Sue Pelling joins Artemis, Brian Thompson's Open 60, on the Solent during a windy day 1/8/06

Having announced an Open 60 sponsorship deal nearly a month ago Brian Thompson is now fully engaged in his forthcoming Round Britain and Ireland campaign. Thompson, who secured a major sponsorship deal with Artemis, one of the UK’s leading investment companies is currently in Cowes making final preparations for the forthcoming race.

Artemis, designed by Owen Clarke and Rob Humphreys, was formerly Pindar Alphagraphics. She was originally built as Hexagon for Graham Dalton’s 2002 Around Alone campaign and now, in her new dark blue Artemis livery has every chance of continuing her success in the hands of Thompson, one of the world’s most respected sailors.

Although heading out into the choppy Solent today in gusts of over 30kts is child’s play for the likes of Thompson, for me it was extremely exciting and a good sample of the sort of conditions Thompson and team are likely to expect in their first big race in a week’s time.

I was fortunate enough to join Jonathan McKee (taking time out of his Luna Rossa America’s Cup campaign) in the centre of the boat on the grinders but within a minute – probably more like 15 seconds – I began to regret my over eagerness to take an active role in sailing the boat. Fortunately my team mate Mckee more than made up for any weaknesses.
We made our way out along the Western Solent out toward the Needles – away from the bulk of the Skandia Cowes Week fleets – but did catch up with a few of the big boat classes and a couple of other Open 60s – Ecover and Roxy – which was an interesting way to gauge our speed. Thankfully even under ‘relaxed’ sailing mode Artemis seemed to be well up on speed and a happy looking Thompson explained he is really looking forward to his first race: “We have been busy since the launch but we now want to get going. We’re not yet fully tuned but we’re going to use the Round Britain race as a stepping-stone for the Route du Rhum. Perhaps for some of the other boats in the race it’s the culmination but for us it’s a stepping stone and a perfect opportunity to test out new gear and systems. Interestingly when I get back I’m doing the same route again but this time solo, in order to qualify for the Route du Rhum.”

Having ‘earned my keep’ on the grinders I welcomed an offer to take the helm on the run back to Cowes and experience the boat’s amazing responsiveness. More like a fine-tuned dinghy than a 60ft high-powered racing yacht Artemis is pure bliss to helm and I can now begin to understand why so many great sailors become totally obsessed with this fascinating design.