Velsheda, one of the stars of Cowes' yachting history back in the early 1930s, was the J Class' shining star of today when they convincingly won the class in the Royal Yacht Squadron's Bicentenary International Regatta's 50 miles eastabout Race Around the Island in blustery, fresh conditions leaving Falmouth regatta winner Lionheart to second place.
Although the foundations of Velsheda's victory were laid only minutes after the fast, downwind start off the RYS line when they hooked into one, key favourable windshift, the crew of the older, navy blue hulled boat were later able to capitalise when Lionheart's jib halyard strop broke off Sandown Bay. The Velsheda team never put a foot wrong and were acknowledged as deserved victors in the showcase distance race. They were helped to today's triumph by ace local navigator Pete Selby who stood in, deputising for one day only, and in so doing realised a childhood dream when he sailed aboard a J Class yacht for the first time. That it was the beautifully restored, original J Class which he had sailed past many times as a kid in his Mirror dinghy when the yacht was in her mudberth on his native Hamble added significantly to the experience for Selby.
"It really was a dream come true today. But back to work tomorrow." Smiled IT specialist Selby, of his job well done.
After two days with no racing due to strong winds, the J Class fleet enjoyed the boisterous conditions around the outside of the island, with the breeze touching 20 kts at times. Lumpy overfalls between Sandown Bay and St Catherine's Point added spice to the brisk upwind work. But from a strategic point of view, racing with the tide with them all the way until the return into the Western Solent, reduced the big options for tidal gains and losses.
That said Velsheda stayed offshore and benefited from a lifting breeze and more ebb tide on their port tack layline back to the Solent and doubled their delta on Lionheart and Ranger, and Velsheda's tactician Tom Dodson was pleased that each of their key sail choices proved to be the right one, not least sticking with their smaller, blade jib on the upwind leg outside the island.
Velsheda made their initial jump on the fleet when they gybed on to a beneficial, heading gust just minutes after the start. It took their opposition time to match them but the key gain was made and Velsheda lead out of the Forts at the Eastern end of the Solent, set their A5 small reaching kite for the leg to Bembridge ledge and were able to pace the pursuing Lionheart.
Lionheart pointed higher on the long starboard tack leg up to Saint Catherine's Point while Velsheda chose to stand off and avoid any windshadow in Sandown Bay. It was just as Lionheart were creeping up inside Velsheda that their jib halyard gave way and their headsail had to be recovered to the deck. The process took minutes and Velsheda were able to extend steadily. Even so their biggest gain was across the SW side of the island.
"I was wanting to make sure we got all the tidal push we could there and the lifting breeze. You tend to sag into the bay there and get knocking breeze and so we made some good distance there."Recalled Selby.
On the run back down to Cowes Ranger's choice of the island shore, cheating the building ebb, allowed them to get back at Lionheart which, in turn compressed in to Velsheda a little.
"We were never really worried at any point." Remarked Velsheda's Tom Dodson, "It's a good one to win and I think we did all the right things we should have."
Lionheart's tactician John Cutler rues the missed first shift: "Velsheda sailed really well. They got the jump on us at the first shift after the start. I am kicking myself for that but I did say before that it could down to the first cross, the first shift and that pretty much was it."
Dodson recalled: "We saw more pressure on that Cowes shore and did not want to wait for the other two to gybe. And we got the pressure and a little header and that really worked for us. That was nice and we capitalised on that. Then we made the right call with right chute between the tower and Bembridge and we changed to the A5 and that was good for us. Then the choice of genoa at Bembridge was also tricky and we had input that it might drop away. But we erred towards the blade which we normally do and the wind stayed at 16-17,18 to 20kts. So we feel like we got all the calls right. We always were ahead of them. They climbed inside us because we worried a bit about a lee, but that did not really happen. And so they climbed inside us but we were still ahead of them, it was close until they broke their halyard which gave us a little bit of comfort there. And then we stood off coming back into the Needles. We were still five minutes shy of the port lay line and they had tacked. We made a good gain there too. Lionheart were getting righties and a bit less current and we were probably doubled our lead there. But they were running faster as they do all the time, the Lionheart. So we have a bit to do."
"But it is nice one to win. It is a good challenge, really it is three of four races in one. We do some long courses but that is a nice prize to win."
And of his first J Class experience Selby, who confirmed he had sailed the eastabout course only a few times - in the Jubilee Regatta and the Commodore's Cups - commented:
"The crew work was great. When we asked for stuff it happened. But for me it is a bit different because it takes that bit longer to do things. When they ask for ten minutes they need it but usually it is done in five. We never really felt too worried by them, because I did not want to go into Sandown Bay and they were standing in there, and while there was not so much of a lull there, we got quite a header and it paid us even more."
"It was, however, relatively easy because we had the tide with us all the way. The choices are not that difficult. You are looking to stay in maximum current, to get through the overfalls as best you can. We were all the back after the start. Tom looked over his shoulder and there was a huge gust inside us and the rest was history."
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