Sailing: Robertson takes first blood as Patches passes muster

Charging up and down the Solent in glorious, majestic, if slightly lonely style was the biggest boat at the show, the Australian Greg "Wharro" Wharington's 90-foot Wild Thing, lovingly and expensively restored after turning turtle in the last Sydney to Hobart race, when its canting keel parted company with the hull.

He gobbled up the 30-mile course in two and a half hours but his crippling handicap still beat him, allowing double Olympic gold medallist Shirley Robertson, at the helm of Eamon Connelly's new TP52, Patches, to take the first major trophy of the week, the Queen's Cup.

Buzzing around Wharington, as he takes time off from the preparation of his new 70-footer for this winter's Volvo Ocean Race, was a record entry of 1,036 yachts, which, if slightly more humble, are being raced in 38 classes with equal enthusiasm in an event which has been running since 1826. Things were not as crudely commercial then, but the chances to take part were not as widespread. Today, ages range from low teens to octogenarians, sizes from 15 feet upwards and budgets can be as low as the cost of regular weekend clubbing in any British provincial city.

Cowes has always had a rather schizophrenic approach to the image it wants to promote, having been forelock-tugging royalist and upper class toff on the one hand and yet wanting to say that this is a game for everyone on the other. In the main, it is now for everyone and the stars, more often than not, are Olympians from a suburban background.

The day had a few opening glitches before the first classes were sent away to the west in a south-westerly breeze building from a healthy 15 to a top-end 22 knots. There was also just enough swing in direction, up to 40 degrees, to lead to some risky manoeuvres off the start line as there was considerable advantage to be gained by those starting with no right of way (port tack) and trying to scrape ahead of those starting more conventionally with full right of way (starboard tack).

Before any of that cut and thrust began, just poodling about while proceedings were delayed for 25 minutes - the laying of a start-line buoy proved troublesome and then a container ship out of Southampton was promising to carve up anything that got in its way - was as far as Martin Head got in his SB3 Bandit.

Doubtless just discussing tactics or the previous night's conquests, he was in a collision with fellow competitors Pete Draycott, Rick Otten and Dave Duffin's prophetically named Wrecked. It was Bandit which was dismasted and had to be towed in by one of the harbourmaster's launches while the Wrecked crew went on to finish 10th.

The race was won on WKD Vodka Red by the current J24 European champion, Ian Southworth, who has his eyes on the World Championships later this year. But this was a difficult day for quite a few more of his rivals.

SB3 class secretary Dave Cheyne had to retire after "our rudder was ripped off the back" and he attributed some of the other retirements, in a class which has the second-largest number of entries, to people being "spooked".

There was also a glitch with the scheme to send by text message all the instructions about the courses to mobile telephones.

A new software system which tries to ensure that boats from different fleets do not pile into each other at the turning mark buoys, which litter the 20-mile stretch of protected water between the main and the south islands of Britain, was not fully installed until three hours before the start. "There was a technical problem, but it will work fine," said event director Stuart Quarrie.

The forecast is for high-pressure weather, lower-pressure physical competition, and a sunnier weather system to move in.

A case of ready, steady, beep beep.

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