Round the Island effort shows just the right Spirit

Collective Spirit tackles the Round the Island Race  Picture by onEdition
Collective Spirit tackles the Round the Island Race Picture by onEdition

SHE may have started as an idea in an artist’s imagination but after a star performance at the JP Morgan Asset Management Round the Island Race, the sailing future of Collective Spirit looks secure.

Better known as the Boat Project, the 30ft boat was dreamed up by artists Gregg Whelan and Gary Winters as part of 2012’s Cultural Olympiad.

Collective Spirit was lovingly crafted by skipper and Emsworth-based master boat builder Mark Covell over a two-year period from thousands of pieces of wood donated by members of the public.

And the state-of-the-art yacht made was one of 1,459 boats carrying around 16,000 amateur and professional sailors when she made her maiden competitive bow on Saturday, winning line honours in her category.

After crossing the line in 7hr 12min 22sec, a delighted Covell – who won silver in the Star class at the Sydney Olympic Games with Ian Walker – couldn’t have been happier with her flight through the waves.

“It was absolutely brilliant, we couldn’t have had a better time,” he said. “It was a great start and a beautiful morning looking back all the other boats.

“We spent the entire time waving back at all the people who were waving at us and all the smiling faces who had heard about Collective Spirit.”

More than 1,200 people donated wood to the project, including an old piano and a pencil, made of anything from everyday pine to exotic Zebrawood.

Collective Spirit was launched in May last year and covered more than 600 miles meeting more than 100,000 people during the summer of 2012.

Saturday’s was her first race, however, and also her first voyage as a charter boat, with Covell expecting her to spend a third of her time in the water to help secure her financial future.

Organised by the Island Sailing Club, this year’s Round the Island Race was the 76th running of the event and saw Ben Ainslie smash the course record by more than 16 minutes on board JP Morgan BAR, crossing the line shortly after 8am in 2hr 52min 15sec.

Covell admitted he was thrilled his ex-Team GB colleague had broken the 12-year-old mark, and paid tribute to former Olympic sailor Andrew Simpson, whose funeral was on Friday in Sherborne.

“I went to Andrew’s service on Friday at Sherborne Abbey, and we were thinking about him during the race,” added Covell. “We had a Bart Simpson sticker on our sail in his honour. I was really pleased for Ben when he broke the record, we were all hoping they would go well.”

BOGNOR railway conductor Phil Bray swapped rails for sails as he enjoyed an experience of a lifetime sharing the waves with four-time Olympic gold medallist Sir Ben Ainslie at the JP Morgan Asset Management Round the Island Race.

Having been galvanised in 2008 by the sight of record-breaking 100ft yacht ICAP Leaopard, the 61-year-old made it his mission to be a part of the 50-nautical mile race, first established in 1931.

But aboard Swiftly, a Seal 22 Mark III, Bray and crew came home in a time of 10hr 26min 37sec and were among a fleet of nearly 1,500 boats and 16,000 sailors who set out to circumnavigate the Isle of Wight.

And after a race that also saw Ainslie and his crew break the 12-year-old multihull record by more than 16 minutes, Bray revealed his delight at spending time out on water with such greats.

“This format is like no other because you can enjoy the race and the other yachts around you,” said Bray.

“I was at Cowes Week a few years ago and we saw ICAP Leopard sail past us and we loved it.

“I thought I must be a part of that and see what that race would be like and I am really glad I did. To do it in one day was fantastic and having done it over a number of days previously this was the best.

“You can come out here and race against the best sailors in the world, in the best boats in the world and beat them on handicap which is something you can’t do in any other sports.

“It is surreal to think we were racing against the world’s best sailors. You don’t get many opportunities in sport to be among the best.

“I play a lot of golf and the chances of me playing a round with Rory McIlroy or Tiger Woods are slim to none. It was a fantastic day of sailing and the weather made it all the better.”

The JP Morgan Asset Management Round the Island Race is the fourth largest participation sporting event in the UK and the largest yacht race of its kind in the world, attracting anything between 1,500 – 1,800 yachts and 16,000 competitors.