SOME of the hottest professional names in sailing and the sport’s rising stars, jostled for position alongside royalty, rugby and rock 'n’ roll stars in the Artemis Challenge – the 50-mile race around the Isle of Wight today (Thursday).
The eighth edition of the Artemis Challenge, that first took place in 2007, has become a 'stand-out’ event of Aberdeen Asset Management Cowes Week and adding a touch of glamour, as well as their sporting prowess, were Zara Phillips, Mike Tindall and Simon and Yasmin Le Bon.
At 10am, 14 Artemis Challenge competitors set off in light airs anti-clockwise around the Isle of Wight.
Starting from the Royal Yacht Squadron line, the fleet of three Volvo Ocean 65s, two trimarans, eight Figaros and one IMOCA 60 had just four knots of wind in the Solent, making it a long slog round to the Needles Fairway.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s 'Azzam’ took an early lead, VIP guests Simon and Yasmin Le Bon joining the crew.
Once on the south side of the Island, the trimarans came into their own in ten knots of wind – flying round to St Catherine’s lighthouse, eventual Challenge winner 'Prince de Bretagne and second position 'Oman Sail – Musandam’ putting a gap between the two multihull’s and monohulls Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, Dongfeng Race Team, Artemis Ocean Racing II and Team SCA.
Due to the light conditions, the race was cut short at Bembridge Ledge, seeing French team 'Prince de Bretagne’ take the eighth Artemis Challenge win in a time of four hours, 16 minutes and 35 seconds.
Elsewhere, racing was abandoned for many classes after the forecast sea breeze failed to show any sign of reaching the central part of the Solent.
However, a more consistent sea breeze in the western Solent enabled racing for six classes – class 0 to 3, multihulls and First 40.7s.
In class 2 Adam Gosling’s Corby 36 'Yes!’ crossed the finish line six minutes ahead of Jim Macgregor’s Elan 410 'Premier Flair’ to take his fifth win of the week.
"We started in 8 knots of wind, which built to a steady 10-12 knots, giving us really, really nice sailing conditions," said navigator James Day.
"It wasn’t hard work, but we were all fully powered up to windward.
"We had a pretty good start, but (Andrew Irvine’s First 40) 'La Reponse’ crossed ahead on the first beat.
"We then had a tacking duel with them, short tacking against the tide past Yarmouth Pier and got ahead.
"Then they sailed into the exclusion zone in the moorings off Yarmouth harbour and had to retire, so we could sail a safe race after that.
"We could see the sea breeze was not extending towards Cowes, so it was a good call from the course setters to finish us in the western Solent."
In the First 40.7 class, Paul McNamara and Tony Lowe’s 'Incognito’ won today’s race by a margin of almost three and a half minutes over Nick Rawbone’s 'Playing Around’, with Pete Newlands’ 'Anticipation’ finishing third two minutes later.
"It was a great race today," said McNamara.
"We didn’t expect the wind to fill in, but it was good that it did. We had to work very hard for the win, with Anticipation getting a strong start and Playing Around also having an excellent first beat.
"We have been doing Cowes Week for 12 years with the same group of family and friends, but this is the first time we have managed to go into the final day having already secured the series.
"There will be big celebrations tonight and we will be out there tomorrow for a great final day."