Languid conditions prove testing on the Skandia Cowes Week fleet
The picture across the Solent today was one of upright masts and idle sails as the fleet in Skandia Cowes Week battled on day five with gaping holes in the wind and big ripping tides.
Winds were forecast to be mainly from the south to southwest but clearing skies led to a weak easterly sea breeze developing, which led to the course setters having to rework many of the courses.
In the Contessa 32 class, the piper on Rob Duke's Gualin made a welcome return after a few years absence and was the star attraction on the start line as light winds of less than five knots combined with a big tide, running at one and a half knots, played havoc with the start sequence.
The postponements started to come thick and fast due to the wind shifts and lack of breeze, and by mid-morning many boats were drifting backwards at speed unable to stem the tide.
The change in conditions created some shock results throughout the fleet, most notably in IRC Class Zero, which saw Andy Soriano's Mills 68 Alegre cross the finish line half an hour ahead of the TP52 Stay Calm and for the first time this week registered a win on corrected time.
His eight minute advantage earned him the coveted Britannia Cup, which the TP52 owners had been eyeing up gleefully before they heard today's languid forecast.
In the J/80 class, Sebastian Ripard made an excellent start in Againstmalaria.com, hoisting his spinnaker and moving sedately off to the first mark. Sebastian, son of the honorary president of the Royal Malta Yacht Club John Ribard, is at the top of the Skandia Young Skippers leaderboard after posting an impressive run of results.
Every day, the 21 year-old has finished on the podium and currently lies second overall in the class, though he has been deprived of a bullet by the formidable Liz and Chris Savage who are continuing their terrific form of 2007 with five wins from five races in Savage Sailing Team.
The Savages are runaway favourites to win the inaugural trophy in this brand new class though Sebastian, who started his sailing career in Optimists in Malta, is clearly a name for the future.
Another Skandia Young Skipper Barney Dykes was OCS in his J/80 Jane today which will not help his bid for the trophy which is awarded to the Skipper, aged under 25, who achieves the best results over the course of the entire week.
Last year it went to Sander Speet, 24, from the Netherlands who was skippering the Grand Soleil 44 Holmatro in IRC Class 3. In 2008, Sander graduated to Extreme 40s and has been crewing on Holmatro in the iShares Cup.
Another talented youngster, Tristan Jaques racing on Baloo, is up against some fearless competition in the Laser SB3s but is holding his own with a second on Monday and an eighth place today, but the top spot in the fifth race went once more to Jerry Hill's 3 Sad Old Blokes who beat Ian William's Team Pindar by a minute.
At the start of the week, the Laser SB3 issued the warmest of welcomes to the four South Africans in City of Cape Town without realising what lay in store. Father and son crew Dave and Roger Hudson, who in the past have campaigned 505s and J/22s, had on board two young lads from the Izivunguvungu Sailing School for disadvantaged kids in Cape Town who, it turns out, were hotshot sailors.
Ronaldo Mohale, 15 and Wandisile Xayimpi, 19, both learned to sail at school and under a new initiative called Race Ahead, set up in Cape Town by the Hudsons were brought to Cowes to race in SB3s to develop their sailing skills.
"We want to provide a platform for young sailors who are talented but do not have their own resources or support to move from local sailing to the international racing scene," said Roger.
"These guys are excellent. Ronaldo is young but he has performed very well while Wandi is already one of the top young bowmen in South Africa and has a great feel for sailing. They both have the skills and the desire and it will be interesting to see how far they can go."
After coming third in the fifth race today, they moved from eighth in the fleet to fifth, with just five points separating the top five boats. The Laser SB3s are once again providing some compelling entertainment in 2008 and City of Cape Town, which won Cork Week last month, will be in the mix when it goes to the wire on Saturday.
Things are starting to look up for Richard Matthews on Oystercatcher XXVI, whose new Humphreys 42 has already won Cork Week and the Heineken Regatta and posted seconds at the BVI Spring Regatta and Antigua Week.
Oystercatcher XXVI's victory today, the first of the week, was no doubt dedicated to bowman Alec Fraser, who is now lying in a hospital bed in Southampton with a punctured lung having fallen off his bike on Sunday while cycling to catch the ferry in Lymington.
The Polish Naval hydrographic survey ship, Heweliusz, made a stately entrance to Cowes Harbour just as the Redwings were heading to their start, which made for the day's happy snap, as did the herd of kangaroos who were weaving their way through Cowes Yacht Haven to mark Australia Day at Skandia Cowes Week.
There were heaps of Aussie giveaways and special promotions in celebration of the twinning of Skandia Cowes Week with Skandia Geelong Week, with the day proudly sponsored by Tourism Australia.