Etchells News

Etchells at Cowes Week 2013

Posted November 02, 2013

You know it's been a tight regatta when 4 boats enter the last race with a chance of winning overall.

You know its been a tight final race when 5 boats led at one stage or another and all 4 of the overall leaders were at one time in regatta winning positions and its not until half way up the last beat that the winners can start grinning. So it was with the Etchell class at Cowes Week 2013, one design keel boat racing at its very best. As important for the class was the fact that of the 8 sailors crewing the top 2 boats on the last morning, 7 were under 25 and on the next two boats women had been integral members of the crew throughout the week. 18 entries also made this a strong showing from one of the Solents most competitive one-design fleets.

The week kicked off with a bit of drama as a crew member went overboard from Freelance down a windy run in race 1 and quite a few of the fleet had to interrupt their races to assist in picking him up. This left the winning boat from 2 years ago having to retire as the kick off to their campaign. Last years winner James Howells was not out this year. Another likely contender, recent winner of the Bedrock Trophy, Robert Elliot also posted 18 points on the board with an OCS but perennial Cowes Week challenger Mark Downer in Moonlight could be happy with his day after taking the bullet in race 1. Rob Goddard was second and in a sign of what was to come in terms of tight racing Exabyte (Shaun Frohlich) and Ziggy (Kevin Downer) couldn’t be separated for 3rd.

Race 2 saw the start of the turmoil that was in the end to ruin Mark Downer's week. Despite being in the vanguard of the fleet (Editors note; as he always is when racing at Cowes Week!) he inexplicably had a navigation error and slipped down the fleet to score an uncharacteristic 13th. Goddard’s early form deserted him and he added a 9th to his 2nd while Elliot got his campaign back on track with a solid 2nd place. Winners of race 2 were the RYA youth team who had qualified in the RYA / Etchells spring trials to win a fully funded race prepared Etchells for the season thanks to the continued support of Ted Fort OBE. Tarra Gill Taylor and crew (Matt Wallace, Harry Derbyshire and Tom Pain) showed that despite this being their first Cowes Week they would be contenders after their first season of Etchells sailing. In the overall scores it was mayhem, with only Exabyte being sailed by Shaun and Emily Frohlich along with Duncan Truswell having two decent scores (3, 3) and the week was wide open.

Race 3 saw Laurence Mead return to the helm of 1339 after a few days away and the fleet were treated to a difficult race heading east on an ebb (west going) tide so the first leg was a choice of going up under the Norris headland for tidal relief or staying further offshore for better breeze and hoping it was enough to stem the tide. Offshore was better: Downer and Cooper were offshore and led, Mead was the most inshore boat and therefore well and truly last after the Norris headland (some welcome back to the Solent for Mead who has moved to Hong Kong) so his regatta looked to be in trouble. The fleet circulated around with not a lot changing until almost unbelievably Mark Downer who had worked his way into the lead led his brother Kevin and Andrew Cooper (who had two top 5 finishes so far) the wrong way round the 4th windward mark. As this was also down tide it took them a long time to correct their mistake. They eventually finished 9th, 11th and 12th which really shook up the overall standings for the week. Goddard won, Elliot was second, Gill Taylor 3rd and lots had changed very suddenly!!!

Race 4 was lost to a day of sunshine and light air after the sea breeze filled in too late for any sailing to take place so Race 5 on Wednesday was a must deliver for some of the contenders. Cowes Week is 8 long days so there is plenty of time to catch up but at some point if you are going to win it you have to start putting scores on the card which are in low single digits. For at least 3 of the possible contenders that day had come.

Another start to the east but this time with the tide under the fleet and this time in a weak but established north easterly. At the gun 4 boats were head to wind all squeezing inside the pin end with Mead deciding to go back for the second time in as many days (both proving later to have been unnecessary!) while Mark Downer led the left hand pack into a quick and commanding lead. The rest of the fleet swapped between wanting a bit of right hand action for better tide with the fact that the mark position meant a long starboard and not much port to do. Mead came back by footing hard into better pressure left while Goddard and Frohlich got too far right and softer pressure saw them both struggling. Also up and running in the top 3 were Wilfred Wagner on "Wake" and ex Chairman of the International Etchells Association Bill Steele in Chelsea Lady sailing with David Heritage and young Casper Groenewegen from Holland on the bow. At the first mark a decent left shift made the next leg a tight reach and those who had looked in trouble to leeward suddenly found themselves arcing up to the fleet to be top 5 again. This bought all the main contenders back into the fray and from there the race was a great battle amongst the top 6 or 7 with only Downer having an easy ride of it out front. On this beat Mead pulled his regatta back together by getting into 2nd while Goddard really put a claim in for the week by getting into 3rd and Gill Taylor with a 10th and Elliot (DSQ after he lost a port starboard protest and scored another 18 points) both saw their regatta get a lot harder.
Race 6 was a classic Cowes Week race. Start up the green heading west but thankfully in a building ebb tide running to the west so no need to hug the shore so tightly that the rocks would become a huge issue. Goddard started on the pin and ducked most of the fleet while the more gung-ho all tacked and tacked again trying to protect the shore side where the tide had already turned west going most strongly. There was less wind in here however and Goddard’s offshore route with more wind saw him in good shape. Big losers here were the RYA youth team who ventured offshore at Egypt point and hit the last of the flood tide still pouring in. They parked up in the tide and were nearly last. The top 4 were led by Cooper and Roger Reynolds / Richard Power in Shamal with Mead in 3rd and Mark Downer in 4th as they rounded the windward mark. A variety of options were open at this point: sail higher and faster towards the mainland shore (as adopted by Andrew Cooper and the team on Shamal) or gybe earlier and sail a shorter route in more tide. Both worked though the offshore route proved somewhat better as Downer almost got into the lead but the big loser was Mead who tried to gybe on the shifts between the two groups and lost to both sides. The other big winners were Kevin Downer and Tim Eccles on Ziggy (Elvis and Ziggy are part of the same band in the Etchells Cowes fleet!) who “did a David Bedford”, heated it hard from about 7th or 8th place, sailed fast to the mainland, gybe as they touched bottom and came out smelling of roses. They were up to 3rd and added to the David Bedford impression by sailing clean over the top of Lepe Spit while everyone else worried about going aground. And after that it all got properly exciting!!!

