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By Royal Appointment - Dan Snow races Fast 40s in the 2019 King's Cup Regatta

by Dan Snow 13 Aug 14:00 BST 8 August 2019
King's Cup at Cowes prize giving © Sam Kurtul /

The Royal Standard hung lazily from the flagpole above the Royal Yacht Squadron. Team Windsor were back in Cowes. On 8 August eight Fast 40 boats competed in the King's Cup Regatta. Prince William's great grandfather, George V, first awarded the handsome trophy in 1920 and after a long spell in the Squadron cabinet it is back in circulation. Every yacht had been donated by its owners to a charity for the regatta, and each one would be helmed by an ambassador for the charity.

I was lucky enough to race for the brilliant London Air Ambulance, while Bear Grylls raced for Tusk, footballer Fara Williams for Centrepoint, comedian John Bishop for Action on Addiction, Radio 1 DJ Katie Thistleton for Place2Be, Olympic legend Helen Glover for the Anna Freud Centre. Meanwhile the Duke of Cambridge helmed his first ever race for Child Bereavement UK, and his more experienced wife for the work that their foundation does on early years development. Handicaps had been jettisoned for the day, you cross the line first, you win.

I climbed aboard Zephyr and the crew immediately confided in me that they had been told not to swear and not to be too aggressive on the starts. We immediately started swearing like matelots and planning to sow as much disruption as physically possible off the start line. There was a light south easterly breeze, a messy, fluky wind coming off the island, curling and uncertain as it was funnelled down the Medina.

The tide was hammering in, so we faced a choice between staying out wide to catch whatever breeze there was or coming in close and avoiding the flood tide. We opted for a compromise, so did everyone else. The first start was a cluster, all boats piled over the line early and it was a recall. We spun around, scything through the armada of little boats that had gather to watch. Dodging ferries and dinghies, we restarted and were off. Kites up for a downwind leg to Stanswood Point and then upwind back to Cowes and a brief run down to Gurnard and the finish. The wind never got above 10 knots sadly but the Fast 40s still cracked along at 8 knots. As a cruising sailor with very little experience of racing I was stunned at their responsiveness to the helm. You can throw the crew off their feet if you snatch at the tiller. Watching the other boats with their celebrity novices at the helm, I could only imagine how the crews cursed our inexperience!

The swarm of powerboats churned the Solent into quite a chop which was not ideal in those conditions but when the pressure came on the boats responded fast. A tough day for the crew who spent more time than usual running about as ballast. We rounded the second mark in the pack and the tactician chose a perfect line upwind putting us right on the last mark in second, we rounded it and raced downwind but Bear Grylls and Tusk were over the line first.

The second race saw confusion at the start when all the boats, except Tusk, were over the line. One by one we hauled the kites down and restarted, except two or three who didn't get the message. There were giggles on board when it became clear that the Duchess' boat had not received the signal and was heading for a disqualification. We were slow to respond and went over the line last, but another great set of lay line decision making saw us claw our way up to fourth place and second overall.

John Bishop later confided that he enjoyed it but thought it was absolutely incomprehensible. It was not clear he said, when we were racing, where we were going and who we were competing against. Apart from that it was 'a right laugh.' He did say the 'strings' and sails reminded him of watching the washing drying. A fair assessment of an eccentric sport.

With two firsts Tusk romped it. Prince William came in third and had the privilege of presenting a giant wooden spoon to his wife. A braver man than me.

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