A damp morning, with challenging winds around the rain clouds, failed to squash spirits at Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week today. The weather cleared during the afternoon, giving competitors a chance to dry out while enjoying post-race drinks and a display by the RAF’s Red Arrows aerobatic team.
The first start of the day was for the 16 celebrity crews on the IMOCA 60s, Volvo 65s and giant trimarans competing in the Artemis Challenge at Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week. Thunder and lightning sweeping across the Solent made for a dramatic start, with visibility closing down to a few hundred metres.
The fleet started setting their giant downwind sails one minute before the start, with the multihulls opting for Code 0s, while the monohulls chose asymmetric spinnakers. The all women crew on the Volvo 65 Team SCA was closest to the line at the gun and moving faster than the rest of the monohulls, although Alex Thompson’s IMOCA 60 Hugo Boss was in hot pursuit.
A little before 1330 the first of the giant trimarans could be seen powering up the eastern Solent on the way to finishing their race around the island. Musandam – Oman Sail was first across the line, completing the race in a fraction over three and a half hours, just two minutes ahead of Concise 10, with the new 80ft Prince de Bretagne completing the course three minutes later. The first monohull home was Vincent Riou’s IMOCA 60, PRB, in a time of four hours 55 minutes.
The two classes competing for the New York Yacht Club Challenge Cup – IRC Big Boats and IRC Class 0 – also started on the extended RYS line, again heading to the west. Hap Fauth’s 72ft Mini Maxi Bella Mente was first to set her spinnaker, 15 seconds before the gun, and powered off to another excellent start. Piet Vroon’s Ker 51 Tonnere 4 looked to be best positioned at the southern end of the line, before making a quick gybe for clean air and to make best use of the strong west-going tidal eddy close to the Island shore.
The trio of Mini Maxis were less than three minutes apart at the finish, with Bella Mente having a 48-second lead on Dieter Schoen’s Momo. However, Tonnerre 4 finished 17 minutes later, with the smaller boat taking victory on corrected time by an impressive 13 minutes. Peter Harrison’s TP52 Sorcha took second on handicap and Bella Mente third.
“We had good start and our tactician Jeremy Robinson made a call for us to get inshore as close as we could to The Green so we had positive tide while the rest of the fleet had tide against them,” says Paul Wilcox, who was helming Tonnerre 4. “We rounded the bottom mark with the Maxi 72s, so it was a really good leg for us and we massively extended on the rest of the fleet – that’s where the race was won and once we’d turned the corner the breeze kind of died from the back and that helped us to extend on them.”
The other Black Group yachts scheduled to start from a fixed line had a running start on the inshore RYS line. At the time of the J/109 start it was still very murky, with a number of boats displaying navigation lights. The first leg took the fleet on a shy spinnaker reach that saw most teams struggling to get their kites filled immediately after the start.
It was the start of an intense and exciting race that saw the first five boats cross the line within 75 seconds, two of whom had accepted time penalties for rule infringements. Tor McLaren and Andrew Horrocks’ Inspara was first across the line, 10 seconds ahead of Christopher Sharples, Richard Acland and Patrick Tolhurst’s Pure Joy. The third finisher was James Baker’s Jolly Jack Tar, however, she was one of the boats carrying a time penalty, leaving Richard Marsden and Emma Toman’s Judgement Day to take the prize for third.
In IRC Class 4, David Franks’ JPK10.10 Strait Dealer was first to start hoisting her spinnaker – it was at the masthead two seconds before the gun and already filled at the start signal. She then led an inshore group of three boats that were sailing lower than the rest of the fleet and to make use of the favourable inshore tidal eddy. Franks then stayed a little further offshore, trading tidal benefit for more consistent wind, while Peter Scholfield’s HOD35 Zarafa took the inshore route, almost reaching the first mark ahead of Strait Dealer.
The first boat across the finish was the Archambault A35 Amaris 2 sailed by the IBA Sailing Team. However, she wasn’t able to save her time on the lower-rated Strait Dealer and slipped to second on handicap, while Andy Roberts’ J/105 Jin Tonic took third place.
“The tides were really strong today – we measured 3.5 knots against us when we were crossing from the north shore to the RYS line for the finish,” says Franks. “Our tactician Ben Saxton did a brilliant job in calling the right strategy, taking us north of our last mark, towards the weaker tide on the mainland shore, before slightly bearing away to cross the fast tide quickly. He seems to have a natural instinct for calling laylines.”
