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Foil the Wight 2021 completed!

by Will Overton 25 Sep 18:36 BST 23 September 2021

World Champion windsurfer Ross Williams sets a new world record by becoming the first man to wing foil non-stop the 55 nautical miles around the Isle of Wight In a time of 6hrs 49mins and 18 seconds.

The challenge was set by the Island Sailing Club, Cowes, UK, famous for running the world renowned Round the Island sailing race. Ross was attempting the challenge in memory of his late father Ceri Williams and raising money for Hasag the asbestos disease support charity.

Ross and his team of intrepid wing foilers made up of Kitesurf champions Tom Court and Sam Light along with waterman Tom Buggy waited patiently for the wind to build and at around 1pm set off from the Island Sailing Club line on this epic adventure.

Wing foiling is a new discipline that's only 4-5 years old and is usually practiced for short periods on a small area, so foiling around the notorious Isle of Wight race course represents a massive step into the unknown. To date there have been no wing foiling challenges held over such distance and this was a test of the athletes resolve to endure the course on some of the most treacherous waters in the world on little more than a sail powered Weetabix...

Tom Court won the start and the wingmen battled up the Solent beating with the tide in a Westerly Force 4-5. Williams, first to reach the Needles and turn the corner with his fellow wingmen about a mile behind. Wing foiling downwind and with the waves afforded the men time to conserve energy, relying less on the wind, harnessing the raw energy of the ocean whilst dancing down the waves on the underwater foils. British Kite champion and keen sailor Sam Light used his experience of Round the Island sailing race to hug the Island shore and get out of the tide making up lots of ground on the leader. Meanwhile, Tom Buggy and Tom Court were battling with smaller foils and wings some way behind.

"We had lots of different conditions, from big waves on the south side of the Island, tidal rips, flat water in wind shadows and some brutal upwind sailing," says wingman Tom Buggy "By the time I got to St Catherine's lighthouse I was hating it!"

A critical component to completing the attempt would be the selection of the most appropriate equipment, different size foils and sails are usually chosen for optimal performance in a small range of wind strengths. By contrast the squadron of wingmen needed to select gear that gave sufficient power in the light winds, without being so large as to be overwhelming at the other end of the spectrum.

The first retiree from the attempt was Kitesurfer Tom Court, Wing foiling like many other sports is also hampered with kit supply issues and Tom was struggling to stay on his smaller foils in the fickle conditions. Tom commented "I was 40mins behind at The Needles, it was like my personal hell!"

Sam Light had this to say about the day: "It was really cool being able to go so close to the Needles light house, I was just a few meters away, It was tough to race against the tide but I stayed as close to the coastline as possible from St Cat's down to Bembridge to stay out of it and caught up and overtook Ross at Bembridge before stopping dead in the tide near Ryde and giving up, today I am gutted I didn't try to continue and finish but it does mean I need to do it again and complete the challenge."

Ross Williams battled his own demons off Seaview, the wind had dropped and he struggled to get back on his foil. Sailing backwards to find the pressure for 30 or so long minutes, allowed fellow wingman Sam Light to get ahead. Soul destroying to the core with a weary body trying desperately to pump the board back on its foils. An evening breeze which has been so lacking this summer filled in from the west and Ross was able to coax his board up and away once again for the last push home, with thoughts of his father to spur him on Williams hugged the mainland shore to complete his epic circumnavigation of the Isle of Wight in the fading light. His name etched in history forever as the first man on the planet to have successfully wing foiled the circumference of the Isle of Wight.

Williams said this about his day: "It was a brutal day on the water... That beat up the Solent was a hard grind, I worked it to get space between me and the boys and when I turned the corner (at the Needles) rode the waves all the way to Culver cliffs. The surfing was epic off my backyard breaks at Bonchurch, Dunnose races and Bembridge Ledge" he went on to say "That bit off Seaview though... the breeze really just died and I was losing pressure on the foil, Sam flew past me and I could not get back up. I thought we were done, so close but so far....I worked really hard and managed to find some puff that got me past the forts, then it was really about holding on and staying out of the tide. I was exhausted but my I knew my Father was there in spirit for the last push to the finish.

The event was organised by the Island Sailing Social media.

The team was raising funds for hasag.co.uk in memory of wingfoiler Ross Williams father who passed away recently.

www.justgiving.com/team/foilthewight

Huge Thanks to our Foil the Wight event partners and supporters: Spinlock, Icom Radios, Seasafe, Kevin Mole Outboards, Mermaid Gin, Catercycle Ltd, Vectis Refrigeration Ltd, PC Consultants, Bembridge Power boats, Tradewinds Café, Mark Southwell, Ben Ferris, Ben Willows, Willoughby Matthews, Jamie Hancock film, images by Paul Wyeth and John Carter. By kind permission of Cowes Harbour Commission, Queens Harbour Master Portsmouth and ABP Southampton.

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