World renowned Vendee Globe skipper Alex Thomson used all his experience and expertise to help the Volvo RYA Keelboat Programme clinch an impressive third place at the Raymarine Warsash Big Boat Spring Championship this past weekend.
Thomson, a long-time supporter of the Volvo RYA Keelboat Programme, acted as strategist for the Programme crew in what was only their third weekend of competitive action on the newly-acquired TP52, John Merricks II.
The sailors went into BB2 determined to reach the same levels of performance that had seen them lead the Series after the first four races two weeks ago. And with Thomson assisting every step of the way, John Merricks II produced a steady display over the course of the two days to claim a hard-fought third overall in the 22-strong IRC Big Boat fleet.
Last weekend the sailors prepared for BB2 with Programme mentor Andy Clark, Simon Eatwell, Design Engineering Manager at Formula Yacht Spars and Tom McWilliam, former sail co-ordinator onboard the TP52 Red, all on-hand to help with training and coaching.
Pit man Tim Jestico admitted the Programme members were delighted with their show over the two Big Boat weekends.
He said: 'Having Alex Thomson on the boat doing strategy was really good for the ‘brain trust’ - tactician, navigator and helm - at the back of the boat who learnt a lot from his massive amount of experience. Alex gave us great encouragement during the weekend which really lifted our confidence on the boat.
'It was a really good weekend and our training the weekend before paid dividends. We are working really well as a team and although we still have some things to fine tune we have definitely made our presence in the Solent known and are looking forward to the Vice Admirals Cup and IRC Nationals later in the year.'
With a further six races contested this weekend, John Merricks II got off to an impeccable start in murky visibility and 25 knots of breeze leading for most of race one to take the opening BB2victory.
As the fog lifted and rain relented, the Programme sailors suffered mixed fortunes in races two and three, posting a sixth and 14th respectively while having pushed another TP52, Henri Lloyd - Cutting Edge, hard during the mid-section of race four, a suspect gybe on the final leg cost John Merricks II vital seconds and they finished ninth.
With day two throwing up much lighter winds than the Programme crew had ever raced in on the TP52, the sailors’ boat speed and handling skills underwent a different sort of test and the crew posted two eighth places to clinch their Championship third with 59 points.
The Nick and Anne Haigh-owned Dark and Steamy won the Series overall with 45 points, ahead of John Dean’s Poppy of Portland Marina on 51.5.