Cowes Week 2010 –Report from With Alacrity

Have to admit, I was in two minds at the start of this season as to whether to sail Cowes week this year, having raced 5 years on the trot it was tempting to do something different with our precious holidays – but it turned out to be an amazing week and re-ignited my enthusiasm for Cowes week all over again. The regatta seemed to be much more sailor friendly this year, less of a corporate feel and more back to basics. The Yacht Haven was free entry, a free ferry service back to E pontoon was re-instated in the form of a scheduled Jenny boat service (just wish it had been a little more regular) and the late afternoon Americas cup boat match racing & Extreme 40 racing just metres off the green was fantastic to see (and an inspired idea for the Sigma 38 Wednesday social get together to be in the Extreme 40 VIP lounge!). 

The racing was the usual Cowes Week orienteering around the Solent with a mix of committee boat and squadron line starts, somehow the huge multi-class scrums around turning marks was largely avoided and the weather was generally co-operating. Sure, there was definitely a mix of light air moments and windier conditions but most races finished with a solid sea breeze and no races were lost.  The Sigma 38 class had the highest entry in 5 years (just) with 19 boats and a decent standard through the fleet. The racing was good-humoured but agonisingly close,  I thought last year was tight but in 2010 the difference for us between 2nd and 5th place overall came down to 11 seconds in the final race of the series – with 3 boats crossing the finish line in that critical 11 seconds!!

I simply can’t remember enough to give a blow by blow account of each race, but some of the highlights:

·         New owners of Nuance (ex Premier Cru) frequently sailing around at the front of the fleet, just a matter of time before they are winning races.

·         Gambit leaving us for dust sailing upwind with a reef in from the squadron line, they are really getting to grips with Sigma 38 racing and got some solid results during the week.

·         After rounding Lepe Spit against the tide we were trying to hold off Light upwind in a light breeze when they bore off and sailed through our lee with some devastating boatspeed which they carried through to be 4 boatlengths ahead when they pointed up again to climb above us!

·         After rounding Lepe Spit against the tide Pavlova III were 6 metres away just ahead and to windward, the depth was rapidly reducing and we were just about to call room to tack when they ran aground and stopped, we sailed through between the stranded P3 and the shallow water to tack clear half a boat length ahead – never so much as grazing the bottom, we spent the rest of the week teasing them that now we know they sail so well upwind because they must have a longer keel than the rest of us!

·         Beating around Lepe Spit against the tide for the fourth time in the week!

·         Getting our best start of the season off a very port biased committee boat line, we dipped down the right side of the line with 6 seconds to go before tacking onto port 3 metres from the pin clear of the whole fleet – only to miss the first shift on the beat and end up 7th at the windward mark!!

·         Of course, The Project turned up again for Cowes Week and gave us all a lesson in how to race. They really are sailing on a different level recording straight 1sts, discarding their 4th place (in this race the fleet split between the mainland and Island shore for a long 7 mile beat to the finish, The Project came out ahead of the fleet that sailed up the mainland shore but the Island shore was the way to go).  I think it is great they come out to make sure the rest of us don’t get complacent, though is it just me or are we getting closer? Maybe - but there is still plenty of work to do to get better for next year !

In the first four races, we thought we had sailed pretty well recording 6,2,4,4 to be a point ahead of Mefisto and one point behind P3 (assuming a discard) vying for 2nd place. In Wednesdays race we were tucked up in 2nd place when we lost out 20 minutes before the finish to Mefisto and could only just hold off P3 at the finish. Amazingly this put the three of us on equal points (assuming a discard) with just 2 races to go.

Thursdays race was highly entertaining, after a shifty race in the Eastern Solent we rounded the final leeward mark, Gilkicker, 5 boatlenths behind P3 but a comfortable quarter mile plus ahead of Mefisto. We followed the leaders up the mainland shore trying hard to close the gap to P3, or at least make sure Light and Nuance didn’t stay between us. We failed, but this was the race with a long beat to the finish where the fleet split, though we didn’t catch P3 the boats that went up the Island shore ended up way ahead turning the results on their head. Monet took a fantastic race win to be on equal points with us for the series in third place, Mefisto were 2nd to take second place overall with a 4 point advantage, P3 were 8th and with a worse discard to carry had to score this result to put them in 5th by 2 points – we were lucky to have the luxury of discarding 12th place in this race!

Now with Monet to worry about as well as P3 and Mefisto seemingly safely in 2nd place the combinations of possible results in the final race were tough to keep track of. We lined up for the final race on the squadron line in a blustery 20 knots. At the start our GPS showed us 25 metres behind the line, a boatlength ahead was P3 who must have been incredibly close to being over and ahead of them was Mefisto. An individual recall was fired at the start but no-one went back, this was going to be interesting. P3 shot off the line revelling in the blustery conditions to round the first mark in the lead alongside Nuance, we got there in 3rd place with The Project breathing down our necks. A disaster on the kite hoist as the sheet became detached from the spinnaker, by the time it was recovered we had let The Project through cheaply. Up the next beat and run we worked hard to catch back the deficit making painfully slow gains on P3 & just getting past Nuance, but Rapscallion and Monet were also going well as we crossed tacks up the final beat. At the last windward mark The Project were ahead, P3 in 2nd we were 3rd with Rapscallion and Monet just behind. Mefisto were 4 or 5 boats back – this was going to be tight. We had some downwind reaching and running to do with 3 turning marks to the finish. Half way down the first reach we did a mini broach and the sheets detached from the spinnaker a second time – this time we had to partly drop the kite to recover letting Rapscallion through to third and Monet just 2 boatlengths behind aaarrrgh!!

The places stayed like this down the next run and subsequent genoa reach to Gurnard, we just had half a mile to the finish now with the tide under us and Rapscallion a boatlength ahead and Monet a boatlenth behind. We had to finish within a place of P3 to beat them in the series and also had to stay ahead of Monet. At this point Mefisto were battling with Gambit either 3, 4 places behind. Rapscallion hoisted the kite early at Gurnard and we had a quick debate whether to go high or hoist and sail low into the stronger tide – Karen on mainsheet called to go high so we delayed the hoist and reached a boatlength higher before hoisting.  Rapscallion tried to luff but their spinnaker collapsed momentarily and we were over the top of them, just a few hundred metres to the finish and Monet had sailed low and were heading for the other end of the line in the strongest tide. It was close but we held off Rapscallion to take 3rd place as the three of us were swept across the line in that critical 11 seconds.  We looked back to see the scrap between Gambit and Mefisto, if Gambit could hold them off we think it would secure 2nd place overall for us though the calculators would be needed to be sure!  It was hard to tell but it looked like Gambit did hold them off, by now though we were on the phone to find out that Mefisto had been OCS anyway, P3 were OK on the start and sailed a great race which gave them the best possible shot at finishing in the top 3, but for the amazing last quarter of a mile that lifted us into 2nd place – just 11.1 seconds later and it would have been 5th !!

Each year we look at our sailing programme and think hard about doing a different race week for some variety – but it is tough to give up Cowes week when it delivers racing this close in the biggest S38 one design fleet of the season. I think we’ll be back next year !!