For the fourth consecutive year, the Sunsail Sunfast 36 bearing the name of marine insurers Navigators & General was the first Sunsail boat to finish. Technically, there is no Sunsail class – their 36ft fleet sails in ISC Class D – and therefore no prize, but this year Nav & Gen’s team had the added distinction of being the first boat from any sailing school to finish, and, as such, they are winners the John Franks Trophy.
Skipper Joe Field, unaware of this fact, was halfway back to Port Solent when he found out (“Have we? Excellent!”). Crew member and Yachting Monthly editor Sarah Norbury stopped giving out the prizes and accepted one instead. The impressive hunk of silver will be winging its way to Navigators’ head office as soon as possible so watch out for pictures later.
The crew, assembled by Field, included helmsman Dennis Mossman, a gentleman sailor of the old school among whose honours can be found the Swallow World Championship. His steadying presence brought calm to the cockpit during the prestart and at 0820, Sunsail Eagle Star, sail number Lucky 13, started. We crossed the middle of the line with clear air just a couple of seconds after the gun, trimmed on the crisp, new full main and No1, and pulled into an early lead.
The southwesterly Force four and favourable tide sluiced us down to Sconce at around eight knots over the ground, still in the lead. Eight tacks later, we were round the Needles. Sunsails 36 and 22 got round in four, maybe six, by sailing right up to NE Shingles before tacking, and 36 slipped through into a lead of 10 boatlengths, 22 took second by and our Lucky 13 third.
Once round the Needles, navigator Gary White chose an inside line for slacker tide, as did the leaders. Out of the lee of the island, the wind freshened to Force 5 and gradually backed, giving us a fetch to St Cat’s. After Freshwater Bay, we headed slightly further offshore to gain separation on 36 and 22, surfing the big swells rolling in from the Channel.
As we fetched towards the light of St Cat’s, blinking through the island’s dark grey toupee of cloud, the plan seemed to have paid off but as we neared the lighthouse, the difference in tide inshore and off gave them the same lead they had at the Needles. We popped our spinnaker first once round, reached to Dunnose then began the long chase downwind across Sandown Bay towards Bembridge Ledge Buoy.
This time, we chose the middle route while 22 went into the Bay and 36 stayed slightly further offshore but as the fleet prepared to round Bembridge Ledge Buoy, it became clear that, though closer, we were still third. We noticed that very few boats were attempting to hold their spinnakers for No Mans Land Fort and, after a quick bout of pocket billiards we found what we were looking for, Sarah excepted naturally, and kept ours flying.
A rough ride was predicted and kicker and sheet were dumped several times as gusts brought us to the edge of broaching. We blazed along the rhumb line and rounded the fort at least 20 boatlengths ahead. Once out of the wind shadow, but still within the blare of the No Mans Land festival sound system, we and headed up as close as we dared to Bembridge Ledge.
Our lead seemed impregnable but between Ryde Pier and Osborne Bay, 36 halved our lead. Faced with the decision to sail for the line or cover, we chose the latter. Inevitably we lost ground as we tacked above them, ducking starboard tackers to hold cover, but the lid stayed on and we finished at 15:36:28, though the eventual margin of victory, five boatlengths, was more than close enough for us.
A long, vaguely and variously recollected evening began with champagne and to