
Hugo Boss skipper, Alex Thomson reported big seas off St Catherine’s Point, with actor Ewan McGregor hit in the face by a wave. After the finish Thomson described it as a great race: '[We made a] wrong sail choice at the beginning but it was an awesome sail …twenty-four knots of boat speed, on the edge!' Vincent Riou’s PRB, winner of the last solo, non-stop Vendee Globe, won the race, missing out on breaking the previous fastest time by just 13 seconds.
Half an hour after the IMOCA 60s started, it was the turn of the big boats in the IRC Big Boat Class, this time heading west from the RYS line. George David’s Rambler 100 blasted in towards the Green, with Niklas Zennstrom’s Ran in hot pursuit making a fantastic sight. After rounding Gurnard buoy they hoisted giant spinnakers in front of crowds on shore and headed north-east towards the Thorn channel, across the north of the Bramble Bank, skirting the Black Group committee boat start area, before heading outside the Solent.
Rambler again took line honours, but Ran took a second win on corrected time, with a margin of almost 20 minutes. The other two competitors, Andres Soriano’s Alegre and F Vaton’s Swan 100 Alalunga both retired.
A large tanker outbound passing Calshot at 1140, led to the postponement of the start of the First 40.7 race. Paul McNamara and Tony Lowe’s Incognito led away from the line, with PWC and Peter Robson’s Trustmarque following three lengths behind, and Christopher Jago’s Anticipation a similar distance astern. Trustmarque was first to tack on to starboard, followed quickly by PWC.
Incognito was ahead at the finish to take her second win of the event, three minutes ahead of Nicolas Gaumont-Prat’s Tradition Philosophi, with Anticipation third.
Today’s closest racing in the class was between PWC and Interceptor – the former finished ten seconds ahead, but the small difference in the two boats’ ratings meant they tied for ninth place on corrected time.
The J/109 fleet started in a tight bunch towards the inshore end of the line. Adam and Helen Wright’s Velvet Elvis made an excellent start, far enough ahead to cross in front of the fleet on port tack. Next were five boats all tied neck and neck – the Calascione/Ripard family’s Yeoman to leeward of a bunch that included Jamie Sheldon’s Jigsaw and Stanley, Walker and Williams’ Levante. Despite her apparent disadvantaged position, Yeoman managed to pull four lengths ahead of the others a couple of minutes into the race. Velvet Elvis extended her lead to more than four minutes at the finish. However, the next three places were super-tight, with only 24 seconds separating Jigsaw, Yeoman and Levante.
By the time of the start of IRC Class 7 at 1250 the wind was already near maximum strength. The boats more spaced out than in some of the earlier starts, with Jo Richards’ Moo comfortably crossing the fleet on port tack to take an early lead on the water, ahead of Ed Brand’s Fianchetto and Dave Wright’s H-Boat Hubble Bubble, her mainsail flogging violently in the big gusts. Next were and Simon Percival’s First 21.7 Arwen and Martin Moore, Simon Coombes, Anne Barlow and Caroline Hoy’s Mini Tonner If.
Fianchetto took line honours in the class, finishing just 49 seconds ahead of Moo, however Richards took victory on corrected time. Madelaine and Isobella Donald’s Folkboat Madelaine took second on handicap, with Fianchetto third.
In Class IRC 1, Robert Condon and Simon Shaw’s new Ker 40 Marinetti won the New York Yacht Club Challenge Cup, after finishing more than three minutes ahead of Bernard Gouy’s Ker 39 Inis Mor on corrected time.
White Group: The dayboat classes starting on the Royal Yacht Squadron line had a downwind start against an ebb tide that was setting strongly to the west. In the RS Elite class, Mike Tong’s Ciaobella inshore looked to be very well placed starting close inshore, while Jono Brown’s Aeolus, who started mid line, was also quick with setting the spinnaker. Meanwhile Martin Wadhams’ RSSailing.com was also looking good towards the outer end of the line.
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A big difference of opinion soon became apparent, with Ciaobella staying well inshore, while three boats – RSSailing.com, Steve Powell E’Tu and Jeremy Tolhurst’s Outlaw steering well offshore. The advantage at this stage seemed to be with the boats offshore. RSSailing.com took her third win of the week, while Aeolus was second and E’Tu crossed the line just eight seconds later to take third.
Some of today’s closest racing was seen in the Victory class. They made a cautious start, with Russell Mead’s Shearwater first away from the line followed by Delphine Freeman’s Minx. Duncan, Carol, Di and Tom’s Peregrine initially looked good offshore, but later suffered in the strong tide. Shearwater failed to get her spinnaker set until almost two and a half minutes into the race, yet maintained a five-length lead at this stage.
Mark and Joanna Dennington’s Ziva claimed a third first place, with a commanding lead of more than four minutes. However, only twenty eight seconds separated the next four boats: Geoff and Sarah Dixon, Maxine Reeves and Hugh Winter’s Zelia, Janet Dee and Shaun Hopkins’s Variety, and K and S Taylor and J Childs’ Zest.
Today the XOD class had a general recall, with a black flag for the restart. Chris Froy, Andrew Shaw and Alan Roberts’ Phoenix took their second win, to lead the 145-strong class by seven points after four races. A fifth today for Adrian Summers, Ian Paton and Johnny Mordant’s Excalibur put them in second place overall, on 28 points, while today’s second place lifted John Tremlett’s Xcitation to fourth overall on 45 points. Richard Bullock and Richard Jordan’s Lass lies third on 42 points.
Rudy Jurg’s Myrtle is currently 19th overall, having posted a consistent string of results. He was ecstatic after racing today: 'We’re absolutely loving it and today was fantastic – in such a big fleet there’s always something happening around you. The course was very well set, with perfect upwind legs that took the tide direction into account. They were very long and tiring, with big waves that the boat almost disappeared into at times – we had to pump constantly to get the water out. And the downwind legs were just awesome.'
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