Sailing: Temptations of the Squadron's cloak

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The Independent Online
A THREE-HOUR wait was worth every minute as a classic sea breeze swept up the Solent yesterday. It provided another day of brilliant racing conditions ahead of the evening's spectacular fireworks, which unite competitors and spectators in one of the thrills of Skandia Life Cowes Week.

The prize for the Class 1 contenders was the rather romantic Rocking Chair Trophy, which is just that and spends most of its days in the Island Sailing Club. A crisp clip around the mid-Solent and fast progress meant the tide had less influence than on the long legs of the previous days.

It has been a good Cowes Week. Early apprehension about a repeat of last year's lack of wind leading to many races being lost was decisively blown away on a Monday which, for many, provided the sort of blast they love to tackle. There followed four days of first-class sailing conditions, lots of sunshine, fresh sea breezes and finishes early enough to threaten far too much socialising ashore.

Debates over the management of the races continued. They have not changed much in 20 years and those who buy into Cowes Week know what they should expect. The pressure for some starts and courses to be set from committee boats in different parts of the Solent is still there for those classes that have engines to take them there. That would allow the shorter legs and sharper boat handling which most would enjoy. The dayboat classes need to stay close to home, but the others could rotate, as they do in Ford Cork Week.

The problems are, apparently, the cost of setting up all the other start lines and the notion that people are keen to race off the Royal Yacht Squadron line. Anyone who feels such a desperate need to touch the hem of the Squadron's cloak has bigger problems than sailing in Cowes Week. And those race officers who feel their importance would be diminished if they were not on its illustrious platform probably should not be there anyway.

As the mantle of management switches from Dan Bradby to Stuart Quarrie as Director of Cowes Combined Clubs, perhaps some new initiatives will be given another airing. One being discussed in the marina is to make the CCC more of an executive group, with its participating clubs sharing in the commercial returns but allowing the appointment of either more permanent or professional teams of race officers rather than giving the job to the various clubs. The best that the clubs could provide would still be invited.

Fears that more boats would return to other home ports, rather than gathering every evening in Cowes, are not seen as serious. Cowes has been given its wish in separating events like the Commodores' Cup and next year's Admiral's Cup from the regatta week. It needs only to keep investing in itself and making its money with a smile to keep on attracting the thousands.

It is also actively seeking more sponsorship. Smaller supporters like Helly Hansen and Pimm's have declared themselves very happy. The big management problem is over how to keep main sponsor Skandia Life happy, or find a repla-cement when their contract runs out next year.

In Helsinki, Paul Brotherton and Neal McDonald were the highest-placed British pair to qualify for the Gold Fleet of the 49er European Championships, finishing third. Fourth were Ian Barker and Simon Hiscocks, with Ian and Andy Budgen, who were second in the worlds earlier this year, 10th. Eight races are scheduled for the final two days.