Cowes Week 2022 – Day 1
by Rupert Holmes Jul 30 13:22 PDT
July 30 – August 5, 2022
The Solent delivered a sparkling and action packed day to start Cowes Week with plenty of sun and a west-southwest breeze building from 10-15 knots to produce maximum gusts in the low 20’s in the early afternoon. It was a day of challenging starts, extremely tight finishes and tight boot-on-boat action.
The starts for the early classes were characterized by the need for a short tack in a narrow, west-bound eddy near shore off the Royal Yacht Squadron and the Green. This was a vigorous leg for sail trimmers, with many calls for room to tack, some very large ducks from port-tacked yachts, plus a few groundings and a number of protests.
It’s always difficult to read the start line in difficult conditions when you’re the first fleet away, but even taking that into account, the 32-strong J/70 class was surprisingly optimistic. A large group of boats crossed the line well before the gun, with the result that with 20 seconds remaining almost as many boats were trying to get back to the right side of the line as there were in the general direction of the first indicator pointing. Even then, some were at the shooting range early, but only a few returned, leaving a number of boats to be scored as OCS.
Cowes Week differs from many regattas in that it uses a VAR system on the starting line with six cameras allowing close analysis of any boats that start early. That means competitors need to be more cautious than usual when launching, as the system reduces the number of times a general recall is required.
“When we start 28 classes on a line we have to do everything we can to avoid general recalls and we have a lot of technology available for that,” explains Regatta Director Laurence Mead. “It is always our goal to provide the best racing possible and we never want technology to get in the way of that.”
There were many changes of location as the tightly packed fleet of J/70s cruised briefly west. A few minutes into the launch, Lutz Strangemann’s Geisha, Jack Davie’s Jeti and Annabelle Body’s Boysterous looked well placed on the water. But a minute later, Tim Ryan’s Vamos was on pole and, after countless short tacks, tacked close to shore. The first three boats to finish were scored OCS, with Australia’s Sam Haynes’ Celestial taking first place ahead of Dom Lewis’ RTYC Academy and Bruce Grant’s Endeavor.
The fleet had committee boat starts for their second and third races today, both of which saw extremely close finishes. Vamos took pole position in race two, six seconds ahead of Martin Dent’s Jelvis, while two boats – Nick Phillips’ Chaotic and Max Clapp’s Little J – crossed the finish line at the same time to finish third five seconds later. Jelvis won the final race ahead of Vamos and Celestial, leaving the latter as the overall leader at the end of day one.
“The start of the first race, the bundled short turns along the beach, was amazing and great. You don’t sail like that anywhere else,” says skipper Sam Haynes, who has a TP52, also known as a Celestial, at home in Sydney, where he is Vice Commodore of the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, organizers of the Rolex Sydney Hobart Race. “The rounding of the markers at low tide and lifting up to the buoy were also new to us,” he adds. “As well as windward-lee courses, we also had some opportunities to reach range, which means you have to get all the maneuvers working well.”
In contrast, the larger yachts in the IRC Class Zero were mostly very conservative to start with, allowing the smallest boat in the fleet, Bertie Bicket’s IC37 Fargo, to break away from the crowd on a port course. Fargo continued to lead the fleet as they headed west towards Gurnard, followed by RORC Commodore James Neville’s HH42 Ino XXX and the star-studded crew of Ian Atkins on his GP42 Dark n Stormy.
All are part of the new Solent-based Grand Prix Zero class, which has already featured excellent racing for state-of-the-art racing yachts of up to 52ft this season. The first three boats to cross the finish line just 41 seconds apart after three and a half hours of racing today underscored just how close this race format can be. Christian Zugel’s Fast 40 Tscuss was home first, but after corrected time fell to third place behind Dark n Stormy.
Victory, however, went to the smaller Fargo, who finished about 12 minutes later and won 56 seconds corrected over Dark n Stormy. “Crossing the fleet to port was a bold move for us in the beginning,” says Bicket, “but when the opportunity presented itself it was worth a try and we held the larger boats up for a good half hour afterwards. It was really good and amazing a close race especially the first one that thrashed the western solent.
