Crews of the three J Class yachts which will compete in the celebratory Royal Yacht Squadron Bicentenary International Regatta from Cowes this week are primed and poised to start what promises to be their most challenging event for many years.
As well as the unique set of tidal currents, relatively restricted waters and the local idiosyncrasies which can deliver race deciding gains and losses, the J Class trio Lionheart, Ranger and Velsheda will be competing at the heart of a massive fleet of yachts of all types and sizes from small one design sportsboats to grand prix ocean racers. That alone will place extra pressure on the crews to remain extra vigilant.
But the return to Cowes and the Solent is a popular one for the J Class. Although the fleet last raced on the Solent in 2012, the sense of occasion and the chance to write their own part in the celebrations of the history of the Royal Yacht Squadron are opportunities embraced fully by the owners and crews of the three J Class yachts.
The class has long, historic links with Cowes and the Solent and it is certainly good to be back. Velsheda, as the oldest, original J present - which was built in 1933 at Camper & Nicholson - won many trophies on these waters, notably including the Kings Cup at Cowes Week in 1935.
This season's top honours so far belong to Lionheart. Winners last month in Falmouth the crew of the black boat are keen to carry forward their successes to this second J Class regatta of the season. "It is going to be quite an experience racing in these restricted waters on these classic boats. I am really looking forwards to it." opens John Cutler, the Kiwi tactician who guided Lionheart to victory in Falmouth. "We have a few local guys on board so we are good in that respect. But we are exactly the same as when we were in Falmouth. The boat is in mint condition and we don't need to change anything. It is such good close racing. The power of starting well is really important. We treat it like a three boat match race. You gain control of one or the other of the boats. So you tend to stay in control of one boat and that often lets the other boat sail their own race." "It is always great to come here. I have always enjoyed sailing in Cowes. I won the Admiral's Cup here in the 1990s with the Americans. I love sailing here. It is complicated with the current, the sandbanks, the history and all the buoys which represent so much history. It is where yachting really started and I love it.
Mike Quilter, navigator of Ranger concurs: "There is nowhere in the world like Cowes. It is fantastic I love it. There is so much happening. There are so many boats, such strange conditions, so much tide. There is always something to look at. There is always something happening. It is great. We have a bit of local knowledge on board but as a navigator logic is your greatest weapon."
Forecasts for the five days of racing, which is billed to include a race around the Isle of Wight on Wednesday, promise a full variety of conditions from a brisk, breezy start Monday to lighter winds later in the week. The J Class yachts are based in Southampton's Ocean Village marina and will dock out around 0830hrs each morning, earlier on Wednesday.