Beating 1,589 other boats on the lottery that is the annual festival of sailing, the Round the Island Race, was always going to be a tall order. The 60-mile course round the Isle of Wight is littered with tidal obstacles, capricious breezes that filter out of local gullies and a range of boats and sailors not seen anywhere else in Britain. But as the biggest race in the country (and third biggest participation event), the Round the Isl-and Race is a spectacle that sailors across the spectrum are always eager to be a part of; even if the start is soon after six o'clock in the morning.
The early call proved too much for the crew of Volvo for Life, an all-star cast of sailors joined for the occasion by Sydney gold medallists Ben Ainslie and Shirley Robertson, plus Paul Goodison, a bright hope in the Laser class to take up where Ainslie left off in Athens. Ainslie came in fresh from a win at the Finn European championship to take command of Nick Hewson's 52-footer for the 60-mile circumnavigation of the Isle of Wight.
But the starting strategy of skipper Ainslie and his tactician Jeremy Robinson was foiled as Volvo for Life was held up in traffic and crossed the line in a mêlée of small and slower boats. The competition was gone, among them British America's Cup chairman Peter Harrison's Chernikeef 2.
After a light downwind trickle to The Needles, a brisk beat up the south side of the Isle of Wight and a run back into The Solent six-and-a-half hours later, Ainslie and his crew pulled themselves back to sixth in class.
Harrison finished second, but the 60-boat class was topped by Kit Hobday's Bear of Britain, though last night Cowes was still waiting after dark for the smaller boats to finish and the final overall champion of the 1,590-boat fleet to emerge.