Thursday, 26 July, two thirds of the way into the Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup and still it remained very tight between the seven international three boat teams taking part.
After five days of racing this was the first day the lead hadn't changed - with RYA Team GBR Black ahead on day one, France pulling into the lead after the offshore race and RYA Team GBR Red edging ahead on Wednesday. After Thursday's two races, the Red team has extended slightly while RYA Team GBR White has overhauled the French to move up to second overall, on 216 points to the leader's 206, with two races to go.
While conditions remained more Cote d'Azur-like than we have come to expect this summer, the race area was shifted east from the Solent to Hayling Bay. This provided a generally more regular course, a 7-10 knot easterly that veered slowly right through the afternoon, and less tidal effect until the second race when a few boats got caught out being washed down on to the weather mark and were obliged to carry out penalty turns.
Hong Kong comes good
So far in this regatta the Hong Kong team has performed disappointingly, but were able to turn this around with the combined results of their three boats - Peninsula Signal 8, Team Ambush Quokka 8 and EFG Bank Mandrake - making them the top team today.
"We slaughtered everyone today, which was great," said Peninsula Signal 8, co-owner and helmsman Jamie McWilliam candidly. But while they were on top today, this has still only raised them from seventh to sixth. "We are still toilet, but fortunately there are still some races to go and we are getting better all the time."
The Hong Kong boats preferred Thursday's race course but, given that two of the three teams are in chartered boats, they have also been on a steeper learning curve than most. "It is a software issue, not a hardware issue, so we have been getting better and better and better," said McWilliam.
Peninsula Signal 8 posted a 9-4 yesterday, the latter result coming despite one of the boat's owners, Keith Jacobs, well known for his various Bimblegumbies Admiral's Cup campaigns over the 1980s and 90s, having the top of his little finger sliced off by the main sheet. As McWilliam recounted: "There was a bit of claret and a fingertip on the floor Reservoir Dogs-style, but Keith is an ex-army man and grunted up and he said 'get me a field dressing and get to the finish line as fast as you can'. He is in A&E now having a good time with the nurses."
The top boat of the day posting a 1-2 was the Hong Kong team's Team Ambush Quokka 8, Peter Rutter's 2011 IRC National Championship winner, chartered by Ante Razmilovic, Joachim Isler and Andrew Taylor.
Razmilovic explained how it had worked out for them: "It was nice to have a race course out in Hayling Bay that was little bit more open - that was worth the motor, the first day of proper yachting. Also it helped that it wasn't below 8 knots and there was a good solid effort from the team."
Despite coming from Hong Kong there are several highly experienced Solent sailors in their team, Razmilovic being one, and with the assistance of their 'pro' sailor David Bedford they made some good calls on which side of the course to go up, the lanes they picked through the fleet and the laylines into marks given the tidal effect.
In the inter-Ker 40 battle, Jonathan Goring's Keronimo in RYA Team GBR Red got the upper hand decidedly, not only winning both races on the water, but also ending up with a 3-1 on corrected. They led both races on the water from start to finish. "That was pretty miraculous in light airs, for these boats that isn't their strongest suit," said Goring, adding that the more even race course today allowed several boats the result they deserved and perhaps hadn't seen previously.
So what did it come down to? "Just boat speed, calling the laylines and the shifts superbly. We really read the shifts well. Kevin (Sproul, Keronimo's tactician) has sailed in Hayling Bay all his life."
Sproul himself said that in order to get nice clean starts they had attempted to be beside the other Ker 40s rather than elsewhere on the line because: "when we have done that before we have got mixed up and it has slowed us down. When you have got similar boats beside you, you know what is going to happen and we were able to get out of the starts and do what we wanted to do." As to their overall performance yesterdayday Sproul praised the crew: "The guys did a fantastic job because all four boats (Ker 40s) were close together and we just sniggled out in front. So it was a really nice day and we were fast and smooth and didn't do much wrong."
However everyone in RYA Team GBR Red is aware that a 10 point lead isn't much when fate rides on the outcome of three boats. Teams with much much bigger leads at this stage have fallen heavily in the past.
Chasing hard and on the ascent yesterday was RYA Team GBR White, where Neil Kipling's J/122 Joopster had a good day with a 5-10. "Conditions have been perfect for sunbathing, but today was better, the wind was up," said Kipling. "We had a good first race and in the second race we were doing well until the final beat, but we were still pleased with the day and the team's done well and there's all to play for."
Posting another consistent result yesterday, constantly nipping at the heels of the Ker 40s, was Hervé Borgoltz's Grand Soleil 44 R, Eleuthera, in the French team. She scored a 6-3 making her the top boat overall, three points ahead of Keronimo.
"It was a fantastic day of sailing," said Eleuthera's Project Manager, Philippe Serenon, adding generally of the Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup: "It is amazing. We feel like we are at the Voiles de St Tropez! The spirit is fantastic. It is very interesting to race in teams. We are quite regular, but our other boats are less regular and Beelzebuth had a very bad day today. So the French team is third on the podium at the moment. We have lost two places in the last two days, but there is still a lot of racing to go. We will continue to be very on top of the racing and thinking about it, which is not as good as anticipated for the Pier View and the other pubs in Cowes!"
On Friday, 27 July, a race around the Isle of Wight is scheduled for the penultimate day of the Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup, starting at 0830, but whether there will be enough wind to achieve this remains to be seen.
- commodorescup.rorc.org Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup website