One doesn't expect to end up on the podium when racing against 1700-plus boats, but that's what happened to the crew from Boats.com last weekend when we raced in the JP Morgan Round Island Race, starting and ending in Cowes, England. Actually, there are something like 60 classes in the race, and we won one of them, but the day, and our result, still left us feeling we had beaten the odds.
Skippering the boat was the boss man at Boats.com and YachtWorld.com, Ian Atkins, a top J/80 class sailor, who just finished third in the class's U.K. Nationals. His righthand man and sail trimmer, European Boats.com sales manager Dan Brown, was chief trimmer. Ian's son, Sam, was the third experienced member of the crew, and I was the guest strati-guesser, in from the States for his first ever trip around.
Over the course of nine-odd hours, beginning with a 0750 start off the Royal Yacht Squadron line at Cowes, we had a great start and immediately started losing places until we were worse than mid-fleet by the time we rounded the Needles at the western end. By then the seabreeze had kicked in and at least we were moving fast under the spinnaker. Gradually we began to pass competitors and near St. Catherines, at the south corner, we jibed about 30 times and overhauled several more. We learned later that we had moved into the lead; if we'd known that, we'd have been much more nervous when the wind died completely and we approached the Bembridge Ledge buoy with about 400 boats immediately ahead and behind us.
We took a risk, jibing offshore into the current and carrying the breeze forward and around one big pile of boats, then jibing in again and sneaking around the buoy with at least 30 more outside us. The wind then died, but at least whatever air there was could reach our sails and we crept forward, with the wind gradually building again from the north. It was several more hours to the finish, and we always felt slow because there were lots of big boats passing us. We couldn't see any J/80s ahead or behind and when we finally crossed the line back at Cowes, we received a cannon salute, meaning that we were first.
What a race! I think I may have to retire from Round the Island racing after that one; it couldn't get much better.