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Full Report on the Cowes and Back Race 2024

The start of the CYC racing season is always greatly anticipated. It represents the culmination of a winter of polishing, plotting and hare-brained investments in some new thing that will squeeze another 0.1 knots out of the old girl. Of course, this level of prep is not universal across the fleet, some boats barely clean the green off the decks before heading out. That is equally okay as it helps ground the enthusiasm of the keenos when they are overtaken by a boat with 30-year-old sails held up by bits of questionable string.

As the race day approached Premier Marinas decided to set the cat amongst the pigeons by sending out an email to all berth holders that, with the predicted good weather, the lock was probably going to be very busy on Saturday. Well, that induced varying levels of concern across the fleet, from near panic to somewhat laissez-faire. To be honest, the crew of Lyanna got caught up in this and along with the crew of Cool Runnings, decided that a night spent on the waiting pontoon outside the marina was favourable to being 43rd in the queue to lock out the following morning. A quick chat with the marina staff confirmed that we would have to sink about 0.5m into the soft mud but all would be well. Smug we were, beer in hand at the second Friday, until some of our well-wishing fellow racers pointed out (with beardy masked grins) that from the club lawn, it looked as if our masts had quite a lean on them, and they were right! Lyanna sat over at about 15 degrees showing some keel to the walkers waiting to get over the lock, whilst Cool Runnings, being the ‘performance’ boat she is, took on a more prancing pony stance with rudders down in the mud and bow high in the air! Thankfully, all was well and both boats came upright again with the returning tide, in time for bed and the most amazing show from the Northern Lights over the marina.

The following morning dawned bright but with little wind. The crews of Lyanna and Cool Runnings were tipped out of bed early as our boats repeated their performance from the previous night. Much ribbing was delivered by the crew of Lowenna as they snuck out of the marina early, with their lifting keel. That was until they ran aground at the end of the channel, sadly out of earshot so we could not get our own back. A few hours later and most of the boats had escaped the clutches of the marinas and made it out to the start line. It is a great sight to see as everyone mills about waiting for the start gun. However, I do feel that it probably confirms the view of the general public, looking on from the beach, that us sailing lot must all be mad, sailing about in circles for 30 mins. Unfortunately, we were a few boats down at the start, some still trying to get out of the harbour but also some with mechanical issues, which they all thankfully resolved and joined the race a little later.

The start went smoothly with everyone keeping well up tide to ensure no line infringements and the fleet set off for Winner, our first mark. With the wind coming from the southeast there was a flurry of colourful sails being broken out to maximise speed in the light conditions. To the disappointment of the fleet, our dear Rear Commodore on Aquadisiac got held up leaving the marina (some would say on purpose) so we did not get to watch the usual shenanigans of twisted rope and sail which comes hand in hand with cruising chute deployment on that vessel. The front runners soon caught up with an unsuspecting Bavaria cruising westwards, there was some sail tweaking on board to try and keep up, but that was soon abandoned in favour of lunch. On board Lyanna we did not have anything colourful to play with, so we were under white sails alone. Our usual foe, Captain’s Lady, deployed their big blue chute and started sneaking up behind us, but to our luck, they tried to sail underneath us. One thing Lyanna has an A* in is being a big obstacle and once Captain’s Lady sailed into our wind shadow, we had great fun keeping her there until we made the mark. Crayzee Feeling reached the mark first closely followed by Cool Runnings and Haraka, who was going great guns with her 12-acre cruising chute deployed.

The second mark was slightly cross tide, so the fleet had to come up onto the wind slightly which favoured team white sails and left team colourful with the choice to drop and return to whites or try and stick it out. Most favoured an easy life and stuck it out. The pack at the front of the fleet made it safely to Winner before the wind gasped its last decent breath of the day and died. This left a lot of the fleet floating side on to the tide, right in the strongest flow. Ten minutes went by then 15, with no breaths of hope delivered as the fleet got pushed further and further down tide. Haraka only just managed to make the mark by six inches with Richard standing by with the engine just in case. Sadly, as the fleet got pushed past the mark with no hope of getting back up tide with no wind, thoughts turned to a cold one in the marina bar and a flurry of retirements took place. This left just eight boats on the downwind leg towards our next mark and 90% of our propulsion was tide supplied.

Up in front, Cool Runnings’ large wingspan of new Carbon Fibre Hybrid Teflon Unicorn Hair iSails was catching every last vesper and giving her a commanding lead. In the middle Lyanna was floating along like a swan having a midday snooze in the sun, whilst towards the back Tern IV, Captain’s Lady, Crayzee Feeling, First Light, Saxon and Haraka were sailing in close quarters enjoying a lovely afternoon tea with the biscuits being shared between the boats (I’m not joking!). With the sun blazing away it was a lovely afternoon, if not a little slow. As the fleet approached the penultimate mark there was still no sign of the illusive wind so I shortened the course to make sure our colleagues in team retirement were not too far ahead of us in the bar before we got there.

