TOUGH WORK: The crew of the Black Pearl, competing at the JP Morgan Round the Island Race (onEdition)
Contrasts at sea as experience wins through at Round the Island Race
BRILLIANTLY coloured spinnakers against leaden skies, Olympic gold medallists taking on actors who used to be in Eastenders and big-money super yachts jostling for space with shrimpers, gaffers and folkboats - resilient wooden craft that appear only one big wave or gust away from being turned into driftwood, writes James Toney.
Contrasts at sea were there for all to see at the JP Morgan Asset Management Round the Island Race, with a record 1,900 boats and 16,000 competitors descending on the Solent from all corners for a wet, wild and windy loop of the Isle of Wight.
And up in the battlements of Cowes Castle, Denise Van Outen brought a bit of Essex glamour to the old boys in blazers and breton caps, succeeding where Queen Victoria failed by getting inside the exclusive Royal Yacht Squadron to fire the gun.
Never before has such a well-polished nail pushed the starting button, which sent succession of cannon booms across the Solent, announcing multiple starts for a race run with nautical efficiency by the Island Sailing Club.
Sir Keith Mills, the London 2012 deputy chairman and principal of the British America's Cup team, has poured millions into his sailing obsession.
But even with Olympic champions Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson on the crew of his boat, the 80-year old race proved there is no price on local knowledge.
Shallows, rocks and ledges lurk at all points around a 55-mile course where tide and wind conditions can make a nonsense of the most carefully laid plans.
Dame Ellen MacArthur was one of many retirements, one of her crew got seasick, while Mike Perham, the youngest boy to sail around the world at 16, and Jessica Watson, the youngest girl to achieve the feat, couldn't get around either.
Even Gipsy Moth IV, the 54ft ketch that took Sir Francis Chichester around the world with only one stop in 1967, turned back for home.
But Nick Rogers and the crew of Contessa 26 Sundowner mastered the conditions, which saw 25 foot waves around the iconic Needles lighthouse, to win the race after the respective handicaps of all competing boats had been calculated by a mathematical formula that even Carol Voderman would struggle to understand.
Rogers, of course, is no stranger to sailing success having won Olympic silver with Joe Glanfield in Athens and Beijing.
But he was raised on these slate grey waters and has seen uncle Jeremy win three times in recent years.
Rogers has certainly enjoyed a fortnight to remember with a victory at the Skandia Sail for Gold regatta, which secured him and new partner Chris Grube the only British spot in the 470 class for next month's Olympic test regatta, and the birth of his second son.
Twelve months ago he had called time on his Olympic ambition after a series of disappointing results with Pom Green, who replaced Glanfield when he quit the sport following Beijing.
Green and Rogers are best friends, winning the world youth title together in 1995, but they struggled to rediscover that chemistry on the water, admitting their aim of London 2012 gold was just 'too much of a tall order'.
Rogers then turned his attention to coaching, dropping out of the British performance squad and losing his lottery funding.
But the lure of a home Games soon got him back in a boat, forming a partnership with Grube, a beanpole thin crew-mate he nicknames Twiggy, for what looked like an unlikely Olympic campaign.
With only one British crew allowed to sail at next year's Games, 470 partnerships Luke Patience/Stuart Bithell and Nic Asher/Elliott Willis, the two-time world champions, were considered in a straight shoot-out for selection.
But Rogers and Grube's recent win at Weymouth has moved them to the front of the fleet, another good performance at the test event and at the World Championships in Perth later this year and Rogers could yet get the chance to upgrade his two silvers on home waters in 2012.
And, as he proved in Cowes, you can't put a price on the value of local knowledge.
NOTE: Check out these brilliant images, which capture just how tough conditions were