Whitbread vets can drink to success

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The Independent Online
As The diminutive day boats disperse from Cowes today on traditional passage races to their Solent home ports, they leave a 1996 Skandia Life Cowes Week that has delivered the very best in British sailing.

From next to no wind that brought out the skills of the Solent experts at the beginning of the week to gusts recorded at 55 knots on Tuesday which brought down a total of 17 masts, the conditions matched the eclectic fleet, which this year numbered 850.

At the head of the field, and back again after an absence of many years, was a fleet of four Maxis racing in their own class. These 80-footers included two Grand Mistral round the world boats, Nicorette and Grand Mistral, the former being skippered by Ludde Ingvall to an overall victory in the class with the aid of Harold Cudmore as tactician, the latter in the hands of a newcoming Russian crew.

Though the Maxis provide the main spectacle, the hot racing is in the smaller classes and in particular in CHS Class 1 where the fashionable 40-footers do battle. This year the prestigious trophies, the Britannia Cup and the New York Yacht Club Trophy, were awarded to CHS 1 with Jocelyn Waller's BHB 41 Silk taking the Britannia Cup and Glyn Williams' BHB 41 Wolf the Britannia Cup. Silk, skippered by Mark Heeley and brimming with talent that included Whitbread veterans Gordon Maguire and Steve Hayles together with dinghy champions Duncan Macdonald and Jerry Eplett, yesterday clinched the CHS 1 overall title with their fourth win of the week. They were upstaged on Thursday, when Matt Humphries, another Whitbread veteran, steered Wolf to the NY Yacht Club Trophy.

In the smaller but no less high-profile sports boat divisions, Mike Lennon topped the 32-boat Glenfiddich Melges 24 fleet without needing to put to sea yesterday. In a class that has attracted many of Britain's Olympians fresh from Savannah, including silver medal winners Ben Ainslie and John Merricks and Ian Walker, Lennon, the reigning national champion, made relatively easy work of a class he knows well. A second place on the final race yesterday was enough to give David Bedford, sailing Glenfiddich 1, second overall while the European champion, the Italian Georgio Zuccoli, found the unpredictable Solent too much of a challenge as he finished fifth overall.

But if all the attention is focused on the glitzy racing hardware, in the wily world of dayboat racing, no class is harder to win than the XOD class. This ancient boat has frequently confounded the top sailors, stars from the international circuit who struggle to make the top 10 in the X class. British Olympian Glyn Charles spent a day in the fleet on Friday as guest "back-seat driver"; Charles was somewhere around 60th when he and his team decided to retire. This year there were some 82 XODs racing, and though yesterday's race was won by David Spencer-Phillips' Lizz Whizz, it did little to improve his 78th overall. Willy McNeill and Andrew Tredrea's Vanity took first overall after third place yesterday.