The X factor hit Cowes fair and square between the eyes today as most of a fleet of 145 entered in a glorious celebration of their centenary year descended on the Royal Yacht Squadron start line.
For the first three days of Aberdeen Cowes Week the 21-foot X One Designs, designed by Alfred Westmacott in 1911, had either been banished to a part of the Solent where they could do less damage, or were pinned ashore by winds considered a bit too strong for such venerable day racing boats, or perhaps their venerable owners.
Then the north Solent marauders swooped down to the watching crowds on the island shore. As the eager ones bulged in a scramble for the best position, the race officer, in confident stentorian tone, announced they were all clear. No-one had made a premature start. Mmm. The results showed quite a lot of percentage time penalties, seen as the only way to regulate such a large number of boats in a class notorious for being recalled for general indiscipline.
Many minutes later the back markers finally made their cautious way onto a field of play already several acres square. Under blue skies, light clouds and sunshine, powered by a 12-knot west north-westerly, even those at the back could hardly fail to enjoy the day.
But winning is also important and that honour went to the trio of David Humphrey, Johnny Shaw and Julia Plumstead on Perdix.
They are back on Wednesday and again on Thursday when Princess Anne, president in succession to her father of the Royal Yachting Association and, like him, a genuine lover of sailing, will officiate at the start.
The big boys also came out to play, including the American George David with his 100-foot Rambler, recent winner of the transatlantic race and ambitious contender for a new Rolex Fastnet Race record next Sunday.
But he was only nine minutes ahead of Niklas Zennström’s 72-foot Rán in a race round the Island, which gave the British-based Swedish co-founder of the Skype internet communications system the win by 68 minutes on corrected time, with, Andres Soriano’s 68-foot Alegre second.
The day’s top trophy, the Britannia Cup, spreads its favours between classes from year to year and this year it went to the winner of IRC handicap class 1, a 40-footer called Tokoloshe owned by Michael Bartholomew.
A South African who campaigns from Hamble, on the south coast, four or five months of every summer, he sails with a 50/50 crew of Brits and South Africans. “It was a difficult day as the weather was different from forecast and the wind was all over the place,” he said, adding: “We must have done something right.”
In Weymouth, windsurfer Nick Dempsey goes into the medal race in second place, just one point behind Dorian van Rijsselberge of The Netherlands at the Olympic Games test event. These two are so far clear that they will share the gold and silver places depending on the final race.