(Cowes, Isle of Wight, England)- Nervous anticipation was building a couple of days before the race, with a forecast of 20 to 30 kts of breeze from the west, the fleet of 1,000+ sailboats that range from twin-keel 21 foot “mudders” to state-of-the-art 100 footers and insanely fast MOD 70 trimarans all knew they were going to have their hands full round the back (southern side) of the infamous Isle of Wight. The race track is simple- start at dawn (or thereabouts), head west out past the famous Needles Lighthouse, turn left around St Catherine’s Point, sail eastward to Bembridge Ledge, left around the Forts and back west up the Solent to the finish- a quick’n’easy 60nm race for most of the J/Tribe.
The morning came and the forecast was true, holding steady at 27kts, still windy but it all seemed manageable for most crews. Getting out toward the Bramble Banks in the western approaches to the Solent, things were starting to hot up a bit, wind against tide made for square-walled 5 to 8 foot waves with boats pounding themselves to pieces in the tough conditions. After passing the dangerous Needles Lighthouse, the fleet took off on a fast reach, most under jibs and reefed mains. However, the big tactical consideration was when to pop the kite approaching the first turning point downwind at St Catherine’s Point. Some did, most did not. Those who did pop kites, took off like a rifle-shot in 25-30 kts breezes, hauling the mail down the backside of the Isle of Wight, with many crews experiencing some of the most amazing planing rides in their lifetimes on a brilliant, sunny day! After rounding the Forts/ Bembridge Ledge at the eastern end of the Solent, it was a beat against the tide up the beaches off the Ryde Sands in flat water to the finish line off the Royal Yacht Squadron.
For many J/Teams, it was one of the most memorable Round Island Races ever. Big breeze, big waves, uphill, downhill, and long, planing sleigh-rides made for simply spectacular conditions. In such scenarios, the J’s excelled, sweeping several divisions in the process. For starters, the IRC Division 1A saw a complete domination by J’s, with J/111s sweeping the podium, only to be joined by two J/133s to complete the top five! Winning was JELVIS (Martin Dent), followed by JITTERBUG (Cornell Riklin), JOURNEYMAKER II (Chris Jones & Louise Makin), the J/133 ASSARAIN IV (Angus Bates) and the J/133 BLACKJACK (Eric Gicquel from France). JELVIS completed the course in 6:12:26, surely to be a record to stand for a long time for a 36 ft cruiser-racer!
Similarly, the J/11S SYNERJ (Ian Wilson) won her class in IRC Division 1B by over 5 minutes. Her sistership, the J/11S SLEEPER (Jonty Layfield) placed sixth in IRC Division 1C.
With such conditions lending themselves to planing hull designs, it was amazing to see the J/35 KNIGHT BUILD LTD take 2nd in IRC Division 2A ahead of a raft of J/109s hot on their heels. The J/109s took fourth (DIAMOND JEM- Robert Stiles) and fifth (BOO- Neil Mcgrigor).
Perhaps the most remarkable performance by any class/ brand of boats were the J/105s and J/109s in IRC Division 2B. Of the top 31 boats, 24 were J/crews. Plus, it was nearly a clean sweep of the top ten- J’s were the top six teams and nine of the top ten! Winning in such heavy weather conditions were the J/105s, taking the first four positions- JELLY BABY (Bill Newton), JIN TONIC (Roberts/Edgerley), NEILSON REDEYE (Neilson Holidays/ Peter Tyler), JESTER (David Cowell). Fifth was the J/109 BOTEZ COAT IV (Yves Dervieux).
Perhaps the stunner of the entire race was the performance of the J/95 in IRC Division 2D. The J/95 is a shoal-draft, twin-rudder, wheel-driven boat, focused on basic day-sailing in coastal waters. So!? One might ask. Well, JUST IS (Graham Chase) smoked all kinds of daysailers and coastal cruisers to take tenth in her class. Ahead of her was the J/92 JABBERWOCK (Ralph Mason) in 3rd, the J/97s ALAMARA B III (Ole Bettum) in 5th, BLACKJACK II (Andy Howe) in 6th and MAB AVEL (Herve Devand/ St Malo, France) in 8th. Behind them were the J/97 JET in 11th and the J/92S WIZARD in 12th.
A somewhat similar scenario played out in IRC Division 3A. Three J/92s occupied the top of the class, with J’RONIMO (Libby Greenhalgh) in 3rd, WILDEBEEST V (Craig Latimer) in 4th and JACKDAW (Rob Salter) in 6th.
In the world of one-designs, the J/80s had a scream. Winning their dozen boat division was Chris Body’s MOCKINGJAY, with Chris & Hannah Neve’s NO REGRETS 2nd, Amber Brown’s SEAFIRE 3rd, Andrew Hurst’s FIDUCIAL 4th and Robert “Wally” Walters’ WILD WALLY 5th.
For the overall “J/Boats Trophy”, the top three boats were Martin Dent’s J/111 JELVIS, Bill Newton’s J/105 JELLY BABY and Roberts/Edgerley’s J/105 JIN TONIC. Sailing photo credits- Paul Wyeth