Within spitting distance
Mark Campbell-James, helmsman on Bear of Britain
The Farr 52 Bear of Britain came within spitting distance of the Gold Roman Bowl trophy for the fastest corrected lap of the Isle of Wight by an IRC rated yacht today.
But after helmsman Mark Campbell-James spent a majority of the afternoon anxiously waiting at the Island Sailing Club for the results to roll in, one of the final boats to cross the Royal Yacht Squadron line, back in IRC class 12 stole the limelight by a mere 17 seconds.
The Contessa 26 Rosina of Beaulieu, believed to be skippered by revered designer, Jeremy Rogers, was the provisional 11th hour victor. Campbell-James and owner Kit Hobday at least have the satisfaction of winning IRC class one, beating the winning team from last year, Peter Morton and Adam Gosling on the Mills 50 Mandrake.
After one false start and a general recall, the class one yachts finally got underway at ten minutes past ten this morning with Bear of Britain, the Sydney 60 Warpath and the Swan 70 Serano of London making the best starts. But in front of them lay a minefield of small yachts to weave through.
"The whole of the beat up to the Needles was dodging in and out of the small boats. A lot of them were stopping to take photos which was quite funny," Mark Campbell-James, helmsman on Bear, explained afterwards.
By the Needles, Warpath held the lead but Kit Hobday, owner and tactician of The Bear backed up by navigator Luke McCarthy, made the winning call.
Campbell-James explained: " Spirit of Jethou [Swan 60] and Flirt [the new Corby 50] went right along the shore and the two big boats, Warpath and Serano went offshore to get away from all the small boats. We went as straight as possible with our asymmetric and by St Catherines we were quite a way ahead," continued Campbell-James.
"We peeled to a big runner and tucked in along the shore to Bembridge to beat the tide," which by now was flowing quickly against them.
After a short two sail reach to the Fort at the entrance to the eastern Solent, only a short fetch to the line stood between Bear of Britain and class line honours. But the Swan 70 turned up the heat using her superior waterline length to whittle down her five-minute deficit to just two with the finish in sight.
"They were slowly catching us up which got quite nerve racking. The hardest bit was the headland just before the finish. We were worried for a bit we were going to sit there in a hole."
Campbell - James, with his fiancé Georgina looking on, held his nerve and crossed the line in time of five hours, 22 minutes and 53 seconds for the single lap 55 nm course. This was 12 minutes slower than their time last year when they broke the rudder quadrant off St Catherines although the near perfect conditions 12 months ago allowed them to complete the course in just one tack and one gybe.
On corrected time Serano dropped to eighth while Mandrake moved up to second in class one.
After five hours of concentration at the helm, Campbell-James admitted he had a slight headache. It will undoubtedly get worse as the night progresses and the satisfaction of their achievement in showing the oldies the way home and writing another page in yachting history is realized and duly celebrated...