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Day 215

By Brian Hancock

There is quite probably no more iconic place on our beautiful planet to finish an around-the-world race than the Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes. Since there is a bit of a lull in the racing while L’Esprit d’équipe deals with a lightning breeze in the English (French) Channel and the Finnish on Spirit of Helsinki get to sink their teeth into a moderate northeasterly wind I thought maybe it’s time for bit of a history lesson. By the way, their will not be a test.

The club was started, as many of these things are, in a whiskey and smoke filled room in 1915 in the Thatched House Tavern in London. There were 40 gentlemen in attendance. The only requirement was that your status in the City held enough water to pass the smell test, and that you owned a yacht not under 10 tons. They were there to set the fledgling world of yacht racing straight. One of their first orders of duty was to organise a new yacht regatta, called, not surprisingly, Cowes Week. This was held in 1933, the same year that slavery was abolished in Great Britain. A good year I would say. Any year that there are fewer slaves and more sailing can only be a good year.

It was, however, a full 18 years before the US yacht America joined the party by laying down the gauntlet and challenging for the 100 Guinea Cup, also now known as the America’s Cup which you now know as one of the most iconic trophies in sporting history. Queen Victoria was on hand to watch the race and uttered those fateful words, “who is second,” to which it was replied, “Ah your majesty, there is no second.”

Alongside the yacht club is a long stretch of grass where “the rest of us” can picnic and watch the sailing. It’s known as The Lawn and is where I watched many races. The good news is that there is deep water right up to the breakwall so the boats come hurtling toward you only to tack out of there at the very last second; exciting stuff.

One Cowes week I was invited by the owner of the yacht to join the crew for dinner and drinks at the club. Now I was still a wet-behind-the-ears nipper but smart enough to know that the dress code was jacket and tie; I had neither. I may have been a little wet, but I had spied a second-hand shop just set back from the High Street a quarter mile from the Yacht Squadron, and entered. The lady at the counter offered brightly, ”so you are going for dinner at the club then?” She knew. She had seen the hopeful faces before.“ There is usually a queue outside this place every Saturday night as young ‘uns like you rent a jacket. I will see you early Monday morning to get the jacket back and will refund you most of the money. Most, not all, a lady has to make a profit you know.”

I was allowed in the clubs hallowed inner sanctuary, a place where women were only allowed to become full members long after my dinner, in fact they were only finally welcomed in August 2013.

While I have been rambling, L’Esprit d’équipe have been making tracks and according to our on-the-water team they are making good time with an ETA of 19:00 UTC. Just perfect timing and another victory for the French. What a team on The Little Engine that Could. What a race they have sailed. So I am signing off for a bit to savour their accomplishment. Congratulations Lionel Régnier and your team of both male and female veterans. They are all veterans now. They are that, plus they are circumnavigators.

ETA update – the wind has crapped out and a counter tide has kicked. “Oh all the best laid plans of mice and men.” It could be a long long night for all involved.

Don’s Daily Tracker Update

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