The results for day one were: 1st Cool Runnings, 2nd Lyanna and 3rd First Light.

That evening we had a great pontoon party with much lamenting over the missing breeze but plenty of sunburnt and smiling faces. It was such a contrast to last year where it was blowing old boots and raining sideways! We had a group dinner at the Pier View Pub where, with 55 people, we took up every available table and space. Following the pub there were a few after party venues in full swing with Jerry hosting an excellent nightcap bar on board Kerry Dancer with seating for 8 on a 7.9m boat, which was impressive, if not a little sinky. There was also live music (of sorts) on board Captain’s Lady.

The following morning dawned with hardly a breath of wind and a glassy appearance to the waters of the Solent. Much checking of the weather stations, crossing of fingers and consumption of bacon sandwiches commenced, whilst we waited for the more hung over boats to show a leg. The crew of Flyer were tucking into a great spread, including Bellinis, which I’ve heard is how Ben Ainsley starts his day on the Americas Cup circuit.

As the time approached for the start, the wind had started to build, all be it from the East, so a tactical day of tacking was in store. We had a short delay whilst we waited for two large merchant vessels to clear our course (obviously they did not get the memo!). The crew of Windreaver had an exciting morning as their main halyard shackle snapped so they had to return to the marina to go up the mast and retrieve it before following on.

The tide was again flowing in a homeward direction so most of the fleets played it safe at the start and kept well up tide. The crew of Captain’s Lady, demonstrating an unusual level of caution, contrived to be facing the wrong way at the gun. At least they weren’t parked on the start buoy this year, which has been one of their previous party tricks. Kerry Dancer, Crayzee Feeling and Cool Runnings got off to blistering starts and were hotly pursued by the rest of the fleet now moving at pace in a 15knt headwind.

One of the disadvantages of being the committee boat is that on a windward start you are, by default, the leeward boat, so getting out from under the fleet can be a challenge. Keen to serve up some payback from the day before, Captain’s Lady were hot on our tail for the first tack as we both drove headlong for the beach on the opposite side of the Solent. Tacking in shallow water, this dance continued as we then headed back towards the IoW trying to dodge the boats coming in on starboard as we went. Obviously bored with this back and forth battle, Captain’s Lady, much to the surprise of her crew, decided to execute the perfect Top Gun manoeuvre and unfurl her cruising chute, which was still rigged from the day before. This acted as a large air break which forced her to break off the engagement whilst her crew battled to furl it away again. Elsewhere, Cool Runnings had vanished into the middle distance closely followed by Tern IV and Kerenza, who proved they could also sail almost directly into a head wind, outpointing the rest of us by some margin. Further back in the fleet Windreaver had rejoined the fleet and was having a small tacking battle with Lowenna. Team Moody were having their own pointing battle with team Bavaria trying to join in the party.

There developed a range of tactics to make the most out of the tide, some boats short tacked to keep into the most powerful tide, whilst others favoured crew moral over VGM and tacked as they could see the sandcastles on the beach. On Lyanna, we favoured the latter and in hindsight I would say it did not pay off. Having gotten away from Captain’s Lady and by trading tacks with Crayzee Feeling, we sailed a little too close to Portsmouth and got sucked into the incoming tide. When we re-emerged, Crayzee Feeling was away in the distance and Haraka and Aquadisiac were far too close for comfort. The crew on Hermit 2 sailed exceptionally well and had a late surge catching up with the front half of the fleet holding a great angle onto the wind.

Due to the wind direction, it was just possible to do the last leg in a single tack, but only if your boat could a) sail effectively hard on the wind and b) your helm was paying attention and not having a chat whilst munching a biscuit. As the boats approached the finish line much checking of what the definition of 1 cable translated to in old and new money and poking at range rings on chart plotters ensued. Crayzee Feeling with Lyanna close behind threw in a couple of tacks to ensure they were within the required 185m of the finish buoy. On deck we watched closely the pack of boats behind us fronted by Haraka, Aquadisiac and Hermit 2, praying that they had to do the same. Thankfully, under the watchful eye of the racing sec, they all decided not to push their luck and tacked, maintaining the status quote in terms of finishing order.

Cool Runnings closed the finish line before the morning coffee had had a chance to go cold, Tern IV led the rest of the fleet in a not so close 14 mins behind them.

The final results were: Ist Cool Runnings, 2nd Tern IV, 3rd Kerenza, showing us whipper snappers a thing to two. Then Crayzee Feeling in 4th, Haraka with another great result in 5th and Hermit 2 coming in 6th having sailed through most of the fleet.

Overall, the silverware was claimed by Cool Runnings, a great result for her crew. However, her handicap has risen faster than inflation, so we’ll have to see how those new sails hold up for the rest of the season.

Thanks all for coming and as usual your good humour and camaraderie. Onwards to France at the end of the month!

James Connell