On the 2nd July the sailing world will gather off Cowes to compete in the World famous Round the Island Race 2016. This iconic sporting event was first held back in 1931, organised by the Island Sailing Club, it has become one of the highlights of the sailing calendar. The beauty of sailing is that anyone can enter their boat into this race and as a result it is always a fantastic spectacle for competitors and observers alike. Despite this the details and history of the race are not widely known and therefore we’ll cover them here in this article.
Before we look at the history of the race, lets take a look at the course that everyone has to complete. The excitement always begins early in the morning with the first wave of boats heading out from Cowes. The race starts and finishes in the Solent just off Cowes with everyone heading west towards Hurst Castle and then out of the Solent past the iconic Needles through a notorious tidal gate. The Needles Lighthouse represents the most westerly part of the course as the fleet turns to port and then navigates the south side of the island.
On this side the seas are usually bigger than they are in the confines of the Solent. The course then heads round St Catherine’s Point and up past the seaside towns of Ventnor and Shanklin. The race then re-enters the Solent off Bembridge on the eastern end of the island and the final straight is then North west past Seaview and Ryde towards Cowes and the finish. The total course distance stands at 50.1nm although the distance travelled will obviously be dependent on the conditions.
One of the attractions of the race is that the course sailed remains the same as it always has been and allows us to reflect on the history of the race with a sense of familiarity. However, while the course has remained constant many other things have changed and evolved over the years. Back in 1931 when the race was first run there were only 25 competitors and the winning skipper was Peter Brett who competed in the 22 foot Cornish fishing boat “Merry Conceit”. Back then he was presented with the same prize as winning skippers are today, a Gold Roman Bowl. The original item had been dredged up from the River Thames where it must have fallen many centuries before. A replica was made by Bruce Benzie the Cowes jeweller and it is still awarded to this day.
The race has never been short of drama and in 1933 Isaac Bell’s Rosemary IV was leading the race when she lost her mainsail just before the line. By setting a tri-sail the crew were able to beat off her rival Felise, taking the honours by 46 seconds. The former Prime Minister and famous sailor Edward Heath competed in the race on many occasions, winning it four times on Morning Cloud II, III and IV.
Over the years the number of competitors have steady increased with a total of 1300 being reached by the mid 1980’s. Now the race attracts roughly 1600 entrants with a large percentage of them completing the course.
In recent years some of the latest sailing technology has been on display and Ben Ainslie Racing’s team set the current course record in 2013 on an AC45 catamaran. Their time of just over 2h52m shows just how quick and versatile the craft used in the current America’s Cup actually are.
RTI with Dream or Two
At Dream or Two we’ve been entering the race for many years with our clients taking centre stage as the race crew. Last year we entered our Class 40 yacht Fortissimo (one of 7 class entrants) into the race for the first time and with a rookie crew had a fantastic race, tacking our way out of the Solent before a downwind blast with the spinnaker on the South side. You can see some video footage from the day here.
This year we’re entering the race again and the great news for those joining us is that we get to start in the first wave of boats. That means we’ll get to sail amongst the best yachts and some world-class sailors, something that will be a great thrill. It will also be easier for us to not to get stuck in traffic and with any luck we’ll be back in Cowes to watch the rest of the fleet finishing.
We’ve still got a limited number of places left on our crew for this year’s race so this is the perfect opportunity for you to join the excitement. The package we’re offering this year includes a training day on the Friday to gel with the other crew and learn how to race a Class 40. We’ll then compete in the race on the Saturday before a leisurely sail back to Gosport on Sunday.
If you’d like to join us you can book your place but be quick as the remaining places will fill.