An early morning high tide made for an early start for this years JP Morgan Round the Island Race, a race that attracts thousands of boats and competitors in one of the first races of the UK season around the Isle of Wight.
I was invited back to sail the boat I sailed around the world for this famous race, where I would be leading a group of enthusiastic JP Morgan employees on a corporate race. We trained hard on the Friday and had a very enjoyable day in the sun with light winds tacking and gybing around the Solent before returning to Cowes for our final race preparations and some dinner.
At 0300 I woke the crew with some motivational music (Eye of the Tiger) and we began to set the boat up for the race start at 0500. It was still pitch black outside and the wind was reasonably strong. The predicted wind was a very light force 3 to 4, and I briefed my crew on the weather forecast and warned them that we stood a good chance of drifting around the back of the island so not to expect to be finished until very late i the day.
Much to my surprise the forecast was wrong, and as we timed our run to the start line with full sail flying, we hit the line with only seconds to spare and powered down the Solent amongst the fleet leaders. Soon to vanish out of site were Mike Slade’s ICAP Leopard and Ben Ainslie in his JP Morgan Cat, but as the sun rose, we looked astern to see over one thousand yachts behind us which proved to be an incredible sight.
Rounding the forecasted force 3-4 was more like 5-6 and some brilliant gusts created havoc on the fleet who were flying spinnakers while trying to avoid rocks, wrecks and one hundred or so other yachts. There were some spectacular broaches around the needles. We were sailing quite conservatively as we sailed through this rough passage and lost a few places on the other boats who cut inside the wreck, but with tactics and good sailing we regained the lead in our class half way down the back of the island.
A few broaches of our own close to the cliffs forced us to put in a reef to steady the boat. I was constantly expecting the wind to drop off completely at any given time, but too my delight it just kept coming, by mid morning we were already leading our class up the Solent towards the finish. We were making very good time for a RTI race and I predicted that records would be set by the front runners and was not surprised to find that Ben Ainslie had smashed the 12 year old race record by more than 16 minutes when he finished at 08:02, rounding the island in only two hours and 52 minutes and 15 seconds. Not far behind Ainslie was Mike Slades ICAP Leopard who beat her own record shaving nine minutes and 45 seconds off her own time.
At 11:06 we crossed the line as the first yacht in our division taking ot the prize for the first JP Morgan corporate crew, and finishing over two minutes ahead of the next yacht in our division. By midday we were packed up and along side and enjoying the festivities of the regatta after another fantastic RTI race.