‘Alexander Creswell chased the fleet of glorious classic yachts at the Pendennis Cup in Falmouth to capture the action at close quarters in chalk and charcoal. He offers his own particular perspective on the racing:’
PENDENNIS CUP 2010 by Alexander Creswell
It’s what we’ve grown to love about Cornwall in August: two days of sea mist, drizzle and sou’westerlies, then reluctant spring sun giving way to resplendent summer for the last days. I was here at the Pendennis Cup for five days of non-stop drawing of beautiful yachts in Falmouth Bay.
The azure Mediterranean and Caribbean are wonderful, of course, but in Cornwall we were to have the broadest variety of conditions and the water was a symphony of greens, greys and blues. I was chasing in a RIB and, whatever the weather, drawing to record the action, the spirit and the sensation of classic yacht racing – power and grace right up close, hearing the grunting of the easing sheets, the shouts of the crew, the roar of displaced water as they powered though the seas.
Racing started on the first day with a flurry of protest flags as the Big Class jostled across the start line, spars almost touching. The murky grey gloom was alleviated by Adela’s crew shirts making dots of bright red in the gloom. At the top mark her ‘Big Red’ kite was hoisted for the downwind run and she was soon lost in the mist as Mariette and Mariquita rounded behind.
Skippers and tacticians were on their mettle laying for Gull Rock as the turning mark, a jagged reminder of the hostility of this coast. What a way to begin a regatta! Adela rounded first in the mist, then the ghostly silhouette of Mariquita appeared, slicing the water in streaks of white and indigo. She broke the eerie silence with cries of heave! and ho! as the sheets were hardened in without the benefit of winches to put her on the windward tack, followed by Mariette and Velacarina.
Danger was not far away and the Sparkman & Stephens ketch Tomahawk had broken her mast at the first mark and was taken for repair into Pendennis Shipyard. She would reappear before the end of the week but for now her classmate Pinuccia, a local classic owned by the Tresanton Hotel, was on her own.
I had succeeded in making a series of wet, splashy sketches in smudgy charcoal for sky, water and sail alike with white chalk in streaks for the cresting seas and foaming bow-waves. My drawing machine provided me with a ten-metre roll of dry paper, tinted to allow the use of white chalk. So far I had needed only grey.
That evening the Royal Cornwall Yacht Club hosted a barbecue. Drizzle wrapped itself around the crews, owners and guests, a cool Cornish welcome from the sky but inside the scene was more colourful, a feast that set the tone for a week of fun and fierce, exciting racing. The great flags from the J’s of the 1930’s on the club walls formed the backdrop to the gathering of experienced seadogs and young crew hoping to make history.
The second day started with worsening visibility and
a long course out to sea. The wind had shifted to the west and a thin, persistent rain wet my paper and stung the eyeballs as we searched for the fleet in the bay, bashing our way to the Manacles buoy to wait for them. There was no horizon other than the rising profile of the next wave, a swell now steepening with the spring ebb across the rocks. The Manacles bell tolled ominously in memory of the 100s who had perished on the rocks. Visibility was below 200 m. We were alone in a grey world.
A Grey Spectre
Then suddenly and far closer than we expected loomed Adela almost on the mark, a grey spectre like the Flying Dutchman parting the fog at full pace. Rounding the mark, she broke out her spinnaker in a deafening crackle of crisp fabric rapidly released from its snuffer, sounding like eager applause in a space confined by sails, hull and the sloppy water below. Then she was gone, a meagre silvery light now leading her back to Pendennis Castle and the finish.
The layday allowed all to rest and dry out, but many were back on the water for the harbour activities laid on by Pendennis Shipyard. The crews who been so focussed while sailing appeared to find gig racing more of a challenge. Mariquita’s crew won the day as the menacing grey skies gave way to a rich cobalt washed by rain.
Towering cumulonimbus set the stage for the greatest spectacle and every boat in the harbour held expectant faces turned skywards, waiting of the arrival of the Red Arrows. On shore every quay, ledge and lawn was crowded with onlookers as the phalanx of nine jets tore from the sky and swooped over the Royal Cornwall Yacht Club and fanned out across the harbour. They skimmed the top of the flagpole on Flushing Bowling Green, rolling and turning with just a hair’s breadth between them. Gasps and whoops of joy came from many a mouth, and children who had wished to sail like local hero Ben Ainsley now wanted to be a Red Arrows pilot instead.
Spring arrived on day three, the wind shifted to a steady north-westerly with clear visibility and a few patches of sunlight. The course was set for a long reach to Dodman Point and back with 20 knots off the land. These were fabulous schooner conditions and we dashed along the coast to find them.
Fast on the Draw
Adela’s towering profile was visible from afar, approaching rapidly with a fine bone in her teeth. Closing with her, we sat off her leeward bow for an exciting series of urgent sketches, smudged with spray. We were doing 17 knots, the fastest I have ever tried to draw. We dropped astern, white-water rafting on the massive quarter-wave.
