Cowes Week 2015 – With the weather forecast set for fine weather, moderate, occasionally strong breezes, all looked set for a classic Cowes week, but the actual weather didn’t read the forecast, and with no real sunshine, oh where was the famous Solent Sea breeze? The days were plagued with light winds that swung wildly and fluctuated in strength.
The first Saturday set the tone for the week overcast light to moderate breeze and a strong tide, with a danger of being swept over the start line too early, most of the fleet were line shy, except Shaun Frohlich’s Exabyte, they lead to the first mark. Unfortunately for the fleet it was a soldier’s course, reaching or fetching from mark to mark as such overtaking was all but impossible, until a beat on the final leg where Exabyte taking no chances covered the fleet to take the win on the first race of the week.
Sunday’s race started in a fair tide to the west of the squadron line, and with very little bias on the line and with a beat to the first mark the fleet were spread along it. Tidal information implied better tide offshore so some of the fleet tacked on port hoping to make better use of it. Unfortunately the tide didn’t read the predictions and for the first 800 meters inshore paid handsomely, but upon entering Gurnard bay the offshore tide advantage finally came into being, rounding the first mark to starboard for a quick spinnaker set then a reach to the mainland shore into what had now become a foul tide gave Exabyte the chance to initially reach high before short gybing and using the tide to lose the fleet, and from there Exabyte was to lead at every subsequent mark to the finish, while behind them the fleet tangled with each other helping the leader pull away further.
Monday brought the first Southwesterly breeze, and the fleet started on the Shrape line for the first time, and while the first mark was downwind and a genuine spinnaker run, the fleet had a foul tide at the start, so the choice was start on starboard and head for the Island and the Ryde Bank to try and minimize the tidal effect, or on port gybe head for the Knowl Bank before gybing to make the mark, and after 30 minute run, the left just won, with Rob Goddard’s Stampede leading by two lengths at the bottom mark, and on the first day for a true windward leeward race Stampede’s crew were not confident of holding this lead particularly with Frohlich’s Exabyte in close second. Some days, for some strange reason unknown to us mere mortal sailors, the boat just goes fast, and Stampede pulled away from the fleet and led at every mark, and despite running aground briefly on the Bramble bank while cheating the tide Stampede won by over a minute.
Tuesday’s weather was at last sunny and warm, but alas no breeze, so no racing for the day.
Wednesday race was delayed for the wind to stabilize, and coming from the east across the coast it never really did, particularly as pressure lanes could be as shallow as only four to five boat lengths, so starting from a committee boat line, near the Bramble bank the fleet had two mile windward beat. it didn’t take long for Exabyte to take the lead, only for China white to move into first place after a long split tack on the second beat, however on the second run Exabyte with better speed on the second retook the lead from China white, a position that Exabyte held on to end .
Thursday’s race, the fixed line was impossible to sail along on starboard, so the PRO started the fleet under the ‘I’ flag to avoid a mass collision at the pin. timing the start on port on the heavily biased line was difficult, and while Exabyte was buried in the pack they fought their way to the front of the fleet, but at the starboard rounding at the mark ‘Wight Vodka’, Exabyte’s normally impeccable boat handling let them down, and they along with China White were pinned to the starboard side of the course by Time and Tide. this enabled Rob Elliott to control the timing of the three leading boats tack on to port, and therefore the fetch to the next mark, and with the two following reaching legs, Time and tide went on to win the race.
On Friday, a port pole Spinnaker reach to the first mark from the Shrape Start line against a foul tide, gave tacticians three choices, inshore to get some instant tidal protection from the Island, mid to sail over Ryde bank to try and cheat the tide, or at the pin for guaranteed clear air. Inshore paid first, then mid line, but on the second half of the reach the breeze strengthened on the left pushing those boats ahead, but the wind only stayed with those on the left before backing and softening and after a short gybe into the mark it was Mark Downer’s Moonlight that led, and in the strong tide Moonlight was off and away, sailing tactically to make the best use of the fair then foul tide, Moonlight put a loose cover on the fleet before taking the win.
The final Saturday arrived and with the week’s winner already decided, the fleet were racing for bragging rights, and after a half hour delay in a light north westerly in a foul tide there were two options, start inshore and have a temporary fair tide, before a beat to the mark, or offshore at the pin and fetch to the first mark in a strong foul tide. Again it was a split decision, and the offshore group won by about eight boat lengths, and youth sailor Matt Reid sailing Mano was the first to the mark, and from there continued to lead the fleet to mark after mark extending his lead even as the wind died, and then the wind switched to an 8kt south westerly sea breeze. However the tide had another part to play in this race, and while Mano sailed the rum line, Andrew Copper sailing Ice gybed early and took the longer south circular route along the Island shore, cheating the 3kt tide to take the final race. And as everyone says Cowes week is ‘just a FUN’ week, once on the water it’s all about winning, and while Saturday was Exabyte’s worst result of the week, in a four boat gybing match race through Gurnard Bay then along the Green, Exabyte demonstrated their champion credentials taking three Etchells with a Daring class boat caught in the scuffle as the boats short gybed probably 20 times, as Exabyte went from the back to the front of the group.
Exabyte were the week’s winner in what was probably one of the strongest Cowes Week Etchells fleet for years. Their boat speed, team work and tidal knowledge were all used to great effect and the whole Fleet were in unison congratulating the crew of Exabyte, Shaun Frohlich, Duncan Truswell and David Bedford in winning Cowes Week so well and with a day to spare.
by Rob Goddard