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Challenging day at Panerai British Classic Week

11July2012_Panerai_British_Classic_WeekPhoto by Panerai/Guido Cantini

11-July-2012. Panerai British Classic Week is about more than just the racing.  With boats ranging in age from just a few months old to some 126 years young, Cowes Yacht Haven is awash with glimmering varnish and glinting brass work, and the sailors love nothing better than to wander the docks comparing boats, swapping advice and information and generally talking classic boats.  Many of the yachts have fascinating histories and today’s fourth day of the 2012 Panerai British Classic Week was all about giving everyone the time and opportunity to make new friends and find out more about each other’s boats.

The oldest boat in the fleet is David Aisher’s gaff cutter Thalia, which was launched in 1888 and is registered with the UK National Maritime Museum as a vessel of historic importance.  Designed by G F Wanhill, who also designed three of the yachts that competed in the very first America’s Cup Race of 1851, her first owner was R Foley, Commodore of the Royal Cork Yacht Club, and her current owner still has the log of her racing results during the late 19th and early 20th century along with some of the bills of sale and papers from her construction.

The boat that had the biggest adventure getting to Cowes for this year’s regatta has to be the diminutive Sensa, an International 5 Metre built in 1936 by Kingsors Betvarv of Sweden to an Eric Nilsson design and now owned by Cornelius van Rijckevorsel.  Sensa is an open cockpit day racing boat, but that doesn’t stop Cornelius from sailing her in all weathers and over great distances.  In the fortnight running up to this regatta alone he sailed her across the English Channel and back to take part in a French classic regatta and on his delivery from Plymouth to Cowes he faced winds regularly gusting over 35 knots.

Many of the boats have had colourful histories and one that could tell a few stories if only she could speak is Zoom.  Built in 1952 by Camper & Nicholson to a Charles E Nicholson design, her first owner was Group Captain Teddy Haylock, Editor of Yachting World during the 1950s.  Her current owner Rollo Malcolm-Green was recently in contact with Haylock’s widow who most generously presented Rollo with the yacht’s original visitors book containing entries from many of the best-known sailors of that era.

Perhaps the most famous yacht at the regatta is Panerai’s own 1937 72’ Bermudan ketch Eilean, star of the iconic 1982 Duran Duran music video for global hit Rio.  Sadly after her moment of glory in the Rio video Eileen fell on hard times, until Officine Panerai CEO Angelo Bonati found her mastless and rotting in Antigua in 2006.  A two and a half year intensive restoration project later, Eilean was once again ready to race and she now competes regularly in Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge regattas around the world.

On the water it was Challenge Day where any competitor has the right to challenge a yacht larger than herself in a boat-on-boat match and this year five individual matches were arranged.  The results do not count towards the overall series, but that doesn’t stop the races being as hard fought as ever.  Today’s conditions were tough with a series of torrential rainsqualls bringing gusts of up to 37 knots.  In race one Brian Smullen’s Cuilaun beat Andrew Pearson’s Bojar.  In the second match Sensa, one of the smallest boats in the regatta, challenged the much larger Atlantis, owned by Andy and Fiona Bristow, Croix des Gardes, owned by James Kelman, and David Spensley-Corfield’s Ceilidh Mhor, romping home to a giant killing victory almost eight minutes ahead of Atlantis.  In the third match David Orton’s St David’s Light took on round-the-world legend Gipsy Moth IV.  Noting that St David’s Light had won by a very comfortable margin, David, who was not aboard, ruefully noted that he’d told his crew “Not to push the boat that hard”, an instruction that clearly fell on deaf ears.  William Scratchard’s Sea Scamp, Anthony Murphy’s Overlord and Ian Jones’ Sceptre were up next but the heavy conditions got the better of all but Sea Scamp.  The final challenge was amongst the Modern Classics with seven boats taking up the call to arms.  On the line Sean McMillan’s Flight of Ufford took a four-minute victory from Michael and Chloe Hough’s Chloe with Stephen O’Flaherty’s Soufriere third.

Tomorrow will be Antigua and Barbuda Race Day and to spice up the competition the overall winner of the day’s single long offshore race will receive a fabulous luxury holiday to this legendary Caribbean sailing destination, courtesy of Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority and St James Club and Villas.  Commenting on their decision to partner with Panerai British Classic Week Hilary Modeste, Director of Tourism UK and Europe, Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority said “Antigua and Barbuda’s reputation as a sailing destination is already well established and we feel that this is the ideal partnership to reinforce our position as the Sailing Capital of the Caribbean.”

Racing continues until Friday 13th of July and the regatta concludes with a Parade of Sail on Saturday 14 July.