J.P. Morgan Asset Management Round the Island Race 2011 is a 50 nautical mile course around the Isle of Wight, starting and finishing in Cowes.
Weather is always a major factor in a race of this size and stature. Today’s forecast was particularly important given the vast number of yachts arriving in Cowes and due to take part in this historic race. Although some of the smaller boats felt it best to withdraw owing to threats of bad weather, the bulk of the record-breaking fleet of 1900 plus yachts turned up to take part in this historic event, the fourth largest participation sporting occasion in the UK.
Under leaden skies, the former Jules Verne Trophy winner, Lionel Lemonchois, masterminded lumpy seas, gusts up to force seven and waves of approximately 20 foot around the iconic Needles, to cross the line in three hours, 49 minutes and 58 seconds - just under 42 minutes outside Francis Joyon's 2001 best.
Difficult conditions forced a number of early retirements among the record entry of 1,908 boats with Olympic champions Ben Ainslie, Paul Goodison and Shirley Robertson and round-the-world yachtswoman Dame Ellen MacArthur among the estimated 16,000 competitors.
Team Origin, Britain's ISAF match racing world champions and America's Cup team, were the quickest monohull around the 55-mile course, clocking four hours, 43 minutes and one second despite ripping a gaping hole in their mainsail.
Olympic gold medallists Iain Percy and Andrew ‘Bart’ Simpson joined team principal Sir Keith Mills, the London 2012 deputy chairman, but despite the experience onboard it was still a tough day on the water.
Three-time Olympic champion Ainslie, swapping his single-handed dinghy to skipper the Ker 40ft Keronimo, tussled with Olympic team-mate Percy on the starting line but came off second best.
'I have been round the Island many, many times but this one really takes the biscuit, it was amazing but also quite hairy at times,' said Sir Keith.
'I think we touched 25 knots of boat speed at one point and that’s very pleasing in a sea state that was challenging, I mean we buried it a couple of times, broached a couple of times.
'It’s really refreshing to be the first monohull across the line especially after a little bit of a fracas with Ben Ainslie on the start line.
'He tried to pull a fast one on his old mate Iain Percy but Iain wasn’t having any of it and we didn’t let him jump in front of us. I think he thought we’d do him a favour but he was wrong.' Round the Island Race website