The lack of wind and a particularly strong Spring tide produced long and arduous conditions for the competitors on the 125 mile long offshore race of the Rolex Commodores' Cup.
The race even involved anchoring when the boats were unable to stem the tide as the wind dropped away to virtually nothing at times.
The bigger boats, with their taller sail plans, were at a distinct advantage in the fickle breeze, more able to make ground against the tidal current than their smaller rivals. Peter Morton's Mandrake (Irish Orange) had displayed this from the start, and even with a temporary grounding on the notorious Shingles Bank was first to round the Poole No.1 buoy and begin the long haul back, south of the Isle of Wight to the Nab Tower.
It was early this morning at the St. Helens buoy, with 27 miles left, that Mandrake led Bear of Britain (England Red) by a minute with Nick Hewson's Team Tonic (Wales), a sistership of Bear's, a further two and a half minutes behind. There was a gap of an hour and eighteen minutes to Peter Harrison's Chernikeeff 2 (Commonwealth), a third of the Farr 52s, but she had run into a calm on the way out of the Solent and had been well back in the early stages.
Almost another two hours passed before Tony Clare's Blue Belle (Commonwealth), fifth on the water, led the gaggle of the extremely quick 37 foot long Ker 11.3s, all seven boats ahead of the Farr 40, Too Steamy (England Blue) and the Ireland Orange pair of John Corby designs, Charles Dunstone's Communicator and Colm Barrington's Gloves Off.
The three France Red boats, Eric Fries Fastwave 3, Gery Trentesaux' Courrier Nord and Jean-Yves Le Goff's Clin d'Oeil, were poised, all together, to go round and begin the leg to Bembridge Ledge and the West Princessa buoys before heading for Pullar, the final mark of the course, 13 miles from the Gilkicker finish. Leading the series before this race, France Red was in a strong position to consolidate their lead.
It was 1416, a little more than 24 hours after the start, before Team Tonic was the first to finish off Fort Gilkicker, Mandrake nine minutes later and Chernikeeff 2 finishing just thirty five seconds later for third position.
'It wasn't hard enough,' said Morton with a big grin as he climbed off Mandrake in the West Cowes Marina. 'That was one of the more tricky offshore races ever,' he added, 'it was a complete minefield out there.' He explained that there were patches of calm almost everywhere and that kedging had not been simply an option but essential.
'We kedged at Bembridge Ledge,' he said, and we had difficulty doing so. We dropped the kedge and dragged. Dropped a bigger one with lots of chain and held. Then we watched as Chernikeeff, who had been 20 miles behind, come up to be virtually level with us. But it has been a great race with Bear [of Britain] in sight the whole time. We had a great duel around St Catherine's Point, and we came out on top.'
Morton is nothing if not a realist. 'Good it may have been at times, but the little boats will probably slaughter us on corrected time.' Only time will prove him correct or otherwise.