"It was a wonderful week with wall to wall sunshine,” summed up Richard Hargreaves, winner of the 1792 Trophy for the overall place at Charles Stanley Cowes Classics Week 2014 which finished on 25th July.
The 1792 trophy, so called because it was made 222 years ago, the same year that the title sponsor Charles Stanley was founded, was collected by Richard, together with his son Kit, who scored four 1sts and a 2nd to win the historic cup in his Twister class yacht Sea Urchin (pictured right), built in 1970, one of six in the Slow Cruiser Division.
The event ended much as it started. The grand finale day echoed the beginning of the vintage regatta in that a day of soft winds and frustrating conditions that typified the five day series. Yet results came in from all classes in the 150-strong fleet of yachts, as they had on each day of the 5-day regatta, as skilful race officers coaxed everything out of the fickle weather to provide excellent course management.
To be part of the Cowes Classics Regatta, you needed to have a yacht that was designed before 1970 in one of the veteran classes which sailed alongside each other including the majestic 8 Metre class, the Flying Fifteens, Darings, National Swallows, Loch Longs, Solent Sunbeams, XODs, Bembridge One Designs and Old Gaffers . Indeed many competing yachts were built in the early 1900s and a handful even in the century before that. Despite the age of these yachts they are all at the top of their game, and most are restored to immaculate condition.
Cowes Classics Week, which first took place in 2008 as a modest event for metre and classic dayboats, has since welcomed classic cruisers such as the Nicholsons, SCODs, Twisters and many beautiful one-offs, while the Old Gaffer class is still going strong.
The yachts, representing 30 yacht clubs both in the UK and overseas, competed in 14 different classes over a number of race courses. Interest for newcomers continues to grow - over 40 of this year’s entrants didn’t compete last year. Crews came from the UK and overseas, including John Hassen from down under in Perth, Western Australia sailing his Flying Fifteen.
Racing was organised by the Royal London Yacht Club with support from the Royal Corinthian Yacht Club, Royal Victoria Yacht Club, Island Sailing Club and Cowes Corinthian Yacht Club.
The event opened on Monday 21st July as the eight one-design classes vied for the week’s first trophy on offer, the Trinity Cup, in a one off race, the pre-cursor to the main 4-day Cowes Classics Week Regatta with racing from Tuesday through to Friday.
As the Cowes heatwave that had already been around for several weeks continued, the day offered just enough breeze, between 8 and 12 knots, to provide some stable conditions, before softening towards the end of the race day.
Indeed the rest of the week was by turn frustrating and rewarding. Some days the wind directions moved through 180 degrees and up and down from zero to 15 knots. There were days of starts and stops, abandoned races and re-starts. Race Officer Rod Nicholls described the wind as “going round in circles.” But all classes got races on all days, with full credit to the race officers on each of the committee boat lines.
When the main 4-day event kicked off on Tuesday, the Haines Boatyard Race Day, the Solent looked like a patchwork of mini sailing events for the rest of the week. Classes were divided between four separate committee boats, who took charge of their allotted classes of which there were ten between them using fixed windward leeward courses.
The Seaview Mermaid class and National Squib class both made one-day guest appearances during the week. Both were challenged by the conditions – the Mermaids managed just an upwind leg, before the race was finished early, but there were many happy faces amongst their sailors, who were pleased to have a least had a chance to share a piece of the action. The Squibs, numbering seven, and designed half a century ago, made the trip from their home base in Wootton Creek to the start line. They also achieved an upwind-only leg but followed by an afternoon course which gave them enough breeze to get a windward leg and a final leg which took them back to their home port where they finished, led by Andrew Porteous’s Firecracker Too.
The two Classic Cruiser classes, comprising 27 yachts, were divided into Fast and Slow divisions. In this collection of visually aesthetic veteran yachts a neat row of all but one firsts through the week gave the overall position in the Fast Cruisers to the small and pretty but deceptively fast 88 year old keelboat Cockleshell, owned by Jonty Sherwill.
The Cruisers started on the shore line of the Royal London each day (unlike the rest of the classes which used the committee boat lines from Tuesday onwards). Their Race Officer Derek Hodd sent them off on courses using mid-Solent marks that were able to minimise light wind frustrations. Amongst the fleet were four South Coast One Designs – all built in the ‘50s and ‘60s - Stephen Brookson’s Firecracker, Mark Taylor’s Marbella, Barry Easton- Corke’s Adelie and Jake Tairi’s Stirling who enjoyed close quarters racing.
The Classic Cruisers use the KLR Formula handicapping system which originated in Germany in 1994, and is favoured by traditional cruising yachts.
