Bright sun and tight racing in a glorious 14-16 knot sea breeze, with occasional stronger gusts, made for fabulous racing on the opening day of Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week.
Racing got underway after a two-hour postponement to allow the breeze to build and by the first start of the day, for the J/70 class, it had filled in across the course at a consistent 10-12 knots from the west-south-west. By this time the strong east-going flood tide was starting to ease and the west-going eddy close inshore off the Royal Yacht Squadron was well established in a narrow band close to the shore.
With the inner distance mark for the White Group classes starting on the RYS line approximately one boat length on the course side of the line, the first seven classes all had a handful of premature starters, but there was no need for a general recall. However, it was a different matter for the Black Group yachts starting on the Bramble line, where the new FAST40+ class was subject to two general recalls before the fleet finally got away under a black flag.
In the J/70 class many boats were over the line in the last 45 seconds before the gun. While some were able to dip back to start correctly, six boats were recorded as being OCS. Gordon and Morten Nikel’s Just in Time, Jack Davies’ Yeti and Claire Lasko’s Elizabeth initially looked best placed at the very inshore end of the line, while Nick and Adam Munday’s J7T, along with Richard Jordan’s Juke Box, were the most offshore boats, around half way out along the line towards the outer distance mark.
This closely matched fleet saw frenetic action as they short-tacked past the Grantham Rocks and along the Green, with a number of close port and starboard incidents. There were also rushed tacks as boats ran short of depth, while most boats heading offshore on port tack were forced to duck big groups of starboard tack competitors. Five minutes into the race the Locke Family’s J7O had established a tenuous lead on Ali Hall’s J Curve, with the fleet now starting to spread out a little.
At the finish Simon Ling’s Team RAF Benevolent held a 39 second lead on Nick Phillip’s Chaotic, with Yeti in third place, ahead ofJ Curve. Along with the SB20 class, the J/70s have a mini series with eight races over the first four days of the regatta. Team RAF Benevolent won the second race, which was run from a committee boat start, ahead of Just in Time and Elizabeth.
Some of the more enthusiastic SB20 teams failed to learn from the J/70 start, with several boats over the line in the final 20 seconds. At the inshore end of the pack, around one third of the distance out from the inner end of the line, Carlo Brenco and Metteo Ivaldi’s Un’Altra Claudia, David Atkinson’s Sweaty Betty, Charlie Sheppard’s Sharc and John Pollard’s Xcellent were all looking well placed. At the end of their first race Jerry Hill’sSportsboatworld.com crossed the line 14 seconds ahead ofUn’Altra Claudia, however, the latter had been OCS, leavingXcellent to take second place, with Alec and Clairey Russell’sTothatsu Outboards third, just six seconds ahead of Sweaty Betty. In their second race, Un’Altra Claudia took first place ahead of Sharc and Sportsboatworld.com.
The Etchells class had the tightest finish of the day, with four of the first five boats in the 16 strong fleet crossing the line in just three seconds. Before the start they generally held further back from the line than the earlier fleets, although a few pulled the trigger a couple of seconds too early, spoiling what would otherwise have been perfect starts. As a result, four boats were OCS at the gun and sadly only one – Murray Chapples’ Silver Lining – returned to start correctly.
After the first couple of tacks along the Green, Andrew Cooper’sIce held a narrow lead from Rachel Spearing’s Efyra and Nick Stagg’s China White. However, it was Shaun Frohlich’s Exabyte 7that led the fleet with a 48 second margin at the finish. The next four boats, Ice, Mark Downer’s Moonlight, Rob Elliot’s Bon Vivant, and Tom Abrey, Bruno Van Dyke and Matt Reid’s Jolly Roger arrived at the finish almost simultaneously. With the latter having been OCS at the start, fifth place went to China White.
“Lots of the fleet were over the line at the start and as we made our way up The Green we were out of sync with the pack,” saysExabyte crewmember David Bedford. “By the time we reached Gurnard we had managed to get to the right and stay in the best of the favourable tidal eddy – it was a case of not going inshore too far, or too far offshore. We were second at this point, but went nearer the beach into Gurnard Bay and by the time we got to the windward mark we were first and never lost the lead.”
The Daring class also saw a number of boats over at the start, with only John and James Hackman’s Double Knot and Bob Gatehouse’s Darling returning to start correctly, while David Sherriff’s Destroyer and Lavina Perry, Brian Hardy and Violeta Alvarez’s Dreamer failed to do so. Giles Peckham’s Dauntlessmade a cracking start at the favoured point on the line, giving him a useful initial advantage on Paul Miller’s Audax and E Rohner’s Defender.
When the leaders first crossed tacks it was Defender and John Corby’s Doublet that held a small advantage, with Peckham ducking their sterns. However, while other skippers made numerous tortuously short tacks, Peckham opted for an initial longer offshore hitch on port tack. It was a strategy that paid and when they next came together, five minutes after the start, he had a marginal advantage on Corby. However, by the finish Corby had pulled out an impressive three minute, 16 second advantage on David Gower, Jamie Clark and Peter Haworth’sDolphin, with Andrew Norton’s Decoy in third place.
In Black Group the new FAST40+ class marks a return of a competitive fleet of state of the art large racing yachts to the Solent, with Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week forming a key plank in the class’s five-stage 2016 regatta programme. At the start of today’s race no one wanted to risk yielding any ground on the line, resulting in a general recall and a black flag before the fleet finally got away cleanly. Peter Morton’s Girls on Film got a great start and powered away to an impressive win, while Sir Keith Mills’ Invictus recovered from a conservative start to take second place just nine seconds ahead of Johnny Vincent’s Pace on corrected time.
Tomorrow is family day at Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week, which celebrates the many family members, spanning several generations, racing this week. The forecast promises more sun, along with a stronger south-westerly airflow over the race area throughout the day.
Image: Paul Wyeth/PWP Pictures