THE SOLENT AMPHIBIOUS CHALLENGE – 27 JUNE 2012
At 0900 on the calm, windless morning of Wednesday 27 June 2012 four yachts could be seen slowly manoeuvring across a start line off Gilkicker point. Onboard were teams of 5 personnel no doubt apprehensive about the enormous challenge they were about to undertake. Ahead of the competitors lay the physically demanding, leadership, navigation and seamanship challenges of the first ever running of the SOLENT AMPHIBIOUS CHALLENGE. This one day multi-event race over land and sea, under the authority of Commodore HMS COLLINGWOOD and sponsored by STRUDYNA LTD, was open to Service Teams from throughout the UK Armed Forces. Each team consisted of five personnel; a Day Skipper Qualified team leader, two crew members (one competent crew qualified), a runner and a support cyclist. The four teams came from HMS COLLINGWOOD in Electron V, HMS SULTAN in Head over Heels, HMS RALEIGH in Sea Shanty and a team called “The Vintage MESMs”, a self explanatory title, in Happy Apple!
Starting at Gillkicker Point with all members aboard, the yachts were required to sail west along the Solent toYarmouthon theIsle of Wightwhere the runner and support cyclist would be landed to commence a run along a prescribed route of approximately 25 miles from West to East. The route would include 1600ft of ascent along the way, taking in the stunning scenery of the Tennyson Trail and Worsley Trail before finishing atBembridgeHarbourat the other end of the island. The runner was to be entirely supported by a cyclist and at no stage would the runner be allowed to swap with the cyclist. The remaining sailing team would then sail as quickly as possible to Bembridge where they would rendezvous with the running team who would both then re-board the yacht. Should the runner fail to make it to Bembridge by 1900 then the whole team would be retired from the race (due to the tidal window). The boat and whole team would then have to sail to the finish line at Gillkicker.
This was always designed to be a challenging event requiring significant effort, stamina, commitment, skill and teamwork, but with such light winds it was going to be harder than the race director, Cdr Duncan Forer RN had envisaged when he dreamt up the concept. Happy Apple (Vintage MESMs) soon established a slight lead over Electron V (CWD) with Head over Heals (SUL) and Sea Shanty (RAL), some way behind. As the morning progressed and the yachts battled against the tide with very little assistance from the wind, the race order remained unchanged and Happy Apple passedCowesat 1110 with Electron V (CWD) in a close second as Head over Heals (SUL) and Sea Shanty (RAL) trailed by some way.
By 1230 Sea Shanty(RAL) was struggling to passCowesin low winds and against the tide so decided to abandon the challenge and motor toYarmouthto allow their runner to compete in the land section. This left only three teams still in the SAC race and with the winds still refusing to play the game the Race Director decreed that all yachts would move to motor power and head for Yarmouth at a speed of 5 knots as boats made their best efforts from their position at 1300 to give their runners the chance to compete. It was also decreed that yachts could undertake the second leg back to Bembridge under power or sail in order to make the tidal cut off time of 1900. However, the final leg from Bembridge to Gilkicker was still to be conducted under sail. So the SAC Race was still on for all yachts apart from Sea Shanty and ahead now lay the running phase. The heroes who would be undertaking the 25 miles and 1600ft of ascent were: Vintage MESMs – Lt Cdr Gordon King, CWD – CPO Ian Frith, SUL – WO Andy Marshall and RAL – Sgt Richard Hall.
At 1409 Happy Apple arrived atYarmouthto drop off their runner (King) and cyclist. Electron V (CWD – Ian Frith)) was 11 min behind. The terrain ahead for the runners covered pathways, tracks and occasionally public roads and was of a hilly or undulating in nature with some steep climbs and descent. As a guide, on a trial event the running route took over 4 and a half hours for a team of fit runners. The cyclist was there purely in a support and health and safety role to assist the runner along the route. He would carry the runners drink, food and spare clothing and would be responsible for navigation and the runner’s well being throughout the running leg. Sea Shanty (RAL),who you will recall were out of the SAC race itself but still in the cross island race, came alongsideYarmouthand landed their runner at 1425 by which time the Vintage MESM’s runner was already at Checkpoint 1 at the foot of Tennyson Down. CPO Frith of CWD’s team reached Tennyson Down at 1440, in a split time of 15 min by which time, Happy Apple were passing Newtown Creek on its return journey to Bembridge. Sea Shanty dropped off the Sultan runner, WO1 Marshall, at 1456 which meant that as Sea Shanty turned and steamed for Bembridge all 4 runners were now on the course. Sultan’s handicap meant that they were still in the overall race whilst Sea Shanty for RAL were out of the Challenge.
