Since it’s conception in 1930’s the Round the Island Race sees sailing boats of all shapes and size assemble in Cowes on the Isle of Wight to take part in the iconic RTI Race. The largest gathering of yachts in the world, over 1200 this year, race in a single fleet over the 50 mile course. Starting off at Cowes and heading anti clockwise round the magnificent Needles, St Catherine’s, Bembridge Ledge and finally back to Cowes. It really is an awesome sight.
I previously sailed with Wavy when I crewed on "GotoBermuda" in the 19/20 edition of the Clipper Round the world yacht race - I haven't actually seen him since then but, as chance would have it I was in Gosport in the days before the RTIR and was offered the chance to sail as mate on one of the Clipper boats and could not believe who was the Skipper…… Wavy.
NO ACTUAL WAY! I leapt at the chance to sail with the skipper who lead me around the world, the one who taught me everything I know about sailing, life afloat, a sailing legend and my friend.
I was to be 2nd mate and we had a mixed crew of experienced and novice sailors, who after a day training the day before the race, were excited and prepped for what lay ahead. At the pre race BBQ there was the usual banter between teams, fighting talk and high spirits but we needed an early night as race start was 0800 and breakfast needed eating by 0530 ready to slip lines at 0600.
We were ready I had a good feeling about the day. Wavy had a game plan, we had studied the weather, the tides and as he briefed the crew just before we set off the sense of excitement was palpable. Come on gang, let’s do this. Other than the training, this group did not know each other but we chatted like old friends as we motored out of Cowes. There is something wonderful about sailing that brings people together from all walks of life and there was a feeling of camaraderie. I was standing by the helm with Wavy and, after nearly a year apart, we were back at sea and about to take part in one of the worlds most famous sailing races.
There were 13 boats in our class and our start time was 0800 but with over 1200 boats milling about on the water it was nearly impossible to take it all in, just keeping out of each other’s way seemed like an impossible task, never mind making sure we crossed the start line on time. Wavy’s experience and the eagerness of the crew meant we tacked and tacked and buzzed about in the pack until at last we were off. 0806 over the line not the fastest start but safe and mid pack we started to tack our way towards the Needles. I had never seen anything like it, my race around the world with Wavy was over 40,000 miles and for most part we never saw another boat, this was the complete opposite. It felt like all the boats in the world had gathered for this one race and each were doing their best to get in our way. Shouts of ‘STARBOARD’ and ‘WATER’ frequently heard across the fleet as we made our way.
Finally we pulled away from the boats waiting to start and could eventually make out the rest of the boats in our class. We were doing ok, mid fleet, not too shabby! Let’s see if we can catch the closest one ahead, after a series of impeccable tacks we reeled them in one after another, and BOOM we were first of the 68s around the Needles.
Our team were getting energised by now - such a great feeling, Wavy showing that a great skipper is not only an experienced sailor, but also an inspirational leader - giving clear instructions and encouraging everyone to do their best, doing exactly as they had been trained.
Then disaster struck, whilst shaking out the reef, one of the lines became looped around the boom, nightmare! the sail couldn’t go back up. We had to drop it slightly and use the boat hook to free the loop, this was all wasting valuable time. Boats still buzzing about, it was not a time to lose concentration, but with Wavy shouting clear instructions to his novice crew and Phil with the hook we were soon back underway, crisis over and we hadn’t lost too much ground.
Then we made our move, the 70s and rest of the 68s deciding to take the offshore route with fewer boats and less tacks we stayed closer inshore. Not too close to the melee and absolute carnage right onshore but enough so we could sneak up the inside and into the lead for our class. Yes I will write that bit again….. Into the lead!
The crew were ecstatic, but there is still a long race to go cautioned Wavy - again those years of experience showing through. "Things can change, let’s stay focused".
On we went, gybing now, a few close calls but everyone had eyes out and we were safely through and flying along close to the Island.
The ‘Dream Team’ Wavy and H back at sea, grinning I passed him half a sandwich and a cup of black coffee with all the sugar in the world stirred in, just the right temperature to get the maximum caffeine hit with minimum burnt lips. So amazing to be back racing, on the main sheet ready to ease in a flash if we needed to duck, I was loving life.
Around Bembridge Ledge and our lead looked good, just hold on now and tack what felt like a million tacks to the finish. Then NOOOO disaster number 2 as we tacked, the yankee sheet caught in a twisted hank on the staysail and the sail wouldn’t go through. Tack back was the call, did we have space? Just about, so another wrangle with flappy sails and thankfully the sheet came free, but again we wasted time, the pack was closing in we needed to cover them to hold on to our now narrowing lead.. Could we do it? YES we could, we tacked and tacked and tacked again!
I think in the Round The Island Race we tacked more than when we sailed across the Atlantic but it paid off. The crew were ecstatic, WE DID IT! Crossing the line nearly 4 minutes ahead of our nearest class competitor.
Motoring back to the marina huge smiles on everyone’s faces, What a day! What a WIN! What a team!
Thank you everyone on Team Courageous, thank you Wavy! Shall we do it again next year? Anyone?