The Cape 31 is another current design that is going from strength to strength. The fleet at Cowes Week this year is the largest the class has seen in the world since the first boat was launched five years ago. Last year’s regatta featured five different race winners over seven days of racing, and this year promises a mix of very close competition and adrenaline-pumping downwind stages.
In today’s race the fleet at the start line was very powerful, 30 seconds before the start a pack of about half the fleet was already over the line. Those who were able to outrun the group early and turn back had a good advantage over boats that could only return after the gun. Nevertheless, after viewing the video material from the starting line, four were still rated OCS.
After the first tacks, Roger Bowden’s Nifty and David Bartholomew’s Tokoloshe IV seemed to be in the best position at the time. Tokoloshe crossed the finish line first but had started early, letting Johnathan Goodwin’s Harlequin take the win in the first race 24 seconds ahead of Russell Peters’ Squirt and Sandra Askew’s Flying Jenny.
The growing popularity of the Performance Cruiser and Cruiser classes at Cowes Week means there are fewer IRC entries this year, but competition at the front of the fleet in these classes is just as fierce as ever. IRC Class 2 includes two long-time opponents – David Franks’ J/112E Leon and Adam Gosling’s JPK 1080 Yes!.
The fleet lined up well at the start of their race today with Yes! and Leon separated by the towering rig of Vicky and Jonty Layfield’s Swan 48 Sleeper X. A few minutes after launch, Yes! Leon was already a few lengths out on the water. But that was early in a 22-mile, seven-point race. Finally yes! grabbed the line just far enough to get ahead of Leon and take the corrected time win by a margin of 33 seconds. Paul McNamara’s First 40.7 Incognito was third, 26 seconds behind Leon.
The Etchells class was another optimistic starter. With 20 seconds to go, half the fleet was already over the line, but Malcolm Offord’s The Plant Hunter was the only boat to come back to start correctly.
Turning west a few minutes into the race, Dylan Collingbourne’s youth team looked very well placed in sumo, as did Jamie McWilliam’s Macho Grande and James Cunnison’s Mano. At the finish, McWilliam, who is in Cowes ahead of the Etchells World Championship to be held here later this year, had a 41-second lead over Andy Beadsworth’s No Dramas, while Nick Stagg’s China Wight was third.
By the time of the later launches, the tidal current further offshore had also begun to turn west, creating a building sea state that gave the smaller boats a wet ride. This also reduced the need to stay in the narrow coastal gyre. As a result, the optimal part of the starting line slowly shifted from near the coast end to the outer border.
Longtime Daring class supremo Giles Peckham is unable to sail this week due to injury, although his family is still traveling aboard the Dauntless. Today the class started clean with the exception of one boat that was good OCS early and only managed to find a route back behind the line after the start.
In the coast group, Kim Orchard’s Dancer initially looked very well placed, closely followed by Dauntless. The latter cruised offshore first but had to duck almost half the fleet, leaving Roger Marwood and Lars Lippuner’s Audax well placed, as well as Defiant and Graham Wilkinson and John Corby’s Doublet. Audax and Dancer slipped in the fleet as the race progressed but Doublet maintained the lead at the finish ahead of Richard Ottaway’s debutant and Hamish Janson’s streak.
In the Dragon fleet, last year’s overall class winners Graham and Julia Bailey, again sailing the newly restored 75-year-old Bluebottle formerly owned by the Duke of Edinburgh, led a group of boats at high speed into the middle of the line. Meanwhile, Simon Barter’s Bertie made a perfectly judged start at the far end of the line. The boats offshore seemed to have the advantage, thanks to the stronger current and more consistent wind, and Bluebottle had to duck almost every boat in the fleet as they tacked offshore.
Graham and Julia have a long history of skill and determination to bounce back from a disadvantaged position and today, having tacked well away from their main rivals, they made up a little more than five minutes from the start to half the deficit on the leading up. At the finish, however, Barter still led Bluebottle by 18 seconds, while Gavia Wilkinson-Cox’s Jerboa was third just five seconds later.
Tonight, attendees celebrate at the Mount Gay Opening Party ahead of another day of racing where similar conditions but slightly stronger winds are expected.
Full results at www.cowesweek.co.uk