The final race on the Friday was particularly challenging for them. “We could only send them to windward north easterly against the tide,” explained Derek Hodd, “so when the wind ran out we abandoned, and waited for the tide to turn favourable whilst hoping the wind would come back in.” His team did finally set a short course at 2pm but shortened at the first mark, Rolly Tasker, after 56 minutes of racing.
The oldest yacht in the entire 150-strong Classics fleet, Mignon, was amongst the Classic Cruisers. Built in 1898, she is owned by Lymington author and journalist Bob Fisher.
The mighty XOD class, 50 strong were the most ubiquitous, and their eagerness to get started resulted in a general recall on the very first race. Swift committee action imposing the black flag rule perhaps contributed to the success of their racing for the rest of the week. The champion of week Kim Slater and his crew on the immaculate Madeleine from the Parkstone XOD fleet showed their colours right from the start. First places went to different boats in all six races but Kim’s stealthy consistency and the chance to throw away a discard in the final race put him on the podium to receive the Haines Boatyard Trophy ahead of his 49 rivals.
The event was not without variety for the XODs. They experienced every bit of the lottery that was thrown at the fleet. On the third day this was highlighted when the first beat of their second race of the day – the first race was abandoned - turned to a run for some, others who had tacked across to the windward mark layline found themselves fetching in from a different direction. A certain amount of chaos built up at the mark and amongst yachts already on the leg to the spreader leg.
The Solent Sunbeam class spent the week showing their well-rehearsed experience as a cohesive entity as the fleet was always tight off start lines. The class which first appeared in 1922 is enjoying a phenomenal resurgence with the introduction of the new cost-effective GRP hulls. The fleet is nearly 100 years old but new yachts continue to be built. Refitted boats are also keeping the class on the leading edge of high performance sailing. Emily a 1925 wooden boat sailed by Malcolm Glaister, just restored, gained a 2nd and 3rd place during the Cowes Classics.
The front runners in the 19-strong class put up a close fight – last year’s Cowes Classics overall winners Joe and Cathy Burnie were edged out of the lead temporarily by Roger Wickens in Danny in the penultimate race but their performance on the final day once again secured them as the champions of the very active Itchenor based class, and winner of the Solent Sunbeam trophy for the week, the Cowes Classics Week Cup.
The four majestic 8 metres were perhaps the most eye catching yachts in the fleet. Christopher Courage’s Helen was the clear winner ahead of Saskia, Athena and Erica.
The elegant Daring Class who were described by their Race Officer, Peter Dickson as “very orderly” enjoyed some challenging racing in shifting winds, causing numerous place changes during the week. Also 19-strong, the Daring class is over 50 years old and based at host venue Cowes. Magnus Wheatley sailed his brand new boat to within inches of victory, leading into the final day but the last minute extra wind couldn’t save his lead, when, with only three points separating the top three Darings going into the Friday race, a 1st and a 9th from Malcolm Lofts earning Streak the overall win in class.
The Swallow class which first used in the 1948 Olympic Games in Torquay, was convincingly dominated by Martin Jones’s Swift who achieved a clean sweep of firsts to win the event, taking the Aitken Challenge Cup.
The Loch Long fleet, whose oldest boats are over 50 years old, and Bembridge One Design fleet, even older, all aged 77, were a picturesque collection together on the same race course. The two classes were also joined by the Gaffers whose oldest Chough dates from 1927. Chough’s in no way slowed her – David Hopkins six wins and two seconds to score overall victory in the event. The Loch Longs had all made the journey from Aldeburgh in Suffolk.
The nifty Flying Fifteen class saw a close finish. Three firsts gave Flying Fish sailed by Bobby Salmond the championship in the Flying Fifteen class but results were incredibly close with the Australian entry Glass Half Full and fforemark only one point behind before discards.
The race committee had to manage a week squeezing every bit out of the wind and the event was a triumph for the Royal London Yacht Club which, along with help from the other Cowes Clubs, had achieved a series of at least seven races for the committee boat classes, while other regattas around the south had been abandoned.
Despite the light winds, which gave little respite to the hot sun this week, the competition was second to none on the tight committee boat courses.
Next year’s event takes place from 20-24 July 2015.
Thanks go to supporting sponsors Charles Stanley, Hudson Wight, Harken, Haines Boatyard, Winkworth, Cowes Harbour Commission, nms Adaptive, Kendalls, The Yachting Studio, and Classic Boat Magazine.
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Photo credits; Sea Urchin by Jake Sugden.
Regatta results can be found here