Spirit of Sark has won the Round Britain and Ireland Challenge 2005

Spirit of Sark has won the Round Britain and Ireland Challenge 2005 arriving just 15 minutes in front of Me to You, with SAIC ten minutes astern.

As the sun was coming up this morning Spirit of Sark crossed the line with spinnaker up before gybing to finish line at Netley at 07.11.25 BST.

A jubilant Des Harvey, winning skipper of Spirit of Sark, recounted the final couple of days: “We’d been racing Me to You for days but SAIC came out of nowhere and tacked right across our stern – no more than 100 metres behind us. It was then that we realised there was another boat in this race and suddenly there was a third boat right there trying to get first place.”

Des then went onto recount the final few hours which shows how close the racing actually became: “It all came to a head off Beachy with SAIC behind us and Me to You to leeward. We had a three-mile lead and suddenly half an hour later and our lead had decreased to a mile and half. John Quigley (skipper of Me to You) had put his up kite earlier than we did and suddenly he was right with us.

“We raised our kite up and managed to hold them there. It was certainly very touch and go to get round St Katherine Point but we just did our best. In the Solent and the final two miles Me to You were no more than half a mile behind us and SAIC just behind them. However, at the finish line there was no more than 400 metres between us and Me to You and just 400 metres between them and SAIC. I can’t believe that a race of nearly 2,000 miles can finish with just 400 metres between first and second – a phenomenal event. It is without doubt the closest and hardest race I’ve ever done in my life!”

Despite the early morning finish, 100s of well-wishers turned out at Ocean Village to welcome crews home. Des Harvey was first to congratulate second placed skipper, John Quigley: “You gave me one hell of a race; that’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done!” Quigley, delighted to have secured second place said: “I’ve only had four hours sleep and a couple of cat naps at the chart table since 2pm Tuesday afternoon when I got up to do a storm staysail change!

“I’ve got around 70,000 sailing miles experience, I’ve raced in the Round Britain and Ireland Challenge as a mate, I’ve skippered in the Fastnet and I’ve even raced around the world but this was the hardest race. It was just never ending; so close all the time; just amazing.

“We nearly had them. We were third around Margate. We caught SAIC and managed to pass them but we just couldn’t quite get past Spirit of Sark. So close though, such close racing.”

So close was the racing that even up to the last few moments it was unclear as to who would win. SAIC, who were taking the lead in stages at the start of the race, dropped back but came in as a dark horse near the end. Skipper Martin Wild explains his decision: “We were 28 miles back at Muckle Flugga so decided to cut down through the sand banks near Great Yarmouth, with Me to You choosing to go on the outside. We took the most direct route and subsequently really made up the miles and probably gave the other yachts a bit of a surprise when we tuned up out the blue.

“It’s disappointing but a third is still a good result. We had such a short time to prepare and I was really lucky to get such a fantastic crew. We were just so close at the end that I couldn’t step away from it and I just pushed the guys as hard as I could to get the best result.”

Stuart Jackson, skipper of second placed Global Challenge 2004/05 yacht, Barclays Adventurer jumped onboard as soon as SAIC arrived to congratulate skipper Martin Wild, his friend who he mentored prior to the race.

The Round Britain and Ireland Challenge has seen major extremes of weather, which all the crew and skippers have commented on. Virtually becalmed, the wind picked up around Muckle Flugga and the crews found themselves battling gale force conditions of 45 knots, as they made their way down the North Sea.

Will Otton skipper of fourth placed Samsung, who came in three hours after the first three yachts confirmed: “It’s really frustrating at times that the boats are the same because you can feel you’re doing everything perfectly and yet not getting any closer. You just have to wait and wait and wait until someone makes a mistake and then go for it.

“I took a bad decision by going north instead of tacking back into the Rhumb line and that’s where we hit the wind hole, which turned out to be expensive. Beating up to the North of the Shetlands, knowing that other boats had rounded, was really tough particularly when we were pounding and pounding into strong winds and big seas.”

The yacht to get the biggest cheer today was fifth placed Pindar, who arrived at 12.05.15 BST. The lead boats had already had a couple of hours of celebration and were keen to welcome the last yacht home. Confetti canons and Champagne corks sprung into the sun filled sky as the crew, adorned in Hawaii flower necklaces, looked delighted to be back.