A competitive fleet of 14 Swallows entered Cowes Week this Olympic year, sixty-four years after the world's finest came to the UK to sail in Swallows. The usual suspects were there, we welcomed Gwaihir back for another go, and Archon, Kingfisher, Darter and Peregrine were back after different absences. Goosander came with high hopes with a team of young-ish hot-shots, well prepared from their Points Week and Championships experience, and Spectre under new ownership was the dark horse of the week.
The race on the first Saturday was, well, dramatic. We were sent off on a run to the western Solent, supposedly the quieter bit, and around marks we had never heard of before. Skua, Gwaihir and Darter worked out the tide at the start better and shot off into the distance. Migrant got her entry for the broach-of-the-week competition in early and retired soggy. The rest of us battled on through hefty but manageable winds, but in waves bigger than most had seen in the Solent. At the end of it all, with an enormous beat back to the Squadron line and after much pumping-out, Gwaihir led Skua and Darter over the RYS line well ahead of the rest of us. A race of skill at the front and attrition at the back. Stories of survival were contributed over drinks at Ivy Cottage.
Sunday was more civilised, with a beat to the west with the tide. Gwaihir led Darter and Solitude around the weather mark, with the latter gradually sliding back as Skua, Spectre and then Cockersootie slipped through. Those places were held although Skua had to fight hard to keep Spectre behind her at the finish. The fleet split on the long beat back with those coming to the Island shore gaining.
To continue innovation in the Class we were given a committee line start next. It worked well and made a pleasant change. A southerly wafted us over to beyond Hill Head buoy where we milled with Sunbeams and XODs, alas milling a bit too close for Darter who was put out for the next few days by an unfortunate collision. A light shifting wind made life interesting; Spectre emerged first at the finish, followed by Skua and Cockersootie. Gwaihir made an untypical error (NB make sure your TackTick is on compass setting if you are using it for navigation).
Tuesday's start to the East, against the tide, was remarkable by having a general recall. The Z-flag for the second attempt made sure that we got away that time. The fleet all suffered moments of calm under Castle Point while Skua, sensibly to leeward and in firmer air, sailed round and was usefully ahead at the Norris. The wind was not what the course-setters expected and we processed round, with the only one tack in the entire race, being at the first windward mark. Skua led Gwaihir and Migrant over the line.
Wednesday was abandoned for all the White Group classes. A bit of nasty weather was forecast to come through during the race, and although we spent the late morning and early afternoon looking at benign conditions in the Solent that squall did come through at 1400. It was frustrating but was the right decision of the race committee, and was the first day we have lost for racing for a couple of years. The day was brightened up by the excellent Class Dinner at the Villa Rothsay.
In contrast Thursday was more fun. Off to the far western Solent again, with care not to be over the line at the start. Gwaihir and Skua resumed their battle well ahead of the pack and Cockersootie, Solitude and Goosander scrapped it out for the next places. There were great planes back from Salt Mead, and Migrant re-emphasised her broaching credentials. Avocet was in contention until navigation failed. Solitude's navigation too was not impeccable. Up and down Island shore we went, in and out of Gurnard Bay dodging tide, mixing it with all sorts of other classes, before we drifted up by the Squadron in patchy wind after an interesting and challenging race. Gwaihir first, Skua second, Cockersootie third.
The reader may note something unusual at this point of the week: Skua was not having it all her own way! An epic battle for the week was emerging. But then in a light to moderate southerly on Friday, Skua shot off after a spinnaker start to the East, had a magnificent fight with Gwaihir (herself battling with a gaggle of flying fifteens) before crossing the line to silence. Skua's OCS gave Gwaihir another win and an unassailable lead for the Week.
The final day was a quiet westerly. Skua was leading after the first beat to Citymain, followed by Gwaihir helmed today by Charles Hyatt; a spinnaker reach across the Solent to Royal Thames and then a long run to laid mark a. Migrant took a better line to a. and rounded in 3rd place. On the following beat to RORC Migrant was overtaken by Avocet and then Darter. These positions were held to the finish. Further back the competition was primarily between 4-7th place overall for the Week, where only a couple of points differentiated. Archon came out ahead, building on her Points Week success, Goosander one point behind.
An excellent, if not classic, Cowes Week. The competition at the top was intense, and Gwaihir will have a difficult time next year maintaining her crown. The winds were slightly unusual with more south and east than we have been used to, and shifting more. The committee boat start was fun and we enjoyed two finishes on the RYS line. The sun shone most of the time, and the socials were as always excellent. The Swallows that do not do Cowes Week are missing a lot!
- • Congratulations to Gwaihir for winning the week and her overall 4th in the White Group.
• If Skua had not been OCS on Friday, there would have been a wonderful medal race between her and Gwaihir on the final day.
• Migrant was never challenged for the broach-of –the- week prize.
• Even the newer boats took in water in the windy and lumpy days. Time to re-seal those hatches?
• The new boys Guy, Phil and Chris in the "bursary boat" Goosander sailed a consistent and sensible series, and were fun to have around. They were publicised - click here to see . The Class thanks Goosander's owners for making her available.
• The Committee boat start was an experiment worth repeating. We like our RYS line starts but a bit of variety is good.
• Avocet's mast had done sterling service but was found to be crumbling. Well done to her crew who carried a replacement mast on their shoulders onto the car ferry at Southampton and on through the streets of Cowes to Lallow's yard. Avocet found new speed with her new stick.
• We missed Darter for a few days as she made her repairs. A shame since she had started the week strongly.
• It was good to see Spindrift make the trip down from Aldeburgh again. She showed good speed and we much hope to see her (and other Aldeburgh boats?) in 2013.
• The "Chino Challenge" (who has the most vivid colour of trousers?) was won by Tony Glover in a closely-fought competition. Will this become a theme of our Class Dinners?
• The flying fifteens seemed to be depleted, and we missed the pathfinder who has been able to show us the way round in the recent years.