Solent fleet make plans for Cowes Classic - and it's 'evening all' at Dell Quay

Solent Sunbeams at Cowes
Solent Sunbeams at Cowes

Thirteen Solent Sunbeam classic keelboats are already signed up for racing at this year’s Cowes Classic Week, with another couple expected to be on the start line on July 29, taking the total to at least 15.

Among this year’s entries is Solent Sunbeam hull No1, Dainty, which was launched in 1923 and has been sailed for more than 50 years by Peter Nicholson. This could be Peter’s lucky year, with his regatta entry already winning the draw for a free place thanks to its early submission.

Racing on an equal basis alongside the 96-year-old V1 Dainty will be several recent GRP additions to the fleet including V66, Molly and V68, Sky.

The origins of the GRP addition to this classic fleet arose ten years ago when some of the Class members realised that the fleet numbers at Itchenor were in danger of declining below the critical mass needed to maintain a successful class. Enthusiastic local Sunbeam owners Alan Stannah and Roger Wickens wondered if a GRP version of the boat would attract new entrants to the fleet with the lower build and maintenance costs.

In order to preserve the integrity of the fleet’s racing, much time and effort was spent ensuring the GRP Sunbeams would sail exactly the same as the original wooden boats, and thanks to the detailed work in the design and build of the new boats, this has successfully been achieved.

Interestingly the new GRP Sunbeams have attracted a number of lady owners, some of whom will be taking part in this year’s Cowes Classic Week.

The elegant Solent Sunbeam design comes from the drawing board of Alfred Westmacott, the Isle of Wight based designer who was well known for designing a string of successful one-design keelboats including the Mermaid, X Boat and Yarmouth one-design, all of which are still active in the Solent today.

Many of the fleet were built by Woodnutt’s of St Helens on the island and despite the class being 96 years old, around 70 Sunbeams still regularly race and sail in the UK today.

Cowes Classic Week is a popular regatta for the Sunbeam owners who enjoy the challenging sailing conditions of the Solent as well as the hugely welcoming social events and enduring friendships.

Most of the highly competitive racing for the Itchenor-based Solent Sunbeam fleet takes place on Chichester Harbour, so the Solent idiosyncrasies of tides, winds, banks and race courses will provide new challenges to their normal racing environment

The full story of this stunning and enduring class has been detailed in a magnificent book called ‘The Brilliance of Sunbeams’ which is full of exceptional images gathered by Peter Nicholson spanning the 95 years of the yacht as well as a huge array of adventures, stories, calamities and triumphs detailing the history of the fleet.

Copies are available through


by Mike Wigmore, rear commodore sailing, Itchenor SC

Itchenor Sailing Club’s busy summer programme continues apace.

In mid-June at Itchenor Keelboat Week, the new name for our longstanding Points Week event, 51 keelboats enjoyed top-of-the-tide racing in Chichester Harbour.

Race officer Roger Wickens set the National Swallows, Solent Sunbeams and XODs full-length tactically challenging races each day to find our club champion but more importantly to provide great days on the water, enjoying day keelboat racing at its best. A full programme of social events also took place throughout the week.

With just a week off the club then rolled into Schools Week, a week of two halves. First 96 Fevas raced in a unique event where all competitors start together for the six championship races. What other event can you think of where the novice can play on the same playing field as the best?

On Tuesday afternoon, as if by magic, all those boats disappeared and 52 Fireflies arrive on the stage. The Firefly event is predominantly for Year 11 and older sailors and has been held at Itchenor for as long as anyone can remember. A broad range of more than 25 schools entered teams over the week so the winners should feel proud of their achievements.

Without a blink we now move on to training weeks in preparation for Junior Fortnight starting on July 29. A festival of youth and junior sailing steeped in history but still as fresh as the day it was first sailed more than 60 years ago – two weeks of fun junior racing run by our in-house team.

Great regular racing continues every week for three keelboat classes and five dinghy classes alongside an active rowing section. In the meantime, our International 14 skiff sailors wrapped up the first five places in the recent European Championships held at Flensburg, Germany.


The fifth race in the Dell Quay SC Evening series took place in challenging winds from the north east, attracting only seven entries, many of whom were forced to retire as conditions proved just too much.

The large mass of weed in the vicinity of the Hook racing mark meant race officer Steven Holcroft decided to put in an extra inflatable mark to draw boats away from this area.

This race proved a busy one for the safety boat crew who had to perform a few rescues. The first casualty was John Purdy (Solo), who had to deal with his boom separating from the goose neck. The safety boat got him back into the race but he decided to retire.

Second casualty was Max Manning (Laser Radial), who discovered he had a faulty outhaul. He also retired.

The next casualty was Nikki Buchanan (Solo), who capsized in a strong gust and was unable to right her boat. The safety boat crew assisted her recovery.

The remaining three boats completed the race with Sue Manning first in her Laser 4.7, Mark Harper (Solo) second and James Pound (Laser) third.

Harper leads the series, with Steven Holcroft (Solo) second and Carol Andrews (Solo) third.