In six knots of northwesterly breeze, it was the nimble form of the 78 footer Nokia Enigma who made the best start eastwards across the Royal Yacht Squadron line, but Robert MILLER's giant schooner Mari-Cha IV, making an impressive spectacle flying her mainsail, mizzen, Code 0 and mizzen staysail, and with Volvo Ocean Race skipper Mike SANDERSON (NZL) at the helm, hit the line with the best speed. Sailing both higher and faster, she quickly overhauled Maximus and then Nokia Enigma to take the lead. Mari-Cha IV was never threatened for the remainder of the race.
After an hour and 40 minutes, Mari-Cha IV rounded the special mark of the course, the Nab Lightship, placed by Trinity House to recreate the original America's Cup course. Once the fleet rounded the red lightship, the wind dropped off for the leaders, who were forced to head inshore to avoid the worst of the tide. Fortunately, this lull was short lived, and a new breeze filled in from the southwest, forcing the boats to beat to make it around St. Catherine's Point.
Enjoying the light conditions, Nokia Enigma made a valiant effort in fending off the larger Maximus but was overtaken soon after rounding the Nab Lightship. However, this was short lived, as soon after, Maximus experienced a technical breakdown. 'We had a problem with an electrical diode that failed and meant we couldn't cant the keel,' explained Maximus' co-owner Charles BROWN. 'It was something I guess from the Transatlantic Race. Our boat is designed to be fully canted in eight knots of air. We couldn't sail with the keel in the centre, so we had to withdraw.'
This left Mari-Cha IV free to beat to St. Catherine's Point and head off on a fetch to the Needles at the eastern tip of the island as the seas built and the breeze increased to 16 knots. She reached the Needles by 1415 local time and bore away, gybing back down the Solent under full sail at speeds approaching 20 knots, surrounded by press and spectator boats struggling to keep up. Mari-Cha IV crossed the finish line off the Royal Yacht Squadron at 1503 with an elapsed time of 5 hours, 53 minutes and 52 seconds. This was outside of the record for this course of 4 hours, 47 minutes set by the late Gianni AGNELLI's Stealth during the 2001 America's Cup Jubilee.
'It was a very exciting race - I'm delighted,' said MILLER upon finishing. 'We went upwind very nicely, and there was some good tacking, and we gybed very nicely coming into the finish line. The crew handled the boat beautifully. We were hoping to break the record, but the slow start made that impossible. But it was a beautiful day with great sailing.'
Being held up in the light patch after the lightship also cost Mari-Cha IV the handicap prize. On corrected time she finished third behind winner Nokia Enigma and Breakaway
The Performance Cruising division was won by Richard MATTHEWS' new Rob Humphreys design Oystercatcher XXV.
Grand Prix - Class 1 (elapsed) corrected time
1. Nokia Enigma (6:49:40) - 10:13:41
2. Breakaway (7:43:01) - 10:26:55
3. Mari-Cha IV (5:53:52) - 11:04:12
4. Maximus - retired
Performance Cruising - Class 2 (elapsed) corrected time
1. Oystercatcher XXV (7:25:24) 9:58:37
2. Tempest (8:07:50) 10:16:37
3. Seleni (7:54:41) 10:33:42
4. Leopard (6:37:03) 10:34:53
5. Sojana (6:58:37) 10:35:53
6. Hamilton (8:21:35) 10:55:04
7. Drumbeat - retired