Sailing: Masquerade has a ball

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The Independent Online
THE decision to allow all 63 of the increasingly popular Etchells 22 dayboats to race together in Cowes Week produced the predictable as they opened the show yesterday. They were the first of 22 starts for over 750 yachts and nearly 5,000 crew competitors.

Ten of them were disqualified for already being over the line when the starting cannon belched its smokey roar, three more retired, and three had thought better of the whole thing and taken a day off.

With a lickety-split easterly breeze to make conditions almost perfect, Howard Sellars won the race in Masquerade to put down a marker which will be challenged fiercely. Not least by Mike Law, who was leading when he went to the wrong buoy, Deck, instead of Clipper, under the coast of Hill Head.

In a depleted Class 1, Don Wood's Red Sorcerer was lucky not to lose her mast when the forestay toggle parted and the day's main prize, the Queen's Cup, went to Ireland and David Best's old one-tonner Sidewinder.

And it was a Welshman, Eddie Warden Owen, at the helm of an Italian boat, Mumm a Mia], which won the hot big- boat class of the moment, The Mumm 36s.

In theory the entry for the 1908-designed X One-Design class was even bigger than for the Etchells, but two have withdrawn as a result of a strange furore which has legal threats flying back and forth and has ripped away the traditionally gentlemanly mantle of this 21- foot threequarter-decked three-person day boat.

Some recently built examples of the genre, said to have cost a hair-raising pounds 25-30,000 each, have been the subject of a committee of inquiry because they were thought to be illegal. The charge was they have been built with too long a waterline, and so given, in a decent breeze, a significant advantage.

Threats of court action against the august class association, who had withdrawn their eligibility to race, led to a little back-tracking by which the disputed boats could continue to race in their normal home fleets at Itchenor, Hamble, Lymington and Parkstone, but could not participate in the highlight of the year, Cowes Week.

Owners of other boats who felt disadvantaged - not least, they thought, the value of their lower-performance yachts could be affected by thousands of pounds - were adamant that they would lodge a protest if any of the contentious examples turned up.

The row continues as it would cost up to pounds 4,000 to modify each boat and bring it back within the specified dimensions, considerably reducing the joy of their once proud new owners.