While Ben Ainslie smashed the record during the 2013 Round the Island Race, YW joined some pretty fast Russians aboard a Swan 60.

What were you doing at 0803 this morning? I was hanging onto the rail of a Gazprom branded Swan 60 off St Catherine’s Point, making 14 knots smugly thinking we were doing pretty well for ourselves – however Ben Ainslie was already dropping the foresail of his AC45, having crossed the finish line… all before much of the country woke.
A coffin bearer at Andrew Simpson’s funeral service the day before (Friday 31 May), it was fitting for Ainslie to take his wing-masted AC45 cat out this morning for her first race on home turf, smash the record (2hrs 52 mins, knocking over 16 minutes of Francis Joyon’s 2001 time), and dedicate it to his friend and fellow Olympian.

Meteorologist Chris Tibbs had led us to believe it would be a light affair in his Raymarine sponsored pre-race weather briefing, predicting a max of force four early morning as the last of a pressure blew through. But I’ve not seen conditions as good as those that greeted around 15,000 participants this morning for the 76th Round the Island Race (the ninth under sponsors JP Morgan Asset) – with a Northerly wind averaging 20 knots, and punchy gusts in the mid 20s on the south side of the island.

Indeed both the multihull and monohull records fell, confirming that the flat water, largely reaching conditions were ideal. (We circumnavigated with one gybe and three tacks for example and could possibly have made it just one tack!). Boats light enough to hop up and plane, like the three TP52s, Piet Vroon’s 46ft IRC weapon Tonnere de Breskens, and the Seacart and Dragonfly multihulls, reveled in such conditions. And as I write this on the train home, it’s these boats that looked favourite for silverware, with Sir Keith Mills’ TP52 Five West looking like taking home the coveted Gold Roman Bowl, as the smaller boats still out racing (the likes of my brother on a Contessa 32) were facing dropping heading breeze resulting in unfavourable tides.

Aboard Bronenosec, one of five of the new Swan 60 one design class sponsored by Gazprom and sailed under the St Petersburg Yacht Club burgee, we had a sociable mix of Russians, Italians and Brits. The latter provided local knowledge, principally from strategist Ado Stead calling optimum VMG, headsail changes, tide gains etc, While joining me as temp crew were a further multinational mix from the Gazprom Sailing Club, an inspiring initiative formed at their London office which now has 125 members out racing on summer weekends and doing RYA theory courses over the winter.
After a prime start at 0500 alongside Alex Thomson’s Hugo Boss, we enjoyed a close fetch down the Eastern Solent, rounding the needles in an hour, and, barring one hole in our sail wardrobe (A0) that the race boats in our class had to their advantage, we sailed impressively, finishing in 5 hours 12 minutes. Not bad for a boat with a full teak interior, teak decks etc – although I’m not sure if I’d let my multi million dollar cruising yacht be pimped up and raced by 16 burly crew (see more on this class of boat in the August issue).

0300 will never make for a welcomed alarm call, but a pint in the Pier View with the celebratory crews from Leopard and the TP52s at 11am whilst most of the fleet were still beating around the back of the island, felt selfishly rewarding.