Mission completed in memory of dad
Published on September 24th, 2021
World Champion windsurfer Ross Williams set a new reference time by becoming the first person to wing foil non-stop the 50 nautical miles around the Isle of Wight in a time of 6hrs 49mins and 18secs. Williams was attempting the challenge in memory of his late father Ceri Williams and raising money for Hasag the asbestos disease support charity.
Williams and his team of intrepid wing foilers made up of Kitesurf champions Tom Court and Sam Light along with waterman Tom Buggy waited patiently on September 23 for the wind to build and at around 1pm set off from the Island Sailing Club line on this epic adventure.
Wing foiling is a new discipline that’s only 4 to 5 years old and is usually practiced for short periods on a small area, and as there had been no wing foiling challenges held over such distance, foiling around the notorious Isle of Wight race course represents a massive step into the unknown.
Tom Court won the start and the wingmen battled up the Solent, beating with the tide in a Westerly Force 4-5. Williams was the first to reach the Needles and turn the corner with his fellow wingmen about a mile behind. Wing foiling downwind and with the waves afforded the men time to conserve energy, relying less on the wind, harnessing the raw energy of the ocean whilst dancing down the waves on the underwater foils.
British Kite champion and keen sailor Sam Light used his experience of Round the Island sailing race to hug the Island shore and get out of the tide making up lots of ground on the leader. Meanwhile, Tom Buggy and Tom Court were battling with smaller foils and wings some way behind.
“We had lots of different conditions, from big waves on the south side of the Island, tidal rips, flat water in wind shadows and some brutal upwind sailing,” says Buggy “By the time I got to St Catherine’s lighthouse I was hating it!”
A critical component to completing the attempt would be the selection of the most appropriate equipment. Different size foils and sails are typically chosen for optimal performance in a small range of wind strengths, but by contrast the squad needed to select gear that gave sufficient power in the light winds, without being so large as to be overwhelming at the other end of the spectrum.
The first retiree from the attempt was Court who was struggling to stay on his smaller foils in the fickle conditions. “I was 40mins behind at The Needles, it was like my personal hell!” remarked Court.
Buggy made a huge effort to get round but like Court, his smaller foil and wing made his pace less and he finished three-fourths the way round at the forts as the wind shut off and darkness arrived.
While Light found it cool to be just a few meters away from the Needles light house, it was vital to stay as close to the coastline from St Cat’s down to Bembridge or otherwise get swept up by the tide but it proved to be not enough.
“I overtook Ross at Bembridge before stopping dead in the tide near Ryde and giving up,” noted Light. “I am gutted I didn’t try to continue and finish but it does mean I need to do it again and complete the challenge.”
Ross Williams battled his own demons off Seaview as the wind had dropped and he struggled to get back on his foil. Sailing backwards to find the pressure for 30 or so long minutes, allowed fellow wingman Sam Light to get ahead.
Soul destroying to the core with a weary body trying desperately to pump the board back on its foils. An evening breeze which has been so lacking this summer filled in from the west and Ross was able to coax his board up and away once again for the last push home.
With thoughts of his father to spur him on, Williams hugged the mainland shore to complete his epic circumnavigation of the Isle of Wight in the fading light. His name etched in history forever as the first man on the planet to have successfully wing foiled the circumference of the Isle of Wight.
“It was a brutal day on the water,” said Williams. “That beat up the Solent was a hard grind, I worked it to get space between me and the boys and when I turned the corner (at the Needles) rode the waves all the way to Culver cliffs. The surfing was epic off my backyard breaks at Bonchurch, Dunnose races, and Bembridge Ledge.
“That bit off Seaview though… the breeze really just died and I was losing pressure on the foil, Sam flew past me and I could not get back up. I thought we were done, so close but so far….I worked really hard and managed to find some puff that got me past the forts, then it was really about holding on and staying out of the tide. I was exhausted but my I knew my Father was there in spirit for the last push to the finish.”
Source: Will Overton
Editor’s note: The World Sailing Speed Record Council confirmed a new kitesurfer world record for the course around the Isle of Wight, set by Guy Bridge (GBR) on May 11, 2021 when he covered the distance in 02:24:32 for an average speed of 20.76 knots, beating his 2016 time of 02:32:05.