On Tuesday 12th June, a team of sailors took on a team of RAF cyclists in a point-to-point “Top Gear-style” challenge, racing from Plymouth to Portland Bill to mark the Royal Air Force’s 100th anniversary. The Plymouth to Portland Bill race, dubbed “Boat v Bike”was conceived to celebrate RAF100, as well as to raise funds for the RAF’s leading welfare charity, the RAF Benevolent Fund.
The crew sailing the recently-launched RS21 boat by RS Sailing, who were supporting the event, included Flight Sergeant Jon Tweedle (RAF), Cameron Tweedle (Olympic sailing hopeful) and Petty Officer Natalie Roach (Royal Navy).
The race was challenging for both teams. For the sailors, the Met Office were forecasting that the wind would die two hours after the start of the 80 mile run, making it unlikely they would ever cross the finish line. For their part, the cyclists faced the prospect of unusually hot weather for the time of year as they battled to complete the 120 mile course during which they would have to climb over 11,000 feet in the hills along the coast road.
The race is the brainchild of Flt Sgt Jon Tweedle, a keen sailor and father to Olympic-hopeful, Cameron, who skippered the brand-new RS Sailing boat which was loaned to the crew for the challenge. Both Jon and his son are accomplished Finn sailors, with Jon a former RAF Sailing Champion and Cameron currently ranked 53rd in the world. Royal Navy sailor, Natalie Roach, has a wealth of competitive dinghy racing experience as well as being part of the current title-winning Inter-Services Royal Navy Sailing Team.
Before the start of the race, Jon, currently stationed at RAF Brize Norton as a C17 loadmaster, said: “The RAF Benevolent Fund have been ever present in the RAF’s history, always there when we need them. So it seemed a perfect fit to support them with this event in the RAF’s 100th year. The race will be a real challenge, with the sea-crew having to overcome the elements, while the land team race along a demanding, undulating course. And naturally, we both want to win so I reckon it’s going to be a close call!”
RS Sailing Managing Director, Sales Jon Partridge, said: “RS Sailing have been at the forefront of boat design and are delighted that our latest creation, the RS21, will be put to the test for this challenge. We’re excited to be a part of the RAF100 commemorations and look forward to seeing who is victorious on the day!”
RAF Benevolent Fund Regional Director Paul Hewson said: “What a way to mark the centenary! This is an incredible challenge which I am sure will be a great spectacle. The RAF Benevolent Fund has stood side by side with the RAF Family since the beginning, something we couldn’t do without the support of fundraisers like Jon and his son, Cameron. Their determination to raise funds and the profile of our charity is laudable, especially in this, the RAF’s centenary year – good luck!”
As predicted, the wind died as the RS21 rounded the first headland, some 2hrs into the race. They were eventually totally becalmed and a decision was made to abandon their part of the race so they could get back on dry-land and support the bikes en-route to Portland.
The three members of the RAF Brize Norton cycling team fought the heat and the hills and crossed the finish-line at The Bill, some 7 hours after they started. As they crossed they were told they had already raised over £1000 for the good causes.
The challenge had support from a number of well-known names in the yachting world, including RS Sailing (www.rssailing.com) who lent the new RS21 boat and provided support throughout the race, Rooster Sailing (www.roosterkit.com) who supplied the crew’s clothing and donated £250 of items to give away as a prize draw, and Sail Racer Sailing (www.enter.sailracer.org) who provided live-tracking of the teams throughout the race.
If you would like to support Jon, together with his yachting and cycling comrades, by making a donation to the day’s events, please click here.
RAF Benevolent Fund: The Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund is the RAF’s leading welfare charity. They exist to support current and former members of the RAF, their partners and dependants, whenever they need it. In 2017 the charity spent £18.4m supporting more than 55,000 members of the RAF Family. For more information click here, or follow the charity on twitter.