Image: Louise Morton’s all women team racing in the Quarter Ton class today. Photo Paul Wyeth/CWL
More brisk winds and warm weather provided a further excitement on the fourth day of Cowes Week. Sir Ben Ainslie, the most successful Olympic sailor ever, was racing today, helming Bertie Bicket’s IC37 Fargo in IRC Class Zero, demonstrating just how seriously the top teams take their racing.
At the end of an almost 30 mile race, mostly in the Eastern Solent, Christian Zugel’s Fast 40 Tschuss took line honours, just ahead of Ian Atkin’s GP42 Dark n Stormy. However, the lower-rated Fargo pipped them both to win on corrected time, by a margin of just 53 seconds.
“We had a great battle round with the other IC37 (Chris Bake’s Team Aqua) sailing boat-for boat-during during the first two hours, until we got away from them,” says Bicket. “Ben did a fantastic job, as did the whole team on the boat – we didn’t make any mistakes, even when doing manoeuvres in quick succession.”
Today was also Women’s Day at the Regatta, which celebrates the contribution and achievements of women in sailing. Female sailors are competing in classes across the board, including one in six helms today. The most successful boat with an all female team today was Janet Dee’s Squib Little Demon, which wins the Mermaid Trophy for best female crew.
Young Dutch sailor Femke van der Berg is the regular helm of Gerd-Jan Poortman’s Ker 46 Van Uden, which is competing in IRC Class 0 and therefore raced directly against Ainslie. “It was pretty cool,” she says. “I come from smaller boats – 29er and 49er dinghies – so a big part of sailing this boat is learning to focus on my job, and let the tactician and everyone else around focus on theirs.”
Rather than being daunted by sailing in a class full of rock stars – as well as Ainslie there are several Ocean Race winners in the fleet – the Van Uden team is able to learn from them: “I’m learning a lot from watching how they steer their boats and they help us when we have questions,” says van der Berg. “They want to help us learn and grow in our roles on this boat.”
Among other smaller boats competing at the regatta the J/70 and SB20 classes both finished their 12-race mini series that took place across the first four days of the regatta. Both classes saw decisive wins, with John Pollard’s Xcellent enjoying an unbroken run of race wins to take victory in the SB20 Grand Slam, 13 points ahead of Phil Tiley’s Tan Gwyllt. Competition was tight further down the fleet, with places 8 to 10 for example separated by only 4.5 points. Yet these are boats that can be bought in race-ready condition for less than £5,000.
Results were more mixed in the J/70 class, but Australian visitor Tim Ryan’s Vamos finally took overall victory 10 points ahead of compatriot Sam Haynes’ Celestial. “I’ve never done this regatta before,” says Ryan, “but it’s great – I love it. It’s such a massive challenge, with super strong winds. Some of the boats in the British fleet here are very quick, so we got the win more by being very consistent and starting well."
A big flood tide, combined with patchy wind close inshore, created challenges for competitors starting on the Royal Yacht Squadron line, where there was a mix of big bullets of pressure and huge lulls. The start sequence took place soon after low tide, creating a further complication in the form of Grantham rocks, just to west of the start, on which a number of competitors grounded in the early stages of their race.
With the wind forecast to build beyond 20 knots, with stronger gusts, a lot of boats carried reefed mainsails at the start. However, this magnified their losses in the lulls, especially when offshore in the strongest adverse tide.
In IRC Class 6 the Handley and James families’ Mustang 30 Banter took an early lead, followed by Jeff Worboys’ Sigma 33 Workout and Richard and Ursula Hollis’ X-95 Crackerjax. After a more conservative start Murray MacDonald’s Hunter 707 Autism on the Water, helmed today by Emily Robertson, joined the leading pack close inshore once well to the west of the rocks.
By contrast, the leading boat in the class after the first three races, Peter and Alison Morton’s immaculately restored classic Swan 36 Scherzo of Cowes, took a line further offshore. She went on to take a third victory this week, ahead of Banter and Toby Gorman’s Sigma 33 Stan the Boat, (a result subject to protest). Crackerjax finished fourth in her best result of the week so far.
An important part of the magic of Cowes Week is that everyone, from recent newcomers to sailing right up to the world’s most accomplished professionals race in the same conditions and on the same stretches of water.
Today the Sunsail 41.0 fleet, along with the two cruiser classes, had courses with relatively long legs that involved fewer complex manoeuvres than the boats in the more high performance fleets. The fleet started cleanly, with Tenzing inshore on port tack making excellent progress compared to the bulk of the fleet further offshore and Hollis 2 the only other boat doing well at this stage. However, by the finish Deloitte had again climbed to the head of the fleet, taking a fourth successive victory ahead of Don’t Panic and Tenzing.
In the Club Cruiser Blue start Chris Morris’ immaculate Morris 36 Chameleon of Cowes was well positioned at the gun, inshore on port tack. However, she was slow to accelerate, allowing Hugo Mills’ Bavaria 39 Salty Sailing (Precision) and Nick Hampton’s Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 349 Scandal to close the gap. These three boats then quickly pulling away from the rest of the fleet, although Salty stayed out in the stronger tide for longer a few minutes after the start and dropped back relative to the two leaders.
Scandal took victory at the end of the two hour 40 minute race, two minutes ahead of Chameleon, while Andrew Hanning’s Spirit 37 Whispering Spirit, which had gone offshore after the start, before tacking closer to the north shore of the Solent, took third place.
In the Club Cruiser White class two boats judged the start noticeably better than the bulk of the fleet. Darren Longley’s Beneteau Oceanis 34 Illusionist tacked onto port at the favoured inshore end of the line just before the gun, while the clear class leader after the opening three races, Ian Smith and James Barnes’ Westerly Fulmar Panda of Hamble, was further offshore.
However, the latter fell into a wind hole shortly after the start, and being out in the stronger stream, quickly fell back, handing an advantage to Keith Harding’s Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 35 Reach 4 the Wind. Illusionist took her first victory of the week today, 40 seconds ahead of Panda, while German entry Carl Hentges Beneteau Oceanis 38.1 Veritas finished third, his second podium result to date.
The day concluded with a prize giving for Women’s Day at which solo round the world racing sailor Pip Hare was awarded the Cowes Week Women’s Day Trophy. She rose to fame in the 2020/21 Vendee Globe non-stop solo round the world race. Having started as an underdog in one of the oldest boats in the fleet, Pip out performed many newer boats in what is surely the most gruelling competition in the sporting world. At the same time, her excellent reports from the race course endeared her to a rapidly growing fan base in the UK and around the world, including in France, where she is now a household name.
The evening concluded with a panel discussion with elite sailors including Volvo Ocean Race veterans Libby Greenhalgh and Emily Nagel, who will discuss their career pathways and recent developments in women’s racing opportunities at Grand Prix level.