Cowes, UK, July 18, 2014 – The opening day of the inaugural Etchells Invitational Cup delivered plenty of sun, but variable winds that tested the 20 teams from 11 countries that are gathered in Cowes.
While it was a day that saw plenty of place-changing throughout the fleet, three clear low-scoring leaders have emerged. Jeanne-Claude Strong of the Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron, is leading the fleet on four points, with Chris Bull of the Yacht Club de Cannes and Ian Dobson of the Royal Thames YC tied on six points. Despite a disappointing 12th place in the second race, Marvin Beckmann from Houston YC is holding fourth overall, on 13 points.
A slowly dissipating band of thundery clouds to the east of the course defined the start of the first race, which didn’t get away until the fourth attempt. When the fleet finally got away, under a U flag penalty rule, an individual recall signal indicated at least one boat over the line prematurely that would be disqualified.
New Cowes-based owner Julian Metherell started at the committee boat in clear air and stayed on starboard tack, benefitting from a big right-hand windshift, However, the first three boats approaching the top mark were those that started near the pin. Jeremy Thorpe, representing Antigua YC and crewed by former world champion Stuart Childerley and Mark Andrews, rounded first. Shannon Bush from New York YC followed, with RYA Team Glamour (Annabel Vose, Amy Prime, Hannah Peters and Emily Nagel) in third.
The Antiguan team gybed around one-third of the way down the first run, consolidating their lead and looking very strong, although an early gybe by Beckmann, who rounded the top mark fourth, also saw him looking well placed. At the end of the second beat, Beckmann remained in second place, although Bush now held the lead, with Thorpe having slipped to third.
On the run Bush gybed early, a move that translated into a commanding lead at the finish. However, she had been one of the premature starters, along with Thorpe, so it was Beckmann that took the winning gun, with Ian Dobson’s team of Murray Chapples and Thomas Brennan second and Jeanne-Claude Strong third.
The second race initially got away smoothly, but with the wind dropping to almost nothing and the back markers failing to reach the windward mark against the building tide, it had to be abandoned. When the race was restarted it was in a light southerly breeze, with almost two knots of ebb tide setting across the course. The fleet got away cleanly, with boats soon spread evenly across the course, but it was Chris Bull, crewed by Nigel King and Tim Davies, that took an early lead in the middle of the track.
However, Strong rounded the top mark first, followed by Bull and Dobson, with Beckmann's team from Houston buried in 13th place. “We had a poor start and on the first beat we couldn’t go the way we wanted,” crew member Andrew Palfrey, another former Etchells world champion, explained. “We picked up some places by the finish but it was difficult to recover in those conditions.”
While most of the fleet favoured the right-hand side of the first run, Strong gybed early which helped to extend her lead, which she held to the finish. Chris Bull took second and Bush third. “The strength of the tide makes it a bit difficult for us here,” said Strong’s middle crew member Neville Whittey, who raced a Soling in the 2000 Olympics. “We’re not used to that much stream – it feels like a nightmare, but it’s a great challenge.”
With the wind again dying over the racecourse, the fleet assembled ashore at Shepard’s Wharf, for the official opening of the new six-tonne crane at the marina’s dry sailing facility, plus a special prize for the youngest team at the event – James French, Tristan Seal and Rob Bunce of the UKSA/RYA British Keelboat Academy, whose average age is under 20.
– Rupert Holmes