After the demands and pleasures of the RYS Championships it was delightful to have an optional all-comers handicap round the cans race on the Monday, starting from the RLYC shoreline. Swallows did not feature overall but Swift put down an early marker by leading the three boats home. So let us immediately introduce Martin and Vicky Jones, sailing with Capt Robert Bellfield RN (useful for nav!) because the ease with which they dominated the week was an object lesson in boat handling and Solent guile. The Swift team have done a few sailing miles in various craft (besides destroyers) and their past SB20 and Farr 40 experience (and current Merlin Rocket and International 14 skills) gently hint at ability over and above Joe Bloggs (aka Charles Prescot).
We are ahead of ourselves already. That Monday evening Peter Snell hosted, Michael Cover bbq’d and Lucy marshalled us all with a brilliant meal with commensurate quantities of vin superieur – a great start to the intensive social programme. Included within the CCW entry fee was an excellent tea at the RLYC (the host club) for all the competitors each day (mostly served by Itchenor Ladies under the command of Anne Taylor!). After the ‘free’ and splendid opening fizz reception at the RLYC there were three other evening receptions for crews (the Haines one at the RCYC amongst the best!). Suppers at various Clubs and an excellent prize-giving dinner at the RLYC on Thursday made it a week-long social event – where you could mix with other fleets and enjoy the Cowes facilities without the scrum and frustrations of Cowes Week.
Mention of mixing it finally brings us to the racing proper. The race programme was what the individual fleets had requested (which had a useful amount of commonality) and we shared one of 5 race areas (all with their own Committee boats, support boats and laid marks) with the Sunbeams and Fifteens. We elected to have one windward/leeward using laid marks followed by a race back to Cowes, round the cans. However this was a warm and light wind week so these plans were unfortunately compromised by a generally fitful Northerly breeze that only infrequently rose above F3. Our race area was generally to the E of the Bramble bank. The RO was happy to receive last minute suggestions from the designated fleet spokespeople, laid wonderful 300m long square lines, told us if we were OCS on the radio and conscientiously managed the racing to ensure we were near to our target race times, although racing was not always within the slacker tide near the bank. With just three fleets on our race track that flexibility meant that no matter what the wind was doing we could race, not imprisoned by a mammoth start sequence and fierce tides, unlike CW. A failing breeze and shipping movements actually meant that on two days that second race back home did not happen (another windward/leeward instead) – and in fact on Wednesday there was frantic paddling session by returning S, V and ff fleets to avoid the combined assault of a car-carrier and dredger side by side and at speed off Cowes. C’est la vie cowesienne.
The mixing? Every which way we tried to separate out the S and V fleets by taking it in turns to start first and embarrass the other by catching up. The conditions favoured the Sunbeams so they get the bragging rights – save for the final day when from behind the leading Swallows overtook the entire V fleet having started 10 mins later (ok the wind did shut off). Back to Swift – they started well and led round every mark of every race until Friday when the wind capriciously switched off leaving them downtide at the start – and they still finished second! Blue Tit helmed at some point by every member of the syndicate (don’t tell but the Commode is rather a dab hand), sailed a blinder on Friday to dent Swift’s amazing run. Darter made the odd podium appearance too – there were prizes for each day’s racing. Ka Nyenga (Mike R, Mike B and Marcus IB) frequently looked set for glory but lucked out. Harrier was going well with Mimie adding skill and chat, Graham’s nephew helped make Kingfisher fly on occasions and Whimbrel was enjoying the ambience of it all.
- Why have we not done CCW before?!
- In the prevailing tropical conditions (synonymous with CCW in recent years) we had to sail for about 30 mins to the race areas. Cups of Costa coffee and reading the paper en route made it positively enjoyable.
- We were on our way in the very well-organised launch service at 9.15am and came back about 3.30pm. So lots of time afloat - but no time wasted.
- The event organisation (head honcho RLYC VC Peter Taylor) and principal sponsor Charles Stanley combined to produce an impeccably-run event, both pro-active and inter-active with the competitors.
- The social programme was full-on, mostly smart casual, and with a welcome mix of events and venues.
- How did Ali G (on Whimbrel) manage to survive the week in a wetsuit? She also found time to take a very informative bus trip around the Island (but not in a wetsuit).
- It was no hardship to be on a race course next to the majestic 8 metres and the Darings.
- Cowes was quiet and great on the water - 150 boats spread over an otherwise quiet Solent (the J-cup and Commodores Cup were sent away!) equals happiness – Cowes as it used to be.
- Martin Jones and Swift needed the presence of the top echelon of Swallow sailors to challenge their supremacy.
- A four day Cowes event seems right for the mind, body and soul - and for the pocket too (moorings a third and accommodation less than half of those for CW, and with sensibly priced social events).
- We know that this is a potentially divisive issue but all of those Swallows who took part this year have indicated in a post-event survey that they will do CCW again. The Sunbeams had a fleet of 18 - surely we can do better?
Cowes Classics Week 2015 is from 20-24 July. Hope to see you there!
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Photo credits; Photos by Tim Jeffreys.
Regatta results for the Swallows can be found here