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GJW Direct 2020

Three Optimist sailors break the record for sailing round the Isle of Wight

by Tim Davies & Mark Lance 14 Aug 2017 17:51 BST 9 August 2017
Three Optimist sailors break the record for sailing round the Isle of Wight © Tim Davies / Mark Lance

Bewl Optimist sailors break world record

Setting off at 4am on Wednesday 9th August Ollie Hill, Ella Lance and Joshua Davies attempted to break the 30-year-old record of 13 hours and 55 minutes for going around the Isle of Wight in Optimist dinghies. The previous record was set by Olympian Nick Rodgers in 1987 and no individual had managed to break his record although a group of Lymington Optimist sailors in teams of 3 or 4 taking it in turns in their boats completed the challenge in under 12 hours.

Battling unexpectedly low winds and monsoon conditions Ollie, Ella and Josh completed the 60 mile challenge in 11 hours and 29 minutes.

Last year Josh (now 14) was growing too big for his Optimist and was looking for a suitable way to mark the end of his time in Oppies. He decided to attempt the IoW challenge and enlisted his long-time sailing buddy Ella (13) both of whom had started to race/sail at Bewl in 2012 before going on to represent GB junior sailing teams since 2014. After extensive research and a number of cancelled dates due to poor wind conditions, Josh and Ella attempted the record in August 2016.

Starting from Bembridge at low tide and travelling west down the Solent the combination of strong winds gusting up to 30 knots and tide made for testing conditions. Having negotiated 2m waves and watching the RNLI be dispatched for a yacht rescue, the sailors made it to Yarmouth on record pace. However, after 2 hours battling increasingly treacherous conditions to reach Alum Bay the tough decision to not attempt the Needles had to be made and the sailors turned back... within a mile of the half way point.

This did not put them off and they started planning a 2017 attempt in the car on the way home. Planning had to factor in daylight, tides, prevailing weather conditions, optimum course, health & safety, rescue point and coastguard communications. As the 9th August approached they gathered radios, food and drink and an even more valuable item – a local expert. Royal Lymington Yacht Club member and former Bewl Optimist Fleet Captain Oliver Hill (who had just turned 17) joined the team, ignoring the passing of time and the gaining of a few kilos more than the typical Oppy sailor weight!

Low tide at 6.03am meant for an early start and the three Optimist's were towed out of Lymington river at 4am by a safety rib with the moonlight to guide them. The Dunford mark was chosen and the Coastguard informed at the 4.40am start. The tide and northerly winds made for a fast reach past Hurst Point Lighthouse with the sailors reaching the Needles for a magnificent dawn. The benign seas around low tide allowed the sailors to take the quick route between Goose Rock and the wreck of the SS Varvassi.

The long run down to St Catherine's Point allowed the sailors time for breakfast and the odd unintentional nap whilst diving gannets kept the crew in the safety rib engaged. At the Point itself the strong tide causes overfalls which made for challenging sailing for the Optimists with only 1 foot of draft. Safely navigating this obstacle allowed the sailors to turn north east and head up to Ventnor.

However, winds of 2-3 kts, much lighter than forecast, almost derailed the attempt as the sailors crawled across Sandown Bay reaching Culver Cliff as high tide approached. Some fine sailing in increasingly wet and windy conditions around Bembridge ensured the sailors re-entered the Solent as the tide began to change. Passing Ryde's hideous chop, the hovercraft and even an exploding pleasure boat in the Marina couldn't put them off.

The welcome site of Cowes allowed the sailors to turn South West and head for the finish. The Northerly breeze gusting to 15 kts and strong tide allowed for rapid progress ticking off landmarks like Gurnard, and Newton Creek in quick succession. After 11 hours and 29 minutes the sailors crossed the finish line and three very tired sailors crawled ashore at Lymington to warm congratulations from club members and the prospect of a very long night's sleep.

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