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Lendy Cowes Week 2017 - Day 1

by Rupert Holmes on 29 Jul 29 July - 5 August 2017

The opening day of Lendy Cowes Week dawned with bright sunny spells and a westerly breeze of around 10-15 knots. However, a weather front that gave rain to most of southern England moved across the race area at lunchtime, depressing the wind strength. The result was intensely tactical racing with persistence, along with good – and occasionally brave – decisions needed to achieve top results.

By the time of the first start, for the 31-strong J/70 class, the breeze close inshore under the Royal Yacht Squadron had reduced to 10 knots. With a strong east-going stream running, the most aggressive starters held up as close to the line as possible before the gun. A pair of the Royal Thames YC's boats started on port tack in the better tide close inshore and initially led the fleet away from the line, despite having less wind than the boats further offshore.

However, they soon fell into a wind hole and four minutes into the race crossed tacks a few lengths astern of a group of three boats – Ali Hall's Sceptre, Vilija Velyvyte, Sophie Sheldon and Will Jackson's Aurora, and Guy Stephen's Baby J – as the fleet made their way towards their first mark. Hall took the winner's gun in a tight race that saw the first three boats cross the line 16 seconds apart. Nick Phillip's Chaotic took second place and Paul Childs' F'in Magic 2 third.

The class's second race of the day was over a windward/leeward course, starting from a committee boat stationed near Hill Head on the north shore of the Solent. This was won by a clear margin by Swiss entry Lorenz Mueller's YCB Team ahead of John Greenland's Jumbo and F'in Magic 2.

After the first two races in their eight-race mini series that's taking place over the first four days of the regatta, YCB Team is leading the fleet with a score of five points. "Although I have sailed at Cowes Week many times before, this is the first time in the J/70," said Mueller. "We qualified within the Swiss sailing league to compete here and the team's very happy with our performance. Today's win was all about playing the shifts – I think we tacked on every shift, and it seemed to pay. We're really enjoying our time here and are looking forward to the next two races tomorrow."

The SB20 class appeared less organised in the pre-start for their first start until the final 30 seconds, when the fleet grouped in the outer half of the line. Nigel Grogan's Good Hydeing looked well placed among the boats toward the outer end of the line, although Martin Fox's Arada Stoves – New Hope approached on port and gained an advantage, tacking under her lee bow a few seconds before the gun. Nevertheless, it was the closest boat to the shore, Ben Waha and Syd McLean's Spongbob, starting mid line on port tack that won the start, just clearing a fraction ahead of French competitor Benoit Melen's Ladybug.

Five minutes in, as the fleet short tacked past the Green, it was one of the three Australian boats in the fleet, Elliott Noye's Porco Rosso that held the upper hand in a very close tussle with John Pollard Xcellent. There was much place changing at this stage of the race, with careful calls as to when to tack critical in making best progress. Tacking too frequently risked losing ground, as did standing out into the stronger stream offshore, while carrying on too far inshore would result in an ignominious grounding on Grantham rocks. Raging Bull in the Sportsboat class and an RS Elite were among those who pushed their luck too hard and hit the rocks.

By the finish of the SB20's first race Jerry Hill's held a lead of 28 seconds on Australian Michael Cooper's Export Roo, with Porco Rosso taking third place. This class also had a second race today, which was won by Porco Rosso ahead of Export Roo and Richard Powell's Marvel. This leaves Noye and Cooper leading the fleet at this stage, with both tied on four points.

All classes got away on schedule today, with the exception of the XOD fleet. By the time of their start at 1245 the wind had dropped in a patch of rain. With the tide having by now turned to the west inshore, more than half the fleet was well on the wrong side of the line at the gun and a general recall was inevitable.

The restart, 10 minutes later, was under a Z flag, indicating a three per cent time penalty for any boat crossing the line in the final minute before the start. Between the two starts a stronger breeze filled in from the west, enabling the fleet to return to the correct side of the line.

Al Ashford's Foxglove, Peter Baines, Tim Harding and Phil Hildyard's Estelle, Ian May's Charlie Fish and Chris Torrens' Madcap were among the most pushy boats, already close to the line 60 seconds before the start. Two of these – Madcap and Charlie Fish – along with Paul Woodman's Ibex, James Markby's Xpeditious and Dugald Henderson's Sirena were called OCS at the start. These boats led the fleet away from the line, with Foxglove, James Meaning's Gleam, Penny Fulford's Rachel and Simon Russell's Swallow all also working their way up among the leading group as the fleet short tacked towards the west.

