The Dragon Fleet voted Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week 2011 the best Cowes Week in years with great conditions, fantastically close racing and a perfectly judged social programme.

Afloat it proved to be a windy week with the fleet racing every day, often in winds over 30 knots.  Despite some gear failures there were no serious breakages and the entire fleet made it to the end of the week in one piece.  Throughout the fleet there were great battles for position with Graham and Julia Bailey, crewed by Tim Tavinor and Will Heritage (son of David), taking the overall honors from Eric Williams, crewed by Katie Cole and Mark “Crash” Daly, with Gavia Wilkinson-Cox, crewed by Mark Hart and Thomas Wilton, third.

Each day the fleet came ashore with more tales of daring do.  On the windiest days the sight of the Dragons taking off in a ball of spray on a running start from the Squadron line was truly spectacular and whilst many of the other classes struggled to cope it was a joy to watch the Dragons reveling in the conditions.  One of the most determined performances in the strong winds came from Chris and Jilly Brittain, crewed by Andrew “Noddy” Norden, who stripped their spinnaker halyard on the first run and were forced to complete the rest of the race under jib alone.  By the end of the final run they were right at the back of the fleet but with a long beat home ahead of them they dug in and determinedly ground their way back up into sixth place.

It was great to see so many family crews racing and in particular several very young crews.  The youngest in the fleet were ten year old Will Heritage (son of David Heritage) and twelve year old Joe Bailey (nephew of Graham and Pip and son of Richard Bailey).  Joe is an old hand at Cowes Week now having sailed regularly with Julia over the past 4 years, but this year he had grown just a bit too much so was too heavy to join Graham, Julia and Tim and instead sailed with Richard Cullen and the Supremacy crew.  Joe’s loss was Will’s gain and he jumped at the chance to sail aboard Aimee for the week.

Graham and Julia have always been keen to encourage youngsters into the class and were delighted to have Will with them.  Julia was particularly impressed with Will’s ability to concentrate and think ahead sighting one particularly tricky mark rounding as evidence of just how proficient he became by the later part of the week.  They were coming into a tricky late gybe drop against the tide and needed to hold the kite as long as possible which meant that she and Tim were actually out of place for their normal mark rounding positions.  As they made the drop Will completed his usual tasks smartly while Julia and Tim tried to juggle getting the kite down, pulling on the runners and bringing in the main.  Julia suddenly realised that she needed to get the jib in as well as everything else, but when she turned to reach for the sheet Will had already figured out that the job needed doing and was quietly getting on with trimming it perfectly on as they rounded.  Certainly watching Will on the foredeck in over 30 knots of breeze confidently gybing the spinnaker was one of the most heart warming sights of the week.

In Supremacy crew Jenny Stutley admitted that she initially had reservations about sailing with a crew as young as Joe, particularly when she knew that it was forecast to be a windy week.  “I admit I was a little worried at first but Joe has completely changed my mind about sailing with young crew members.  He was a valuable addition to the crew and wonderful company to have aboard.”  Check out the video interview with Will and Joe below.

Whilst the racing may be the main feature of Cowes Week, getting the social programme right is equally important in ensuring the week is a true success and the Solent Dragon Fleet certainly ensured that 2011’s apres sailing programme lived up to all expectations.  The first big event of the week was the Bluebottle Gala Dinner to mark the 90th birthday of the Duke of Edinburgh, supported by Aberdeen Asset Management.  Held at the Royal Corinthian YC the evening opened with a champagne reception with a difference.  As the guests arrived the Cowes regulars noticed that the Corinthian seemed to have brought in two new temporary waiters for the evening who were particularly enthusiastic in welcoming guests and topping up glasses.  There was also some speculation as to the identity of the rather exotic raven haired beauty who was mingling with the guests.  After about 45 minutes one of the waiters suddenly burst into song and the three were revealed to be Opera On The Run, a wonderful trio of professional opera singers who not only entertained the Dragon fleet but also got them to singing along with gusto as you can see from our video below.

The reception was followed by the gala dinner with fantastic food and some great after dinner entertainment too. Under the auspices of Master of Ceremonies and DJ Dave Ross, Solent Fleet Captain Richard Cullen was the first to speak, followed the representative of the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth who had kindly arranged for Bluebottle to be on display at the Aberdeen Asset Management hospitality pavilion in Cowes Yacht Haven throughout the week. After this Matt “Littlelegs” Armstrong took the mic to conduct a hilarious raffle and auction to raise money for the RNLI in which Owen Pay became the lucky owner of a life-size cardboard cutout of newly weds Prince William and his beautiful bride Catherine. Malcolm McKeag rounded off the formalities with a speech on behalf of the guests in which he reminisced about his own Dragon sailing days and acknowledged the evening as without doubt one of the best Cowes Week parties ever. With the formalities over DJ Ross hit the decks and the dancing began (fortunately no video evidence exists of this!).

Click here to view the still photo gallery from the Gala Dinner

The entire fleet came together again mid-week to celebrate the birthday of Mark Hart and the tenth anniversary of the meeting of BDA Secretary Tim Wilkes and his lovely wife Theresa. Owen and Josy Pay hosted the gathering in the waterfront garden of their Cowes home with catering organised by Mark’s partner Lindsy and Jenny Stutley. The Pimms and wine were free flowing and the atmosphere was wonderfully mellow as the sun set slowly over the Solent.

The Cowes Week fireworks are legendary and Aberdeen Asset Management marked their first year as Cowes Week title sponsor with a particularly spectacular display. Once again Pay On Sea played host to the Dragon fleet for the evening and the crews enjoyed a relaxed BBQ picnic, this time washed down with copious quantities of Dark & Stormies. For those of you who missed it below is a video of the highlights of the firework display.

The week concluded with the official prize giving on Saturday night where the Dragon fleet turned out in force to celebrate their champions.  Our photo below shows Gavia Wilkinson-Cox, Eric Williams and Graham Baily on stage during the presentation.

Many congratulations to the victors and a huge thank you to the entire Solent Dragon Fleet and their shoreside support crew for making this one of the best Cowes Weeks in years.  Special thanks must go to event and class sponsor Aberdeen Asset Management who really pulled out all the stops.  Throughout the week competitors and visitors alike were commenting on the fantastic atmosphere surrounding the event.  In particular the balance between the corporate and the individual competitor elements seemed to be well matched this year and certainly the Dragon fleet had a fantastic event both on and off the water.  If you weren’t in Cowes this year check out our video reports and the photos linked below and make a date to be there for Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week 2011 (August 11-18 – see for more info).


Rick Tomlinson Official Photographs (photos will be posted later this week)

Paul Wyeth Photos

Beken of Cowes Photos (scroll down to find the individual daily links)

Hamo Thornycroft Photos

Fi Brown Unofficial Photos From Friday