In IRC Class 5 Harry Heist’s S&S41 Winsome took a clear advantage at the inshore end of the line, with Jamie Muir’s SJ320 Scarlet Jester three lengths to windward and Robert Leggett’s X-332 Apex a little astern. It was another tight race, in which James Owen’s J/97 Jet crossed the finish just 16 seconds ahead of Winsome, followed by another J/97, Andy Howe and Annie Kelly’s Blackjack ll. All three were able to save their time on the remainder of the fleet.
“We had a secret weapon on board today in the form of J-Class guru, Paul Heyes,” says Owen. “We had a fantastic day, albeit a little on the wet side, and really enjoyed learning from the master. Today was all about boatspeed and keeping out the worst of the tide. Once ahead it was a matter of keeping the concentration and sailing fast.”
By the time of the start of the Sunsail Match F40 class, shortly before midday, the weather was starting to clear in the central and eastern Solent. At the same time, the wind had eased, leaving most of the fleet very cautious about approaching too close to the line given the tide sweeping them in the direction of the first mark. Darwin Property Investment was the only boat to nail the start almost perfectly at the outer end of the line, filling her spinnaker at the gun, followed by Eden Yachting. However, by the finish the overall leader at the end of day five, Aberdeen 1, again had the advantage, finishing 41 seconds ahead of Ascot Lloyd, while PCP Team Switzerland took third place less than a minute later.
The XOD class had a windward leeward course planned from a committee boat start in the eastern Solent. The fleet split on the long windward leg, from Rolly Tasker racing mark to a laid buoy further east, with each side of the race track turning out to be very even. Despite big wind shifts and extensive lulls, front-runners came from both sides of the course.
In an extremely tight finish, in which the first five boats crossed the line in only 22 seconds, it was George Alford’s Arrow that took victory, ahead of Colin McKinnon, Neil Hart and Mark Palmer’s Catherine. Jeremy Lear, Richard Bullock, John Tremlett and Richard Jordon’s Lass was third.
“This is my first win in 44 years so it is quite special,” says Alford. “We came in late to the starting line, then went east toward Ryde and managed to pick a good line. It was such an appalling day though we couldn’t really see where we were going because the visibility was so bad. Added to that, our solar-powered compass wasn’t working so we had to keep a careful look out for the windward mark. The key to our win, in addition to the excellent team work by my daughter Caroline Underwood, and Tom D’arcey, was keeping up tide of the mark in the rather strange, unreliable wind.”
The rest of the White Group day boat classes had an upwind start from the Shrape line off East Cowes. With the wind dropping in the rain after the RS Elite start, a 50-minute postponement was needed before the next class could get away. Even though the Solent Sunbeam fleet made only marginal progress against a knot of tide the fleet started well back from the line. Commander John Ford’s Melody, at the outer distance mark, held an early advantage to windward and ahead of Roger Wickens’ Danny and Stuart Reed’s Firefly. The latter climbed ahead during the race, with Reed taking his fourth victory of the week, ahead of Richard Pearson’s Fay and Danny.
Starting an hour later the Seaview Mermaid fleet was more aggressive with its approach to the line. Fred Few Brown’s Scuttle was first to sheet in to accelerate, but was a length over the line at the gun. This left Anthony Eaton’s Miranda and Kate Broxham’s Amethyst appearing to be the best-placed boats, while the clear overall class leader, Ben Few Brown’s Adastra, was languishing back in eighth place.
Miranda retained a slim advantage at the finish, crossing the line 33 seconds ahead of Guy Mattinson and Jerry Pocock’s Halluf. Fortunately for Adastra, Cowes Week races tend to offer numerous opportunities to pass other boats, and by the finish she had pulled up to third place, 37 seconds behind Halluf.
When the Victory class started at 1335 the wind had strengthened and swung more towards the north. John Scammell’s Zinnia was first away from the line, followed by Mark and Joanna Dennington’s Ziva, Hugh Pringle’s Pelican and Russell Mead’s Shearwater ll. By the end of the race Scammell was still ahead and took his second win of the week, ahead of Janet Dee’s Variety and Shearwater ll.
Report by Rupert Holmes