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Gul Osprey Proctor Centenary Round the Isle of Wight race

by David Downs 18 Sep 2018 09:46 BST 15-16 September 2018
Gul Osprey Proctor Centenary Round the Isle of Wight race © Angela Mamwell

The Osprey was designed by Ian Proctor to take part in the 1952 Olympic trials. A year later the prototype Osprey No 1 was sailed by Ian, John Oakley and Cliff Norbury in a Round the Isle of Wight race for dinghies, organised to commemorate the Queen's Coronation. Osprey won that race by a matter of seconds beating 300 of the best dinghy sailors in the process. Their winning time was around 11 hours.

Since then the Osprey Class have raced around the Island in 1978 when the race was shortened due to light winds, and again in 1988 when 13 Ospreys successfully completed the whole course.

Cliff Norbury supported by the Proctor family came to the 60th Osprey National Championships at Poole in 2017 and gave the class a very popular presentation about Osprey sailing in the early days and the Round the Island race in particular. This was very well received and sparked the idea of holding a further Round the Isle of Wight race in Ian Proctor's Centenary year.

Thus nine intrepid Osprey teams gathered at Lymington Town Sailing Club on the evening of Friday 14th September ready for an early morning start on the following day. After the briefing most of the competitors retired for an early night leaving one boat being rigged in the dark by the light of mobile phones and head torches. Meanwhile current Osprey National Champions Terry Curtis and Peter Greig followed the pre-race training routine that has served them well in winning the last two National Championships and retired to the pub until closing time.

With the forecast for Saturday being an ideal Force 3 to 4 Westerly covers were coming off the boats in the twilight of Saturday morning and the fleet launched into the River Lym at around 06:15 just as the sun was rising. The sail down the river and out to the start in a gentle breeze and with the sun just rising was something that will be remembered for years.

After a short postponement Race Officer Nigel Walbank sent the fleet away westwards just after 07:00. Mick Greenland and Lee Marriott in "Mellow Yellow" no 1372 found the best tide and wind to establish a significant lead by the Needles. After rounding the Needles there was then a long run down to St Catherine's Point. The fleet split into two, those that chose to follow the shore hoping for a better tide and those that stayed further out to sea to sail a shorter distance and hope for more wind. There did not appear to be any significant difference between the two strategies but Ken Brown and Jonathan Osgood in "Light and Bitter" no 1292 went further out to sea than anyone and had established a good hundred yard lead by St Catherine's. Rounding St Catherine's presented some challenging conditions with the tide now taking the Ospreys downwind reducing the apparent wind speed and kicking up some rough water in the overfalls; keeping spinnakers flying was a challenge.

Emerging from St Catherine's four Ospreys had formed a breakaway group reminiscent of a Tour de France cycle race. The four boats Mick and Lee, Ken and Jonathan, Alex and Nick Willis in "Waimanu" no 1292 and Oscar Chess and David Downs in "Jammy Dodger" no 1348 were at one point all in line abreast crossing Sandown Bay. However with the wind dying on the approach to the turn at Bembridge Ledge they had to watch as the remainder of the fleet closed up. There was much calling for water as seven boats rounded the Bembridge Ledge turning mark together and with the other two boats just minutes behind the race effectively re-started here. For the record Alex and Nick were the first round the mark by about half a boat length.

The Ospreys were now punching the tide through Spithead and into the Eastern Solent. The fast way was to hug the shore but with the freshening breeze now coming off the shore the crews were kept busy keeping the boats going through the gusts and lulls. Passing Seaview those with lifting rudders were able to take a short cut across Ryde Sands. Oscar and David went furthest in across the sands and were soon planing fast and trapezing with centreboard and rudder up in just inches of water. The sight of seagulls standing up ahead of them forced them further out and they bumped over the sand bank giving the bottom of "Jammy Dodger" a bit of a polish as they did so. The short cut paid off and Oscar and David established a substantial lead across Osborne Bay but this had been pegged back by the time they rounded Old Castle Point near Cowes.

There was then a punishing beat into a stiff breeze up the Western Solent back to Lymington. Some chose to cross over to the mainland shore hoping for the tide to turn earlier there while others continued to hug the Island shore. There were lots of other racing boats around including a fleet of Fast 40+ which has led to some interesting photo opportunities of the Ospreys threading their way through the fleet of much bigger boats.

Everyone was by now tiring with sheets generally remaining cleated and tacks becoming distinctly ponderous, however Terry and Pete in "White Knuckles" sporting no 1234 sails showed the benefit of their pre-race training and powered through to cross the Lymington Town Sailing Club finish line first at 15:42 in an elapsed time of 8 hours and 27 minutes. The rest of the fleet all finished within 14 minutes of them, quite remarkably close after eight and a half hours and around 60 miles of racing.

