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18:10 Saturday 29 Jul 2023 Sue Pelling/CWLCowes Week Day 1 round-up

TP53 Gladiator blasts downwind in 20+kts of wind on the Solent today photo Martin Allen/CWL

Cowes Week 2023 got off to a thrilling start today with sparkling sunshine, and winds gusting well over 20kts from the southwest. Not only did the conditions make for an adrenalin-charged day of racing for competitors but it also gave the crowds of spectators gathered along The Green plenty of thrills.

Given the forecast, which was for the wind to increase with gusts up to 30kts later in the day, the Race Committee including Peter Saxton (Principal Race Officer), and Laurence Mead (Regatta Director) confirmed a decision to ‘concertina’ the start sequence. “The idea was to get everyone back on shore by 1430,” said Mead. “We’ve added a lot of flexibility to our race strategy and our race programme, which is largely thanks to the App. We divided up the starts and we managed to get everyone away by 1220. Usually, we’d have another hour and a quarter to go on a normal day of starts but that would have coincided with the big breeze coming in, so we were pleased to have got everyone back on shore before the worst of the wind arrived.”

It was the Cape 31 Class – the relatively new and extremely popular – 24-strong international one-design fleet that stole the show today with a spectacular downwind start off the Royal Yacht Squadron line out to the east. Against a strong ebbing tide, the fleet shot off under spinnaker towards Stokes Bay with half the fleet heading for the northern-most shore and the other half to the south in an effort to cheat the tide, before enjoying some close, exciting racing on the eastern Solent.

The sharp and snappy start sequence meant that some of the classes running short series’ over the weekend including the Cape 31s, J/70s and SB20 were also able to complete two races today.

Testament to its super-close racing, the Cape 31 fleet has ended the day with a tie (1,3 apiece) between Sandra Askew’s USA-flagged team Flying Jenny, and Niall Dowling and his Arabella team. Dowling commenting as he stepped ashore said he feels lucky to have won the second race: “I think we really should have come second because Antix was leading that race to the finish and we pipped them to the post by two seconds. It is such close racing, you can never tell. In fact at the last windward mark we were lying fourth.”

Chatting about the wind against tide conditions on the downwind start in race one, Dowling continued: “It was hectic in 20kts of breeze but we took the pin end of the line and headed to the north shore but actually both sides were fairly even in the end. Even in the tidal conditions we were doing a constant 16-18kts.”

The 10-strong Flying 15 was one of the many dayboat classes in White Group that raced in the relative shelter of Osborne Bay today. Although still gusty, this Uffa Fox designed keelboat revelled in the conditions and produced the sort of close racing it’s popular for. In the testing conditions it wasn’t particularly surprising to see Rupert Mander and team in Men Behaving Badly (last year’s White Group winner) win today’s opening race by over six minutes from Rob Goddard and team sailing Over the Moon. As he came ashore, a delighted Goddard explained how keeping the fleet in the Ryde Bank area was a good move: “Given the conditions expected, we were a bit concerned about the sea state but actually it was a very good decision to keep us in the relative shelter of the bay. It started off hairy and we were prepared for the worst but actually it wasn’t quite so bad for us. Although we were beaten by a fair amount, it was such a fun and enjoyable race because the course was good, and well-thought out, and we really had to play the big shifts in Osborne Bay, and concentrate on keeping the momentum going on the fast, planning reaches.”

Cowes Week has always been known for its all-inclusivity with high profile professional and Olympic sailors competing equally with club sailors. To encourage an even broader profile, Cowes Week Limited has this year introduced the Weekend Warrior Cup, which is open to the Club Cruiser Divisions C & D, and runs as a three-day mini-series.

Although the inaugural race in the fresh conditions was a real baptism of fire for the Weekend Warriors, it proved successful with Tom Rose’s Beneteau Oceanis 37 C’est Si Bon taking the overnight lead. Chatting about his win today said: “It was a fantastic day on the water. I think the race committee did an excellent job in keeping the racing short, bringing the racing forward, and making sure everyone got a good race. In terms of our race, I think the key to our success today was having Ben Cowen as a new helmsman, and getting a good start. We are currently celebrating our win with Bonnay Racing fine sparkling Wine!”

After six or seven years of absence at Cowes Week, the David Thomas-designed Sigma 33 class is back in full flight with a standalone fleet within IRC 6 and a total of eight boats racing – most of which were built in the 1980s. Gary Bowers, winner of today’s opening race for the Bays Cup aboard Kerry Jeanne said it’s great to be back: “It’s shame there are not more Sigma 33s here because the racing is good. It was full on exciting racing today and we’re looking forward to the rest of the week.”

Back on shore, competitors enjoyed time to relax with the first evening of post-race entertainment before preparing for tomorrow’s second day of racing. Although the forecast shows slightly less wind than today early on, it shows more later. Therefore a similar programme of morning racing is likely tomorrow.

Finally, all skippers are invited to the Tall Ships Youth Trust skipper reception this evening – the official Charity Partner of Cowes Week 2023 and 2024 – to enjoy a complimentary Brewdog beer or Mount Gay rum punch. The event runs from 1900-2100 and is taking place at the Events Centre Terrace at Cowes Yacht Haven.