The Vintage MESM runner (king) reached CP 3, about 10 miles into the race with most of the big hills completed at 1541 in a time of 1 hr 17 min. At about the same time, Electron V (CWD) was passingCoweson the return journey. Sgt Hall of RALEIGH reached CP3 at 1546 in the impressive time of 1 hr 16 min and the question was whether the Green machine could keep it up? The Valiant CPO Ian Frith of CWD, who had entered the race as a late replacement with less than a fortnight to go, had a split time of 1hr 17 min, keeping pace with the Vintage MESM runner. Meanwhile Happy Apple was now north of Ryde Pier with the other yachts following. The final runner, SULTAN’s WO1 Marshall went through CP3 at 1627 in a good time of 1h 26 on a par with all the others apart from, Sgt Hall, who was about 10min quicker.
Then there was some drama between CP3 and CP4, the Chequer’s Inn Pub at Rookley. The first runner to CP4 was CPO Ian Frith, taking the lead from King of the Vintage MESMS and from Sgt Hall of RAL who had lost significant time due to a navigation error. Frith came though at 1635 in 2h10min, Hall at 1636 in 2h6min and King at 1638 in 2h24min. It was getting serious! Happy Apple was by this time coming alongside in Bembridge and now had to wait for the arrival of their runner, King. SULTAN’s runner, WO MARSHAL was at CP4 which he went through at 1722 in a time of 2h21min. He was going well but it looked likely that he would not make the distance by the 1900 cut off time at Bembridge. Further up the course, CPO Ian Frith for CWD went through CP 6 at Arreton in 1710, in a time of 2h 45min. Ahead of him on the ground but not in the overall race was Sgt Hall of RAL at 1705, still leading in the cross island race.
All yachts were now alongside in Bembridge and Hall pushed on to go through CP7, at Brading in the fantastic time of 3h17min. The Vintage MESMs and CWD were not far behind on the ground. Meanwhile, poor WO Marshall of SULTAN was going to struggle to make the marshal’s cut off time of 1820 at CP7. Sgt Richard Hall arrived at Bembridge at approx 1823 giving him an incredible running time of 3hrs 53, truly amazing given his navigational error and the undoubted winner of theCrossIslandtrophy. It was such a shame that his team were out of the challenge race itself so the RAL team now steamed back to Hornet in Sea Shanty. Everyone now hoped that CWD or the Vintage MESMs could make it before the cut off. CPO Ian Frith and Lt Cdr Gordon King of the Vintage MESMs both rushed through CP7 to beat the falling tide and crossed the line; King at 1835 in a running time of 4h21min and Frith of CWD at 1853 in a time of 4h28min. Both had produced a tremendous effort and Electron V and Happy Apple now sailed home in a battle for the final trophy. WO1 Andy Marshal, with a Herculean effort arrived dead on 1900 in an impressive time of 3h 59min beating both the tidal cut off and the magical 4 hour mark. All boats now sailed for home.
There was drama at the end. Whilst Happy Apple and the Vintage MESMs were sailing towards Gilkicker and victory, Head over Heels decided to motor home having realised that completion by 2100 was not possible under sail. At that point her engine overheated and spluttered to a stop leaving her drifting with the tide in light winds. Gallantly, Electron V, with here crew of Warfare and WEs went to rescue the drifting MEs and took her in tow, hearing mutterings about lack of haptic skill training from the disgruntled Stokers as smoke billowed from her diesel. Happy Apple sailed on to cross the finishing line at 2026, beating the Challenge cut off of 2100 in an overall time of 11 hours, 26 minutes and 49 seconds to lift both the Commodores Cup for fastest unadjusted time and more importantly, the Strudyna Trophy for fastest adjusted time based on the yachts handicap rating. Well done to the Vintage MESMs who had a combined age of 266 years and total of180 years service between them! So the final result was Vintage MESMs first, CWD second, and SULTAN third with RAL bringing up the rear although they did win the cross island trophy thanks to Sgt Hall.
It was an eventful first running of the SAC although thanks to the light winds no one completed the full challenge without use of their engines. We had hoped for a team of Royal Marines to enter from CTCRM but having seen the leadership, teamwork and navigation skills required we believe it is doubtful that they could have completed. However the trophy is now held by Cdr Jack Tarr of the Vintage MESMs and will remain with him until any military unit, from whatever Service, Regular or Reserve decides to take up the gauntlet and have a crack at completing the challenge under sail within the 12 hours? Subsequently it will pass to the team that can post the fastest time. Any team interested in having a go at the challenge and completing it in a record time should visit the blog site at sac2012blog.wordpress.com where details of the Solent Amphibious Challenge Rules and Regulations and how to undertake a crack at the title can be found, along with up to date records. So the question remains, who will take up the gauntlet and try to complete the challenge within the 12 hours without use of engines to post a new record time?
For further information contact Press Officer Marie Arnott 01329 332312
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