Sailing: Search for lost buoy has Cowes in chaos: Stuart Alexander on a sailing farce that rivalled a past event at Aintree

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THE briny version of last year's Aintree debacle came to Cowes Week yesterday as one of the week's top prizes, the Britannia Cup, dissolved into protest and confusion when the competing boats attempted to navigate their way around a buoy that did not exist.

The shiny fleet of Class One boats lined up on the start-line at 10.30 am and were told to sail a course which included going round a buoy called Dean Tail, to the east of Portsmouth Harbour. The exact position was printed in the race programme and marked on the race chart.

Unfortunately, it was not there. As confusion reigned, some sailed round adjacent buoys, some retired, while others protested to the race committee.

The Dean Tail buoy was laid to mark the wreck of a cement ship, the Theofano, which sank in January 1990, but it was replaced two years later by four buoys all around the wreck, named Dean Tail North, South, East and West.

'We were all going like a load of idiots around a wreck buoy and peering at a few others to see the names of them,' Jo Richards, the skipper of the 50-footer Mandrake, said.

Back at Cowes the question of who was responsible proved a thorny one. The race was administered by that most establishment of sailing establishments, the Royal Yacht Squadron, and the assistant Queen's Harbourmaster, Lt Commander James Davies, said: 'It sounds as if the race committee have not done their homework.'

'Not our fault,' the Squadron said. 'We rely on Cowes Combined Clubs for charts and race-course information.'

Enter Capt Dan Bradby, full-time secretary of CCC. 'As far as the blame is concerned, I think it's mine. I am embarrassed,' he said. 'I didn't check up, which I suppose I should have done.'

An international jury took less than 20 minutes to decide that the RYS should abandon the race. Efforts are being made to re-sail it tomorrow.

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