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High winds and high stakes at the Taittinger Royal Solent Yacht Club Regatta 2023

by Oliver Dewar 20 Jul 17:06 BST 14-16 July 2023
Taittinger Royal Solent Yacht Club Regatta 2023 Overall Winner - Happy Daize © Jake Sugden

The 15th edition of the Taittinger RSYC Regatta (Friday 14 - Sunday 16 July 2023) hosted by the Royal Solent Yacht Club in Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, opened on Friday evening with the Champagne Taittinger Reception held on the tented, waterfront lawn of the RSYC. The packed marquees, filled with competitors, their friends and families were buzzing with anticipation for a weekend of close competitive racing in the Western Solent.

Every conversation at the party inevitably touched on the forecast for the first day of racing on Saturday. The Met Office issued menacing gale warnings and all predictive weather models suggested exceptionally strong wind throughout the first day of racing. Traditionally, the British revel in discussing the weather and Friday night became a Champagne Taittinger-driven master class of weather speculation.

At 07.00 on Saturday, the regatta's Race Committee cancelled racing with the south-west wind pumping at 27 knots. By midday, the breeze had built to 36 knots and with the 'N' over 'A' signal flags snapping and cracking into a blur on the otherwise bare-pole RSYC flagstaff. The abandonment call was soon validated by mid-morning as the ebb tide transformed the narrow and unnaturally empty stretch of mid-Solent between Yarmouth and Lymington into an angry, foaming and formidable turmoil of white water.

Those competitors that stayed locally enjoyed the hospitality of Yarmouth and relaxed with live music in the RSYC marquee and freshly baked wood fired pizza from local pizza van Wightwood Pizzas before heading to the legendary Towers Party.

The scene on Sunday morning, however, was slightly less forbidding with clouds lodged over the Mainland and Island leaving a potentially squall-free and clear corridor over the Solent. Nonetheless, 29-knot south-westerly gusts were experienced as competing yachts left Yarmouth Harbour with the larger boats in Black Group heading for the start line off the Mainland shore just east of Lymington, punching into a building swell as they crossed the Solent. Just further south, White Group stuck close to the Island shore and a slightly more sheltered start line in Bouldnor Bay east of Yarmouth.

With the event's Race Committee keeping a constant watch on real-time wind data for both racing groups, the wind strength began to creep up as the 09.00 start time approached. Alistair Clarke, navigator on James Chalmers' J112 Happy Daize described the conditions onboard: "We've had an amazing time. We only got one race in, but it was a stunning race!" Happy Daize won IRC Class 2 with over half of the 18 boats entered in the class making the start line in very challenging conditions. The team also took away the coveted Jeroboam of Taittinger Champagne as the overall regatta winner.

However, it could have gone very wrong for Clarke and the crew with the boat broaching pre-start while attempting a gybe under spinnaker. "We broke all our bits before the start and managed to fix it all with about a minute to go," he explained. "During the race, we decided not to gybe for obvious reasons!" Racing with ten on board, it was edge-of-the-seat conditions. "We only put a reef in with about three minutes to go to the start!".

In the Contessa 32 Class, four of the 14 boats entered crossed the Solent to the Mainland shore for the Black Group start. Nick Bradley and the team on Merak II led the Contessa fleet for Black Group's single race: "It was windy! There was quite a bit of breeze," commented Bradley at the event's prize-giving. As a former overall winner of the regatta, Bradley is highly competitive. "We were with a #3 jib and one reef in the main and the Contessa behind us had a #2 and two reefs and we were about the same speed, but when the puffs came in, we were a lot faster." A bold move on the start line handed Merak II the race: "We went with a port flyer off the start and luckily there were so few boats around and we had a bit of space and, basically, got away with it and led all the way round."

As the waves began to stack higher in the middle of the Solent, the decision to shorten the course of the first race and abandon a second race was made before high water, ensuring all the Mainland shore competitors were clear before the tide began to ebb.

For Chris Choules and the crew of Hamble-based, Sigma 38 With Alacrity, winners of IRC Class 3, their fifth Taittinger RSYC Regatta was approached with caution, despite an impressive and race winning gamble close inshore: "We were really conservative and tacking with about 2 metres under the keel," said Choules of a tactic that would give many helmsmen an ulcer. "We're entered in the Fastnet Race, so our objective was not to break the boat, but going inshore was definitely the call on those beats," he continued. "A Sigma 38 when it gets going in these conditions is hard to beat. We were really pleased to get a race in today, even if it was just one hour."