A solid 20 knot sea breeze, 70 footers careering down the same bit of water with A sails flying and just about all the boats in Cowes seemingly going round the same 4 marks off Calshot. Fantastic racing! To finish it off the last leg was a run down the shore against the tide with the Etchells fleet all compressing up while fighting their way through the Dragon class. All this in about 8 feet off the Green at Egypt Point in front of about 1,000 spectators. Cowes Week at its best. Oh, the racing….Mark Downer won and as this was his 3rd bullet he was starting to stamp his authority on the fleet. Except he wasn’t………..…he lost a port and starboard protest from the first leg and collected another 18 points to effectively end his hopes of an overall win. Mead almost caught Cooper on the line but didn’t so Cooper got 2nd and Mead having been advised that his 360 turn for touching a mark didn’t exonerate him from the infringement took a time penalty, so he didn’t get 3rd either, which went to Shamal (Reynolds and Power) while Mead took an 8th onto his scorecard which ended his regatta hopes as well. Kevin Downer showed his Solent skills with a 4th after his earlier Lepe Spit special! It was a day of all change

Friday dawned with a long, light air starboard tack run to start, heading east with the tide under the fleet. Not a day to be over the line at the start and no one was but a fascinating leg loomed. Better tide to the left, a shorter route possibly with a bit more beef to the gusts to the right. In fact both side had advantages at different times with the top 8 or 9 boats spread across the course all eeking out little leads at different times. It's no good being ahead till the mark however and as that loomed up those offshore got a distinct tidal gain and were able to sail round the windward bunch to lead. Goddard and Frohlich got there first with Gill Taylor and his band in the mix. Cooper was at the back of the pack and Downer, Elliot and Mead (from the right hand group down the run) were almost dropped. From here the fleet were treated to a masterful display by Mark Downer and Jo Downer in the middle who simply sailed away from the fleet. After getting a sniff of a clean lane out of the first mark they hit the speed button, sailed high and fast to the shore, got headed, tacked and were gone. They just sailed further and further away all day. Gill Taylor sailed a great race too and was rewarded with 2nd place so he now had a 1, 2, 2, 3, 8, 10 so some really good counters, Cooper got a 3rd to count a 1,3, 5, 5, 6, 11 and Goddard scored 4th so he was looking at 2, 9,1, 3, 5, 4 to lead. The only other one in it overall was Frohlich who despite a 9th the day before added a 5th to his score for a 3, 3, 4, 5, 9, 5. Not right in it but not out of it either.

So Saturday dawned. Last race and any one of four could win. Mark Downers schizophrenic week of 1st and last continued when he broke the main halyard before leaving the dock so he finished with a scorecard that read 1, 13, 9, 1, 18, 1, 18) while the rest lined up for a beat west on the first of the west going current. Goddard led from Kevin Dower, surely the title was his? However, he was rolled on the second run by Downer, Mead and Elliot. Now it was close but Goddard was still ahead of his rivals so winning overall. Up the next beat Mead took the lead and Cooper got by Goddard who went backwards. Now Gill Taylor was winning overall as he got back into fast mode. Also flying up the 2nd beat was Frohlich (now with the legend that is David Bedford in the middle doing tactics) and they sailed past Mead on the next run to take command of the week’s title, Goddard was in deep trouble, Cooper in 2nd overall. Up the next beat Cooper made his move, rounded just behind Mead who did a horror spinnaker set and Cooper led the race, and yes, the week as well!!!! Mead got him back on the final run to lead the race, Cooper holding onto first overall but only just. Frohlich and Goddard came round about 5th and 7th and after tacking to clear their air they faced a long beat back to the finish line from Lee-on-Solent with the fleet in front of them. Mead led Cooper left as they headed for the best tide and the usual (usual? there is such a thing as usual in sailing?) island lefty which would lock up the race for Mead and the regatta for Cooper. Except it didn’t!! In a last throw of the dice the wind sheared across the Solent with Frohlich and Goddard to the right getting a massive lift and better pressure which the others never saw and this sent them flying up the beat into an easy first and second!

So, after about 18 hours of very tight racing it came down to the last beat of the last race before Rob Goddard and his crew could celebrate winning Cowes Week 2013. Goddard, sailing with his son Ashley, Bryn Phillips and Jack Muldoon were the worthy winners and thoroughly deserved their win with a consistent week of sailing in all sorts of conditions against a very competitive and committed fleet. The Etchells had their best turnout at Cowes for quite a few years with loads of new faces, returning faces (welcome back Team Mayhem!) loads of mixed crews and plenty of young sailors as well. It was the best regatta week your correspondent can remember for ages!

Race report by Laurence Mead