The last shall be first and the first shall be last
Throughout this Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup the racing has been blessed with Mediterranean conditions - scorching temperatures and generally light to moderate winds. This has favoured the big boats which have cleaned up in the windward-leewards and Monday's offshore race. But today this all changed.
The Race Committee stuck to the schedule and sent the nine 3-boat teams on a course anti-clockwise around the Isle of Wight. The start was at 09:30 BST from the Royal Yacht Squadron line, and the Blair family's King 40 Cobra in GBR Red and Jamie McGarry's Swan 45 Eala of Rhu in GBR Scotland were called OCS and had to return.
There were two schools of thought among the boats heading west down the Solent and it was the group closer to the mainland shore which prevailed, including the five `fast boats' - the three Ker 40s, the new A13, Teasing Machine, and Swan 45, Eala of Rhu, over the boats closer to the island shore. American Marc Glimcher's turboed Ker 40 Catapult pulled ahead on the water in the Solent leading around the South West Shingles buoy off the Needles.
The northeasterly breeze held on the southeast side of the island, the boats able to lay St Catherine's but edging closer to the shore as the foul tide began affecting them.
While the rich got richer, in particular Catapult, which was doing a `horizon job', they rounded St Catherine's Point into no wind and a building adverse tide, forcing boats to rock hop along the shore line or to kedge to prevent themselves drifting backwards. Several boats touched sand or worse, rocks, the worst affected being the star of the Irish team, Anthony O'Leary's Ker 39 Antix, which upon arriving in Cowes tonight has had to be hauled out for repairs.
This park-up allowed the smaller boats to sail in with the breeze causing the form in this year's Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup to be upturned with the lowest rated boats taking the lead on corrected time. With the course shortened, finishing at Bembridge Ledge, there wasn't enough track left for the big boats to recover and the `fast five' became the `last five' on corrected with the smallest boats topping the results.
The star performer was David Aisher's J/109 Yeoman of Wight. Having been one of the southerly losers coming down the Solent, and then seeing the leaders disappear on the leg to St Catherine's, as Aisher put it: "When we went around the corner at St Catherine's, it was `oh, hello!' - everyone had parked up. Then it was a case of finding the gusts. We clouted a rock, but not badly because we were only doing 0.5 knots through the water, but Antix hit the bricks hard."
In the subsequent battle of the small boats, Yeoman was fighting with GBR Blue team mate and sistership Robert Stiles' Diamond Jem and Iain Kirkpatrick's X-37 Fatjax for the overall lead. Aisher continued: "In the last three miles they took a tack out too far, while we saw the wind kicking in from the left. Thanks to that we gained maybe 30 minutes on them. Considering we only won by two minutes, it made all the difference."
French boats came out well today with seven in the top 10. Benoit D'Halluin's A35, Dunkerque Plaisance-Gill Racing Team, in France White, finished third behind Emmanuel le Men's First 40.7 Pen Koent in France Red.
"This time it was a race for the small boats after the difficult round the cans and windward-leeward races," said a delighted D'Halluin. "We did well at St Catherine's where all the boats stopped - we had very good speed for us and caught up with all the big boats. We saw two boats hitting the rocks. We were okay but there was a lot of tacking. A lot of boats anchored, but we kept going. After that we had less than 5 knots from the northeast and it was difficult to be in the right place. We didn't do very well."
It is rare to see a Farr 30 One Design competing under IRC, but Eric Basset's Motivé, the smallest boat in the regatta and racing in France Green, was one of the boats that had pulled into the lead under IRC during the park-up. They ended the race in ninth place, their best result of the regatta.
"Going around the island was a fantastic moment," said Anglo-French crewman, Jean-Charles Scale, who was sailing this course for the first time, despite heralding originally from Fareham. "Conditions were pretty good for us during the first part of the race. Then after the Needles it was difficult because we are the smallest boat and we were tight reaching and we were not fast enough. But then all the boats parked up and stalled and we got to within about half a mile of the big boats."
Once again on this occasion it paid not to kedge and Scale said they managed to keep moving, just, while other boats around them chose to anchor. "We went in close to the beach after St Catherine's - it was pretty dodgy and four or five boats touched but fortunately we managed to avoid that."
After that he admitted it was difficult to know whether to go inshore or offshore, but they had chosen the former. Ultimately they ended up finishing in ninth place. Their result, and that of Gilles Caminade's A35R Chenapan3, has caused them to relieve GBR Red of second place overall in the team rankings. Despite a poor result today - their highest placed finishers being Michael Boyd and Niall Dowling's Grand Soleil 43, Quokka 8, coming home a lowly 13th, Ireland has retained the majority of their lead and goes into tomorrow's double points scoring final race with a comfortable 94.5 margin over the French. Even though nothing is certain in this regatta, if all three of the Irish boats sail their worst result to date in this event, they will still claim the Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup by a 10 points.