From tears and sorrow on Friday to smiles and triumph on Saturday, Ben Ainslie set a searing sub three hours new record in the Round the Island Race in tribute to his old friend and fellow Olympic gold medallist Andrew ‘Bart’ Simpson.
The now knighted Ainslie, winner of four Olympic golds and a silver, had been one of the pall bearers, along with Simpson’s gold and silver medal partner and skipper Iain Percy at Simpson’s funeral in Sherborne Abbey.
At 05.10, on Saturday, off Cowes, Ainslie went off like a scalded cat, westwards down the Solent. Perfect wind conditions and a relatively benign sea state combined to provide an ideal track for the 50-mile course round the Isle of Wight.
The boat, a 45-foot wing-powered catamaran, also backed by the race sponsor, J.P. Morgan, knocked 16 mins and 14 secs off Francis Joyon’s 2001 record of 3hr and 08min with a time of 2hr 52min 15sec.
It had been brought to England in its BAR (Ben Ainslie Racing) colours after taking part in the America’s Cup World Series, which forms part of the build-up to the America’s Cup scheduled for San Francisco in September. Ainslie is a member of the American defender team Oracle Racing USA.
In his home waters, as on so many occasions in the past, Ainslie was in a class of his own, joined for the race by fellow Finn singlehander sailors Andrew Mills and Mark Andrews, America’s Cup sailor Matt Cornwell, and New Zealander Andrew McLean.
“We just wanted to get round in one piece,” said Ainslie, who returns to the Oracle camp in San Francisco on Sunday. “These boats are very fast but they are manageable with the right people and experience. You can never relax because you can never turn the power off.” Not that he knows what was the top speed, though he averaged over 20 knots. Navigator Mark Andrews forgot the batteries that power the digital speedo.
Second of the 1,459 entries and breaking the monohull record he set himself in 2008 was Mike Slade in the 100-foot Leopard, clipping 9min 45sec off the old time of 3hr 52min 05sec. “It was a bloody good run, the best we have ever had,” said owner and skipper Mike Slade. “We expected record conditions but we had to keep the pace on and this is the fifth time we have set a record on what we consider our home track.”
The fast conditions favoured the bigger boats with the overall winner’s trophy, the Gold Roman Bowl, provisionally going to America’s Cup team boss Sir Keith Mills with boat skipper Rob Greenhalgh on the TP52 5 West.