After a relaxed morning waiting for wind, Cowes Week competitors enjoyed a third successive day of glorious sailing and close racing in ideal conditions. Highlights included the Quarter Ton class, where the top two boats finished in a dead heat, and the XOD fleet in which more than 20 XODs crossed the line overlapped.
The early morning light and fitful northerly breeze gave way to a new gradient south-westerly wind that allowed racing to get under way at 1345. The later start times created a different tidal dynamic on the Royal Yacht Squadron start line, with the westerly ebb stream building rapidly as the starting sequence progressed and therefore tending to wash competitors over the line prematurely.
The Sonar class, which is holding its national championship during Cowes Week, was very punchy at the start today. A big bunch of boats at the outer end of the line luffed prematurely, resulting in a general recall. In their second start the fleet generally approached the line more cautiously, but a group of boats were still early and didn’t respond to the individual recall signal.
In the 26-strong Redwing fleet the front-runners timed their start almost to perfection, despite the strong stream sweeping them on course side. However, a couple were marginally too early – Robin Ebsworth’s Quintessence returned to start correctly, but Mike Toogood’s Tara and Bella Janson’s Gannet were eventually scored OCS. Mark Downer and family’s Enigma, along with Serena Gosling’s Gosling, led the pack away from the line, with Andrew and Edward Eddy’s Plover plus James Wilson’s Quail, also looking well placed in the early stages of the first beat.
Enigma and Quail went on to have a close tussle throughout the 90 minute, six-leg race. “One leg was a marginal run/reach,” says Downer. “Quail got to the mark just in front and poled out her jib, we didn’t and managed to get around the next mark just ahead.” The pair then came together again at the final mark in an incident for which Quail had to accept a 1% time penalty.
Therefore, although Quail crossed the line seven seconds ahead of Enigma, she fell to second place after application of the time penalty. The finish was equally tight for many others, with two groups of five boats crossing the line barely more than 30 seconds apart.
The Sunbeam fleet got away cleanly, with Sue Smith’s Maisy, along with James and Samantha Axtell’s Argosy, looking very nicely placed immediately after the start. Roger Wickens’ Danny was also doing nicely at this stage, in clear air a little closer to the shore. By the finish Danny had pulled out a 52 second lead on Maisy, while Becky Wickens and Olllie Gilcrist’s Sky took third place 14 seconds later.
The Squib fleet also had an individual recall that Emma and Sam Prime’s Buccaneer responded to, but a second boat failed to return and was scored OCS. Overall leader after the first two races, Phil Rust and Steve Warren-Smith’s Aquabat, was first to tack offshore after the start in what proved to be an extremely tight race in which the first three boats crossed the line only 10 seconds apart.
Marc Moncrieff and Nick Hawkes’ Pot Black took their first win of the regatta, ahead of Janet Dee and Shan Hopkins’ Little Demon, with Aquabat third. While the entry for this class is down compared to previous years, competition is as tight as ever and after three races only four points separate the top four boats in the fleet.
The larger Black Group yachts started from a committee boat in the Western Solent at a similar time, however, the smaller IRC classes scheduled to start on a committee boat in the eastern Solent had a longer wait for the new wind, with the Quarter Ton class finally getting away a little after 1500. This is also a small class this year, but the competition could not be more intense. Jullian Metherell’s Bullit and Ian Southworth’s Protis had a dead tie for first place, while most of the fleet finished in under three minutes.
Among them was Cote, sailed by Jaydon Desmond, Christopher Frederick, Kai Hockley and Jessye Opoku-Ware of inner London state school Greig City Academy, whose sailing activities are funded by Cowes Week official charity, the Scaramouche Sailing Trust.
“It was definitely worth the long wait for the wind,” says Desmond, “because then we started in a medium breeze that increased to 18-20 knots. Although Cote tends to be faster in lighter conditions we still tried the best we could. We were pleased with our start today, but I was also really happy that we managed everything when the wind got heavier.” He also says the best element of racing during Cowes Week is: “How competitive it is, seeing all the different levels of experience, and socialising with the best sailors, when we can ask them questions.”
IRC Class 7 also had a team from Scaramouche racing the 22ft David Thomas designed Mini Tonner Riot, a 40-year-old boat students from the academy restored themselves. Karnye Scott, who’s helming the boat this week started sailing two years ago. He says the best part of Cowes Week is that: “It’s so competitive and if you want to win you have to train really hard.”
The team travels to Cowes roughly every second weekend to practice key manoeuvres including tacks and gybes, spinnaker hoists and drops, as well as mark roundings. “Today’s race was a good one for us,” according to Scott. “The tacks, gybes and spinnaker work was good, as was our communication.”
Currently around 150 students a year are engaged in Greig City Academy’s sailing programmes, with roughly one third of those at an elite level. Many students come from areas with some of London’s highest crime rates, yet the benefits they gain from the sailing programme is striking on many levels.
Every member of the flagship sailing team, for instance, gained a place in higher education, compared to only 30% that were considered university candidates before the sailing programme. At the same time, students who were previously at risk of exclusion and taking the wrong path in life are no longer at risk.
The programme is run on an impressively low budget averaging £1,300 per student, including the boats, maintenance, mooring, accommodation and travel. Securing sufficient funding is a perpetual challenge and even every modest donations can make a big difference.
Find out more here: scaramouchesailing.org.uk
Or donate to the Just Giving fundraiser here: www.justgiving.com/campaign/scaramouche2022
Report: Rupert Holmes
Images: Paul Wyeth