The original 12.5 mile course was shortened at the fourth mark, Mike Till, named in memory of the late class captain. At the end of their two and three quarter hour race Colin McKinnon, Neil Hart and Guy Partington's Catherine was first across the line, 22 seconds ahead of Rory, Amanda and Stuart Paton's XL. Swallow took third place 24 seconds later.

The mostly engineless White Group boats were able to finish on their scheduled line, with the exception of the XOD and Victory classes. However, many of the Black Group fleets had shortened courses, with nine classes finishing early at South Bramble buoy and a further two at North Ryde Middle.

Any rain had been light and patchy until 1415, when a heavier spell passed through and the wind simultaneously dropped to less than five knots in the central Solent. While a handful of competitors failed to resist the temptation of retirement, the overwhelming majority waited for the wind to return, making best use of each zephyr they could find as they did so. Equally, the rain failed to dampen the spirits of the many revellers on shore.

At 1430 the first two boats in the Fast40+ fleet, led by Bas de Voogd's Carkeek 40 Mark 3 Hitchhiker and Steve Cowie's modified GP42 Zephyr, passed the Royal Yacht Squadron on their way to their final marks, making respectable progress under their big asymmetric spinnakers. It was a race of snakes and ladders – Peter Morton's new Carkeek 40 Mk4 Girls on Film had enjoyed a big lead in the later stages of the race. However, he ran out of wind, which allowed the first boats to reach the new wind – Hitchhiker and Zephyr – to overtake.

As a result the leaders were unusually spread out at the finish, with Hitchhiker enjoying a seven minute advantage and easily saving her time on Zephyr to also win on corrected time. Sir Keith Mills' Ker 40+ Invictus was third over the line, more than 10 minutes behind Zephyr, and held onto a podium place on corrected time with a 58 second advantage on Steward Whitehead's Rebellion.

"Coming from Scotland we are used to this sort of weather!" commented Zephyr's owner, Steve Cowie. "We got a great start and our speed was much improved. Budgey (Ian Budgen) made some great tactical calls, everything just went right for us today and the team worked really hard. We have been getting some coaching from David Howlett, before Cowes Week, and that has improved our performance – it's a fantastic start to the week."

At the same time that the Fast40+ fleet was passing Cowes, the leader in the J/109 class, Richard Marsden and Rachel Toman's Judgement Day was on the final approach to the finish and took the first winner's cannon of the week on the Royal Yacht Squadron line at 1439. She was followed two minutes, 50 seconds later by Chris and Victoria Preston's Jubilee. Christopher Sharples and Richard Acland's Jukebox took third place, a further six minutes later.

"It was incredible fun because we were swapping places all the way round," said Marsden. "We were in the top six most of the time, but it was tactics that won in the end. We made a decision not to carry on in the old wind, but instead head toward the Cowes shore, take the losses and wait for the new breeze to arrive. It was a bit concerning for a while because we sat in a light patch of only two knots for five minutes but, as predicted, a new breeze filled in and we were able to pull away and take the first win of the series, the first time we've ever won a race at Cowes Week."

The Cruiser classes that race under the simplified Island Sailing Club Rating System have been gaining in popularity over recent years and now muster three separate divisions. Among the bigger boats in Cruiser Division A three boats hit the start line at speed and in clean air to get a useful early advantage – Chris Panting's Beneteau First 35 No Chance, Richard Strong's Hanse 445 Solid Air and Liam and Colette Hayes' Finngulf 33 Finesse. A few minutes after the start, No Chance and Finesse were the first to tack on a wind shift as the breeze started to swing in to the south ahead of the band of rain.

Although one of the smallest boats in the class, No Chance was first across the line, five minutes ahead of the X-55 Pioneer Lutine. Rob Denning's Swan 46 Bewick of Hamble finished 52 minutes after Pioneer Lutine. All three held the same positions on corrected time, with No Chance winning by an impressive 47 minute margin.

Racing continues tomorrow (Sunday) which promises a change to sunny weather and a strong south-westerly breeze of 16-18 knots with gusts to 25 knots or more. It's the event's Family Day, which recognises the huge number of families that have several generations competing at Lendy Cowes Week.

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