Sue Pelling's race around the island in yesterday's Rolex Race Around the Island aboard the 100ft maxi yacht Maximus didn't quite go to plan. Here's what happened…

Sue Pelling’s race around the island in yesterday’s Rolex Race Around the Island aboard the 100ft maxi yacht Maximus didn’t quite go to plan. Not only did she lose the line-honours bet with David Glenn – work colleague racing on arch rival Mari-Cha IV – but failed to complete the course. Here’s what happened?

It was all looking extremely exciting as David Glenn and I wished each other luck as we departed at 0700 from the Royal Yacht Squadron steps into our respective Mari-Cha/Maximus RIBS. The sun was breaking through the early morning cloud and the wind, although light, looked as though there was plenty of potential under patchy clouds.

Having sailed Maximus briefly in Antigua (just before she won the Rolex Transatlantic Race on corrected time), I was looking forward to a real blast round the Isle of Wight with New Zealand co-owners Charles Brown, Bill Buckley and team. The stunning-looking, shimmering silver boat, moored just off the Green with the likes of Mari-Cha IV, Sojana and a string of 100ft supermaxis, was all ready to go as our team boarded with an hour to the start. As soon as we could, and once Mike Broughton the navigator and Jez Fanstone – the tactician for the day – had stepped aboard we were off, the massive mainsail hoisted doing 10kts in just 7kts of wind down the Western Solent for a spot of team training? Something told me life could become very exciting if the wind, true to forecast, picked up to 20kts later in the afternoon.

We may have had the smallest fleet – just four boats in the Grand Prix Class 1- but the pre-race adrenalin rush as we counted down to the 0910 start was as big as you can imagine. Just to leeward was the Maxi yacht Nokia Enigma while, looming in at some almighty speed from further down the line was 141ft Mari-Cha IV.

As the gun went Mari-Cha, already building pace with her enormous gennaker came up from behind, ‘clipped’ our transom and continued to roll over the top of us leaving us in her wake. Nokia, just to leeward of us, had the best start and, like Mari-Cha, had good boat speed off the line, leaving us to wallow in a wind hole and watch our opposition monopolize on the situation.

Frustrated, but calm, cool and collected, we finally ‘launched’ and picked up a relatively decent speed in the 7kts of wind. In clear air we came up in to the wind slightly and headed out into the channel to take advantage of the easterly going tidal stream. Mari-Cha, meanwhile, was well away while the well-sailed Nokia Enigma took the initial island shore. We did manage to break through but we could not shake her off and, as the wind continued to drop, Team Nokia picked up some good shifts and on the approach to the Nab Light Vessel she’d taken advantage once again.

A quick sail change to the Code Zero helped in our endeavour to break through Nokia but the key to our successful manoeuvre was Jez Fanstone who called a good line on the Light Vessel, kept us moving in the extremely light conditions allowing us to round ahead leaving Nokia in our wake. Looking ahead we could see Mari-Cha was on a totally different heading, she’d basically gone through the transitional zone of wind (wind backing round from the north-west) and was now beating into fresh south-westerly (as forecast). Thankfully it wasn’t long before the new breeze reached us allowing Maximus to revel in fully keel-canting conditions. Once she got going with her keel fully canted two metres out to windward, the power of her being pulled flat was just amazing. Everyone was smiling again particularly as it looked as though we were pulling away from Nokia and beginning to make a bit on Mari-Cha.

With clear blue sky, sun shining and the wind up to 20kts I was beside myself with excitement about the prospects of bearing off round the south of the island and enjoying a good offwind blast. Things couldn’t have been better? until, that is, there was a sudden judder. A quick scan aloft and it was discovered the strop holding the genoa halyard lock failed. No sooner this was repaired and we were back on course it went again. Another trip up the mast for Norm the mastman revealed that not only had the strop shredded but the lock had failed too.

Still notching up a decent speed with just the main and staysail up, but minus a genoa, we were back on pace once again albeit slightly slower than hoped for. We were just settling in on a tacking routing in Sandown Bay when disaster struck once again. This time it was more serious – there was a problem with the canting keel. We were fine on starboard tack but the keel was unable to cant on the port-hand side. Bearing in mind we were getting closer and closer to the shallows it was impossible for us to continue safely. Charles Brown (co owner) gave the nod and before we knew it we’d borne away and were heading back to Cowes.

An incredibly disappointed Brown on the helm commented: “It’s a real blow, we really wanted to complete this race but once we had problems with our keel there was nothing for it other than to play it safe. We haven’t identified the exact cause of the problem yet but something has failed to prevent the keel canting on the port side. It’s nothing to do with the mechanics of the boat just the electric input to a switch. I don’t know if it’s coming from the main plc computer or the actual solenoid valve. I personally think it’s the solenoid valve.”

Chatting about Maximus’s light air performance Brown added: “Yes, I was a bit surprised at how slow we seemed to be in the light airs. I wonder if it has something to do with drag around the keel area. What we have is a carbonfibre flange or splash plate that’s attached to the top of the keel so that when the keel cants it actually closes the gap in the hull. Unfortunately that sprung off and we haven’t been able to fix it to date, so we’ve got a lot of drag and resistance around the keel area. This would have made a bit of a difference maybe 3-4kts, but not as much as I felt we had today.”

Getting back to Cowes to fix the damage to the halyard lock and to identify and repair the canting keel problem was, of course, a priority to Brown and his co-owner Bill Buckley. They plan to do the Round the Island Race this Saturday and then train up for the Fastnet in August. “I’d like to have competed at Cowes,” added Brown, “but we’re just too big and there’s no class for us! Once we’ve done the Fastnet we’ll be heading down to the Med for the Maxi Cup.”