They may no longer be in the first flush of youth, but today proved that the Quarter Ton Class is as competitive as ever with 27 teams completing four exciting and incredibly hard fought races on Day 1 of the Coutts Quarter Ton Cup, hosted by the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club, Cowes.
This year's fleet features boats by 15 different designers and highlights just how many of today's most famous yacht designers cut their teeth in the Quarter Ton Class. With four different race winners and just four and a half points separating the top four boats the stage is set for this to be the most exciting revival Coutts Quarter Ton Cup to date.
There was no quarter given as these fun little boats battled their way round the race course with close crosses, bumper car manoeuvres at the marks and split second finishes throughout the day. The wind was in the South East and increased from around 6-8 knots to over 15 knots. Racing was based under the Hill Head shore with three windward leewards being followed by a Solent 'round the cans' course bringing the boats back to finish off Cowes.
Despite not being one of today's four race winners, Quarter Ton Class Chairman Peter Morton, sailing the 1979 Farr design Anchor Challenge with Kelvin Rawlings, John Newnham, Jules Salter and Jason Carrington put in a very consistent performance to lead the fleet on 14.5 points, just half a point ahead of the Layton/Christi/Crawford/Churchill syndicate in their 1989 Faroux design ASAP.
Howard Sellars and Mike Till's 1978 Bullet, also designed by Faroux and crewed by John Heyes, Henry Bagnall and Jamie McWilliam is in third place on 17 points and Quarter Ton Class Secretary Louise Morton sailing Espada, sistership to Anchor challenge, with Vicky Lenz, Colette Blair, Libby Deegan, Josie Gibson and their mystery Kiwi bowman
lies fourth on 19 points.
After racing Anchor Challenge's tactician Jules Salter, freshly returned from victory with Ericsson 4 in the Volvo Ocean Race, filled us in on his first day of Quarter Ton sailing. 'The whole day was really fun and interesting. There were four short sharp races, we had a few crew errors on the boat, but still managed to get through the day in pretty good shape. We had a Chinese gybe, which I haven't done for a long time, fortunately! I don't quite know what happened, but that was the biggest broach I've had in two years, which is probably a good thing as I wouldn't have wanted to do it in the 70! It was good racing, really close, a different boat won every race. We had boats close around us all the time. It was great to get on a small boat again - the sailing was fantastic. I sailed my first big boat races with Kelvin and John. Jason and I have sailed together a lot including the last Volvo and I've done a lot of miles with Morty too so we spent most of the day laughing about our mistakes!'
The fleet was so over eager that it took three attempts to get the first race started, but once underway it rapidly developed into a battle between Bullet; Espada; Anchor Challenge; Graydon and Thomas Dawson's 1984 Dubois design Diamond crewed by Tom Dawson, Michael Wilson, Brett Aarons and Tristan Jacques; Rob Gray's 1990 Vrolijk design Aquila crewed by Olympic Finn coach and Etchells World Champion David Howlett, Rudy Jurg, David Chapman and Matt Sheahan; and ASAP. It was neck and neck all the way round the course but ultimately Bullet took victory from Anchor Challenge, Espada and Diamond with Aquila fifth and ASAP sixth.
Mike Till put their success down to good starts saying, 'Because the races were short the starting was absolutely key. We really put a lot of effort into our starts. Henry Bagnall got us good transits and in fact of the four races today we didn't make a bad start. We basically sailed knowing that we had to beat Anchor Challenge, ASAP and Espada on the water. Runaway Bus we kept an eye out for, but in the first couple of races they didn't do that well although they came good later. Really we played the shifts and the tide, which were really important today, lots of shifts, tacking on the shifts, getting the right laylines. I don't think we sailed particularly aggressively but we did have the boat going fast and downwind we were electric. For example in the final round the cans race when we were reaching we were right on ASAP - we could have touched her transom we were that close all the way down the close reach.'
In race two only a minute separated the top nine boats on corrected time making it the closest race of the day. ASAP got the upper hand early and just managed to hang onto it winning the race by eight seconds from Bullet with Laurent Beaurin's 1975 Farr 727 45 South third. Louis Morton in Espada finished fourth, beating husband Peter in Anchor Challenge by just 3 seconds on corrected time.
Race three provided great excitement as the wind came up further, benefitting the smaller boats. Paul Lees sailing Echo, the oldest and smallest boat in the fleet designed by Van De Stadt in 1971, with crew Mark Lees and Josh Irons, won the race by 26 seconds on corrected time from 45 South. Jan Thirkettle's 1974 Norlin design Olivia Anne VI, crewed by Ollie and Will Holden, Keith Robbins and Abigail Tripp took third with ASAP fourth and Anchor Challenge fifth.
The fourth and final race of the day was set as a round the cans course bringing the boats back to finish off Cowes. The introduction of two sail reaching brought an exciting new dimension to the regatta and another giant killing result as 45 South took victory from Anchor Challenge. Paul Kelsey and Peter William's Runaway Bus, the 1977 Paul Whiting design crewed by Nigel Pybos, Roger Marino and Tim Wiggins, put in their best performance of the day to finish third with ASAP fourth, Espada fifth and Bullet sixth.
For Laurent Beaurin 45 South's fourth race victory was particularly sweet, as he had picked up most of his crew in the bar only the night before. Laurent and regular crew Julien Sellier were joined by local sailor Humphrey Carber and visiting New Zealanders Piers Taylor and Ben Gladwell. For Ben it was a particularly fortuitous moment when Laurent asked if he wanted to sail as he has only recently purchased a Farr 727 of his own back in New Zealand and 45 South won the Quarter Ton Cup for New Zealand in 1975 with a crew of top New Zealand sailing legends including Roy Dickson, father of America's Cup sailor Chris.
They may never have sailed together before but clearly that wasn't holding them back too much. In race one they were finding their feet finishing in equal 17th place with Peter Hewitson's 1978 Thomas designed Shamu, but from there on in they got the bit between their teeth scoring 3rd and then 2nd before winning race four. Laurent explained that it had been something of a battle getting to the event 'Julien and I intended to sail across the Channel, but when we arrived in the harbour the crane was closed for three days and we couldn't launch the boat, so we put her on the ferry and drove here instead. But we still only had two of us to crew so we came up to the club for a drink and got chatting to Humphry who lives here in Cowes and recruited him and then we had a beer with the Kiwi guys and everything was OK! Our day was getting better and everything was possible!'
The Coutts Quarter Ton Cup is well known for it's special awards and today's very special award went to David Tydeman and his hugely experienced crew of Michael Greville, Cameron Smith, Nick Creed and Kevin Sproul aboard Snoopy. They were pretty happy with their performance as they came to the bottom of the first run right up with the leading pack and having carefully read their course card they knew the course set was just one lap. Convinced