Meanwhile, close to the Island shore, the water may have been fractionally flatter, but the breeze was sending strong gusts through the White Group fleet as they completed two races. With a fleet of 25 boats entered, around half of the Folkboat fleet made the Sunday start line with Ed Donald and the crew of Madelaine winning overall. Jack Davies on Folkboat Raev won the first race: "In spite of some very challenging conditions in the Western Solent, we got to experience close and competitive sailing which I know all the crews enjoyed," said Davies. "Hats off to the RSYC for making the most of the weekend!"

The regatta's XOD fleet numbered 26 boats with four crews taking on the first race on Sunday and three for the second race. Local sailor, James Meaning on Gleam won the class overall. "The Taittinger Regatta embodies everything I enjoy about sailing," he commented.

Louis Kenna owner of the stunning, carbon fibre, Hinckley-designed Morris M36 Chameleon of Cowes won White Group's IRC Classic Cruiser Class sailing four-up. "The races on Sunday morning were really epic, epic races," confirmed Kenna who competes regularly in Solent regattas. Of the nine boats entered in the Classic Cruiser division, the Swan 43 Reindeer was the only other competitor prepared to take on the tough conditions "There's no damage and the boat works well," added Kenna. "Fantastic, really good fun. We came down from Hamble for a bit of sailing and a bit of entertainment and we started with a lot of entertainment, which was great with the crew together," he explained. "We had too-good-a-time at the Champagne Taittinger Reception on Friday night, then Saturday at the Towers Party was brilliant. It's a really nice family regatta." Louis Kenna succinctly identifies the success of the Taittinger Royal Solent Regatta.

"It proves the point that a regatta isn't just about racing, it's about having serious fun both on and off the water," comments John Caulcutt, owner of the landmark, waterfront property adjacent to the RSYC and host of The Towers Party. This year, the party included an extraordinary selection of live music, a laser show and fireworks. The event is likely to have raised a record amount for the Cure Parkinson's charity. "It's about visitors and competitors remembering Yarmouth for their innovation and the ability to decommoditise themselves from other regattas and, for a short time, become immersed in our exceptional town," he adds.

John Caulcutt's views echo those of Martyn Collinson, Commodore of the Royal Solent Yacht Club. "In spite of the weather the weekend was a success," he commented shortly after the prize-giving on Sunday afternoon. "Everyone had a wonderful time socially, which shows that the regatta is more than just the racing. We had a full clubhouse on Friday evening; the Towers party was, as usual, very popular. It's a really prestigious, fun weekend which well and truly puts the Royal Solent on the sailing calendar."

The event's trophies and Champagne Taittinger prizes were claimed by mid-afternoon on Sunday and awards from the regatta's supporting sponsors were also drawn. A seven-night stay for two in the 1889 panorama suite of Austria's luxury Edelweiss & Gurgl Hotel was won by NHC A class winner Nik Atkinson of Elan 40 Caveman. A Honda 2.3hp outboard engine donated by supporting sponsors Wight Marine went to Kate Sims in NHC B.

Finally, through the sale of Taittinger caps in a charity prize draw over £900 was raised with funds going to disabled yachtsman Geoff Holt MBE's charity Wet Wheels. The prize of three magnums of Champagne Taittinger was fittingly won by 81-year-old, Isle of Wight sailor David Temple who circumnavigated Britain last year raising £20,000 for Parkinson's UK and Cure Parkinson's.

The 2024 Taittinger Royal Solent Yacht Club Regatta is scheduled for 12-14 July when the Royal Solent and Champagne Taittinger, along with supporting sponsors River Yar Boatyard & Wight Marine, the Edelweiss & Gurgl Hotel, Hall Hunter and AQL look forward to seeing you for another unforgettable regatta in Yarmouth.

Find the complete list of results for the 2023 Taittinger Royal Solent Yacht Club Regatta at HalSail Results (

View photos of the 2023 Taittinger Royal Solent Yacht Club Regatta in the online Photo Gallery (

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