At the prize-giving in the evening, Terry and Pete were awarded the Nick Jones Salver kindly donated by Hilary Jones in memory of her late husband who had been very keen to see this race go ahead. At the culmination of the prizegiving a toast was drunk to Ian Proctor with whisky and a fruit cake donated by the Proctor family. The latter was to commemorate the legendary fruit cake baked by Ian's wife Betty which Osprey no 1 carried throughout the 1953 race before being jettisoned overboard (after they had all eaten a slice) on the approach to Cowes. It is believed that this act was the pivotal move in Osprey just winning that race by seconds.

The Osprey Class would like to thank the event sponsors Gul Watersports, Sailing Southwest who provided the electronic trackers, Hartley Boats who sponsored the first much needed pint after coming ashore, Lymington Town Sailing Club for hosting the event, and the past Osprey sailors at Lymington who did such a fantastic job in making the fleet welcome.

Special thanks to all those who made the event possible including:
Nigel Walbank for acting as Race Officer
Tim Power as Safety Coordinator
Mary, Jayne, Ed, Isobel, Mark and Paul as RIB crews
Tony Oakley and Adam for providing the Mother Ship "Ayres and Graces"
Hilary Jones for providing the trophy
Oscar, David and Ros for making the whole thing happen, and finally
Ian Proctor for designing these fabulous boats and the Proctor family for their support and kind words.

Overall Results:

PosnSail NoHelmCrewClubFinish TimeElapsed Time
11234Terry CurtisPeter GreigCastle Cove SC15:42:2108:27:21
21085Harry OdlingGeorge OdlingPlymouth University15:44:5808:29:58
31350Alec MamwellArthur ButlerConiston SC15:46:4408:31:44
41314Viola ScottMichael ScottKWSC15:48:2108:33:21
51348Oscar ChessDavid DownsTata Steel SC15:49:2008:34:20
61364Russ WheelerMark MahwinneyIOSSC15:50:0608:35:06
71292Ken BrownJonathan OsgoodAldenham15:50:5108:35:51
81291Alex WillisNick WillisHISC/KWSC15:55:1708:40:17
91372Mick GreenlandLee MarriottIOSSC15:55:2908:40:29

More from Sailing Southwest, sponsors of the TracAce™ GPS tracking by Lottie Miles

The 9 intrepid Ospreys left Lymington Town Sailing Club shortly after 6am on the race day, ready for a 07.15 race start. It was a beautiful but brisk morning with decent breezes that would hopefully propel them around the Isle of Wight in a single day's sailing.

They headed off in a westerly direction, heading for the Needles. Mick Greenland with Lee Marriott took an early lead on this first leg, reaching the Needles in less than 45 minutes. Greenland & Marriott rounded the 'mark' ahead of Alex & Nick Willis and George & Harry Odling. The fleet then divided, with 5 boats staying close to the shore, whilst the leaders took a route further out to sea.

The fleet converged once more as they approached St Catherine's point, the southern most tip of the Island. They rounded the point well bunched together after 2.5 hours of racing. This time Ken Brown & Jonathan Osgood were marginally in the lead. As they passed Ventnor and then up to Shanklin on the east of the island, the majority of the Ospreys reached their peak speeds in the race, with Viola and Michael Scott clocking in at 12.1kn!

At Bembridge, there was still very little separation at the head of the fleet. The Willis' appeared to make the turn first at 11.47, but Terry Curtis & Peter Greig, George & Harry Odling and Alex Mamwell & Arthur Butler were all right there with them. This was approximately the halfway point, reached in just 4 hours, which was significantly faster than anticipated.

On the way home now, the Ospreys continued past Ryde Pier, with Oscar Chess and David Downs now at the front after a short cut over Ryde Sands. After 5 hours of racing, there was still so little between the boats, with just over 3 minutes separating the first and last of the fleet as they passed the pier head!

So, onto Cowes and the final 'turn' for home. Once more, the fleet split, with Greenland & Marriott, Chess & Downs, the Willis's, and Russ Wheeler & Mark Mahwinney all taking the northern route up to the Southampton coast. Brown & Osgood, Mamwell & Butler, Curtis and Grieg, the Odlings and the Scotts all opted to stay close to the island. It seemed as though the southern path was marginally quicker, but as the fleet came together once more, the race remained close, and the final sprint to Lymington was very much on!

After 7 hours on the water and Lymington practically in sight, Curtis & Greig finally opened up a bit of a lead over the Odlings and Mamwell & Butler. They held on for the remainder of the race, arriving into Lymington harbour at 15:42:21, after 08:27:21 of racing. The Odlings finished second in 08:29:58, whilst Mamwell & Butler took third in 08:31:44. Remarkably, the entire fleet finished the 100km race all within 14 mins of each other! It was a truly amazing race that demonstrated the grit, skill and stamina of these fantastic sailors and their Ospreys. Surely this race will be remembered as a fitting testament to the tight finish in Ian Proctor's 1953 Round the Island Race win.

Full race results and videos can be seen along with some of this history of the event on www.sailingsw.co.uk/osprey-round-island-race (do compare the winner's average speed with the other competitors... then look at the distance sailed).

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