Most of her topsides were invisible in the bright white maelstrom of water from bow to quarter. This was extreme sketching at its most exhilarating. I worked frantically, chalk and charcoal clamped in my lips like roll-ups, one hand hanging on to the RIB. Then it was over. St Anthony light was abeam far sooner than expected – we had covered the ten miles from the Dodman in what seemed like minutes.
Power and resistance
We turned back and intercepted Mariette, more graceful than powerful Adela. Her lee rail was awash, invisible in the foam, her taffrail was below the quarter-wave and transom invisible. She and the water were as one in a delicious synthesis of power and resistance, wind against sailcloth, steel against water and above the roar of the battle could be heard the hum of tension in the rigging, straining to transfer the forces from air to water. Loud grunts of a strange, bestial ecstasy emanated from the sheets as the trimmers eased and hauled, maximising performance. Mariette, despite her tremendous exertions, finished half an hour behind Adela.
That evening the party was in Falmouth Art Gallery where guests could view an exhibition of marine paintings by Jamie Medlin, Philippe Gavin and myself. After a glass or two with culture, the party moved to the perhaps prophetically named Gurkha restaurant where Pendennis Shipyard treated the entire party to a fabulous curry. Those reluctant to embrace the night retired to the adjacent Seven Stars, a pub redolent of Falmouth in a less genteel age.
On day four my friend Mike Hutch who had generously sped me around in his RIB, had a better offer of a day racing on Adela, manning the portside runners with my wife. I spent the day on board The Buzzard – Pendennis Shipyard’s Batmobile on water, skimming across the bay at incredible speed to monitor and umpire the race. Sketching at 45 knots was beyond me; staying aboard was challenge enough.
This was a superb day’s racing with Adela once again taking the prize, while Mariquita won the beauty contest as always in my view. In whatever conditions and on every point of sail she is the epitome of classic beauty. Her graceful sheer, fine entry and pert counter is always a pleasure to draw, and her cloud of canvas above is perpetually perfect. To sketch her is to caress her, and just looking is a joy.
It was clear that Adela had the Big Class trophy in the bag so the final day introduced a pursuit race for the newly created St Piran Cup. A diminished breeze from the northeast and broken cloud looked much like summer. The windward/leeward course across Falmouth Bay offered maximum spectacle from the shore. The competitors, including Tomahawk now repaired, were clearly visible preparing sail in the bay. Seals basked on Black Rock. I was due to present framed sketches to the class winners in the evening and I had work to do.
Ear to Ear
Velacarina started first. Tomahawk and Pinuccia had four days’ racing to make up and crossed the start line together, ear to ear, and battled to the top mark. I sketched them both with lee rails under, sunlight picking out Tomahawk’s white coachroof and the immaculate clear decks of Pinuccia.
It was a surprise how small they looked compared to the mighty forms of Adela and Mariette. This called for a delicate line which at moments blended completely with the white water. Pinuccia barely had a hull at all it seemed; just her elegant fractional rig and a gash of white water below, with glimpses of Pendennis Castle through the slot. Turning downwind, they broke out spinnakers and gathered speed for the pursuit to the Manacles.
By now Mariquita had started, followed by Mariette and finally an impatient Adela. I changed allegiance from the spinnakers to Mariquita and Mariette’s battle for the top mark, both heeling keenly in front of St Anthony.
First to the mark, Mariquita set her trademark ‘Beken of Cowes’ poled goosewing and processed serenely towards the Manacles. Mariette slowly overhauled her in an opulent cloud of canvas so bright in the sunlight that I could draw her using only white chalk on my tinted paper.
Mariette gybed and increased her lead. Down at the Manacles buoy something was amiss. Pinuccia was clearly round the mark but Tomahawk was nowhere to be seen. Soon news came that rigging failure had brought her mast down again – the hard season of racing had taken its toll.
The 85ft/25m bermudan ketch Velacarina had caught less attention than her rivals during the week, but this was to be her day. She sailed well and showed off her gleaming brass and perfect sails as she took the first gun on the finish line crowded with spectator boats.
Straight from quay on the final day the crews found solace and celebration at the Redman Whiteley Dixon rum bar, the regatta over, regrets and joys anaesthetised with a shot or two of the Cornish smuggler’s favourite. That evening I had 45 metres of drawings to display on the wall of the central hall of the National Maritime Museum, the dramatic and appropriate setting for the closing ceremony.
I had never seen the fruits of a week’s work displayed in this way and took a certain pride in what had been achieved. Now I could show all those curious pairs of eyes on board the yachts what I had been doing all week and offer them a glimpse into another dimension of their noble and beautiful world.
It had been a brisk, thrilling and productive week, with the Cornish showing us all a great time on land and sea. To begin the evening in Rick Stein’s fish ‘n’ chippy, armed only with a waitress’s pen, I was persuaded to draw Mariette and Mariquita as tattoos on the muscular arms of the ‘Pendennis Pirates’ as they prepared for the Caribbean party which stretched into the early hours.