he Brewin Dolphin British Open Metre Regatta, hosted by the Royal Southern Yacht Club in Hamble from June 27-29, was an event of multiple winners and multiple weather conditions. The Six Metre Class, which was at the heart of the Olympics from 1908 in Ryde Isle of Wight until its last appearance at the Games in Helsinki in 1952, is as much a formidable force in yacht racing today as it was then.
Not surprisingly then, competition was tight in both the Classic Class - the oldest competitor Sioma was built in 1927 - and the Modern Class, whose entries were built largely in the late 1980s.
Racing was held over three days on windward leeward courses, set in the mid-Solent. On the first day, each of the three races was won by a different boat. On points, the Classic Six Metre Class was dominated very narrowly by Fenton Burgin’s Sioma, the oldest yacht in the fleet, designed in 1927. Meanwhile in the Modern Class, the first day was led by one point by Tom Richardson’s Georgia.
Principal Race Officer David Arnold sent the fleet on an uptide windward leeward course in a light 8-10 knots breeze which was consistent almost until the bitter end when it dropped off completely during race three leaving the bunched-up fleet struggling against what was left of the tide. However, they were saved by a new wind from the opposite direction, most finishing with kites flying.
In the first race Peter Andreae’s Erica, helmed by Robin Laird, and fellow Classic Abu, owned by Christian Teichmann, were neck and neck, pulling away convincingly as a pair from the rest of the fleet - but the race was over for both when they then rounded the wrong mark, allowing Sioma to take the bullet.
Race two was not without incident either. Andy Ash-Vie’s Wildcat led to the first mark, but took it a little too close, allowing the rest of her fleet to get past as she set about extracting herself. Wildcat had good boat speed, though, and hastily clawed her way back to second place at the finish.
“Racing was very close and it was good to see the classics and moderns so close together,” commented Class Chairman Robin Richardson at the end of the first day’s racing, who helms St Kitts. “Three of the Sixes, Wildcat, St Kitts and Georgia are virtually identical, since they all came from the same designer, so it is a good challenge for us to race together.”
Cruising on the edges of the race course during the event was the 1958-built 12 metre Sceptre, providing a further historical backdrop for spectators and competitors alike. She was hoping for some competition from the other UK-based 12 Metre fleet however, unavoidable factors prevented her veteran rivals in the UK from attending.
The second day was one of changes and more changes as the wind shifted suddenly from nearly due east to SSW then finally settling on west, during the first of the two windward leeward race courses. “We had everything from 0-28 knots and from various directions,” commented David Arnold, “so we were kept on our toes!”
Indeed, quick thinking by his committee boat team enabled the first race to be finished at the top of the second leg, on what should have been a run to the leeward mark but ended up as a close fetch. With a 30 knot forecast just an hour or so away, the committee set to work losing no time in setting up the second race of the day the other way round, and got the fleet away promptly in the new breeze.
Conditions then went unexpectedly light on the race course but the wind picked up after twenty minutes or so, enabling the fleet to complete a full three circuits of the course, finishing in quite blustery gusts.
The day initially seemed to belong to Erica in the Classic Class, as she glided to a smooth first place finish in the first race. In the second race she went on to pick up a formidable lead of nearly three minutes only to lose it in the shifting conditions and allowing Christian Teichmann’s Abu to take her place. She and fellow Classic Sioma finally decided to call it a day as winds peaked at 28 knots, gracefully retiring to preserve their historic yachts for another day.
In the Modern Class, Robin Richardson’s St Kitts suffered disappointment in the first race as his genoa tack came apart right on the start line. As the start gun was fired, he was forced to change sails before rejoining the race. However he did find redemption by winning the second race of the day.
After the first five races four boats in the Classic Class were tied on points. Racing was set to finish the following day but with winds forecast well beyond the Six Metre comfort zone – over 30 knots - the five races ended up having to count. The strong winds did indeed materialise, and with 35 knots, not the favourite weather of Six Metres, especially when some of them are 85 years old, David Arnold made a decisive call to abandon racing for the day, effectively bringing the event to its conclusion.
At the final count Wildcat squeaked to a win in the Modern Class, on the low point scoring system in a very close spar with Tom Richardson’s Georgia.
In the Classic Class, Erica beat Christian Teichmann’s Abu into second place. Built in 1938 by Camper and Nicholson, Erica won the historic Royal Southern Yacht Club Challenge Trophy.
The completion of the British Open Metre Regatta marks the end of a month-long celebration of the Royal Southern Yacht Club’s 175th Anniversary celebrations which included an IRC regatta and events for a number of different classes.
The Six Metre class moves rapidly on to the British Classic Panerai Regatta starting on July 7, so there is no slowing down in the programme. The Class holds a special place in the history of rating rules and has brought much innovation and development to sailing throughout the last century. There is a keen interest in the Classics, defined as boats designed before 1965. Many beautiful restorations have been carried out, returning yachts back to near original specifications. It is now hard to find old boats of good quality to restore from the right designers such as such as Johan Anker, Sparkman and Stevens, or William Fife, so the Class is back on top where it rightly belongs.