Sailing: Sailors overboard as Cowes suffers gales

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CHAOS CAME to the Solent yesterday as fierce winds lashed competitors at Cowes week, with several yachtsmen being washed overboard and others suffering broken bones as a dozen masts came crashing down.

As the wild weather brought out lifeboats and the coastguard's helicopter, half a dozen people were taken to hospital with broken arms and wrists. Many yachts were stranded aground to be buffeted by the rising tide, bringing a stream of work to the teams working overnight to repair sails.

In emphatic style, the Solent answered the weekend's complaints about light winds and, with a full house of a south-westerly gale, bumpy, short seas and driving rain, about 75 of the 800 competing yachts decided enough was enough even before hostilities began, and way over 100 decided that retirement was the better part of valour.

Nick Bonham went over the side of the 80ft Maxima for an involuntary swim, though his skipper Johnny Caulcutt was not unduly worried. Caulcutt was right as Bonham was safely back on board at the second attempt to pick him up. And Bonham was not the only one to jump ship on a day when survival skills were more important than sailing subtlety.

Wild gybes also took their toll, Nigel Bramwell's Hawk spectacularly shredding the mainsail and Adam Gosling having two taken off his Swan 65, a guest with a broken arm, and permanent skipper Steve Dodd with a fractured wrist.

But, while ambulances were shuttling between Cowes Yacht Haven and St Mary's Hospital the tough were riding the waves to victory. Not least Harry Cudmore and crew, taking Peter Harrison's 50-footer Russe Noir to its second Class I win in two days and adding the Sir Walter Preston Challenge Cup to the Glazebrook Challenge Cup won on Sunday.

In the X-Boat fleet, where at times it felt as though there was more water in the boat than outside, the Hamble fleet's Peter Baines, a former winner, added a third in his bid for the Captain's Cup. His major problem could be a recurring knee injury. And there was praise for the way the designer's son, Peter Thomas, calmly steered David Knight's Bogo Pogo on the spinnaker run in the Hunter 707 Class to win by six minutes.

Making light of it all and notching up another win in the Dragon class was a local shipping company boss, Eric Williams, with, in third place, the 80-something Pat Dyas's Jerboa.

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