The windsurfing teams from The Army, the Royal Navy and the RAF have completed the challenge they set out to achieve by windsurfing round the Isle of Wight. A combination of relay teams and solo windsurfers took up the challenge, in all 20 services personnel. Starting at 0830 on Thursday 16 September it was always going to be a tough day whatever the conditions so a force 4 wind from the West promised to test the fleets sailing skills to the limit. The beat to the first stopover at Colwell Bay was, as expected, difficult with the added pressure that the teams knew they had to get round the Needles before the tide turned against them. As a windsurfer cannot sail directly into the wind the straight-line distance of 10 nautical miles would be at least half as much again. For some this was to prove too great a task and by the time they got to stop two at Brook beach, on the southwest of the Island, the chance of getting all the way round in safety was gone.
Those who got ahead of the tide at the Needles now had the benefit of the wind (which remained a steady force 4 from the West) they also had the tide helping them along the south of the Island. This leg – approximately 20 nautical miles – passed around St Catherines Point, on route to Yaverland for a well-earned rest. For most of the fleet by this point the wind was starting to drop so a number of crews decided to fit bigger rigs to allow them to maintain speed. This no doubt helped, as they still had to go back up wind to the finish.
Windsurfing around the East of the Island was always going to be in light winds towards the East Solent heading back to Cowes and the finish. It was now late afternoon and the wind was dropping as the sun began to set. This was the time everyone had to dig in and keep going if they were to succeed.
The first entry to complete the challenge was the RAF comprising of Simon Kent, Ginge Ashmore, Mark Richards and Stu Tillbury. Next to arrive was the first pair of solo windsurfers, the RN pair Gerry Northwood and Steve Roberts.
An incredible effort and the difference in appearance of those that had completed the whole trip was clear to see. Next in was the Army pair Gareth Baker and Steve Williams who arrived as dusk was giving way to darkness, which left Jon Metcalfe as the only remaining complete navigator. He was accompanied to the finish with the final member of the Army team of Ian Beaton, Dan Scudder and Rob Hickley – completing this great challenge roughly 14 hours after it had begun, and in total darkness! A welcome drink was enjoyed by all on the beach.
Twenty windsurfers set out on the challenge, 13 finished with 5 completing the whole trip. A tremendous achievement which, added to the charitable donations, should be a great source of pride for all involved.
The support that was provided by the RIB owners, drivers and support crew was equally impressive with one boat (Poole Sea Safaris) coming from Poole at 0530 and then returning back to Poole long after dark. All generously given at no cost.
“The Forces Windsurfing Challenge certainly lived up to its name; 110miles over 11 grueling hours, it was the most demanding physical and mental challenge I have ever completed. Months of planning and organisation had not fully prepared me for the extreme highs and lows that windsurfing around the Isle of Wight would bring. I would like to thank all those who donated their time and equipment to make this fantastic event, and personal aspiration, possible. In addition, over the last few months I have been overwhelmed by public support for the forces, and their generosity to help injured servicemen who face far greater physical and mental challenges than we did everyday”.
Maj Gareth Baker RE Army Windsurfing Secretary
The fundraising has not stopped yet and there will be a evening with a presentation on his last tour in Afghanistan by Maj Gareth Baker. He will also shed some more light what it is like to windsurf around the IOW!
Details on how to donate and attend the FWC Evening are on the website: