Copyright 2017 - Woods Designs, Foss Quay, Millbrook, Torpoint, Cornwall, PL10 1EN, UK
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  • 36ft Mirage open deck catamaran

The Round the Island race is billed as the biggest yacht race in the world. (In 2002 there were 1,641 starters, including 50 multihulls in 3 classes). The race is about 50 miles round the Isle of Wight starting and finishing in Cowes.

But first I had to get there. Cowes is about 140 miles from Plymouth. The first 80 miles was downwind, F4, under spinnaker. Sounds ideal, except being England there is always a catch. This time it was that visibility was 1/2 mile at best. One of those sails when I was glad I'd fitted radar to my Eclipse. Interestingly the radar picked up the tidal race off Portland Bill very clearly, even if it missed a couple of yachts that passed close by.

After a couple of quiet days up the far reaches of the Medina (the river that exits at Cowes) I picked up my usual "dream team" crew of Mel and Joe, while joining us this time was David Harding from Practical Boat Owner magazine. I once did the race with only 2 on board which is very hard work. We felt that 4 crew would be of great benefit especially during the later stages of the race, and so it proved.

The tide ebbs strongly in the Solent and the main tactic for the first 15 miles is to catch it right. The trick is to sail as close to the Island shore as possible, but staying in the main channel until Yarmouth, when one cuts across to Hurst Castle and so get shot out of the Solent past the Shingles bank in the strongest tide. Although an athema to cruising people, the idea is to stay in the rough water as that's where the strongest tide is.

I think everyone in the world has seen a photo of the Needles at the entrance to the Solent. What isn't visible is a wreck less than 2m below the surface less than 100m off the lighthouse. Spurred on by my crew we were one of the first boats to cut the corner and sail between wreck and lighthouse. Worth doing as we overtook 3 boats that had gone round the outside. As we started the run down the back of the Island we were feeling pretty pleased with ourselves...

Apart from Maiden (ex-Grant Dalton's 120' Club Med, which had just sailed 697 miles in 24 hours - so doesn't really count!) we were first catamaran and ahead of both the 10m Dragonflies and several F27's and F24's, while the vast majority of the other multihulls were out of sight behind. So on the run round the back of the Island we became lazy. We put the spinnaker up, but then had lunch, sat back and admired the view. That is until the first monohulls (Mumm30's) started catching us by dodging the tide close inshore. Following the boats behind when one's ahead is always tricky, but we started copying them and realised how much there is to gain by going really close in.

The race was now beginning to hot up again. 4 Mumm30's, 2 Cork 1720 sportsboats and ourselves were all converging on the Bembridge Ledge buoy in line abreast. The first Mumm and us gybed for the mark. The second Mumm attempted to gybe, then broached and we had a very good look at the bulb keel and propshaft (That "multihulls don't go to windward" book also said that monohulls don't capsize). They were lucky that we didn't cut them in half. In the ensuring chaos 2 more Mumms overtook and we nearly got a Cork bowman in our cockpit. Eventually we rounded the mark safely and then had a 4 mile close reach to the next turning mark.

Close racing now ensued with everyone luffing to try and keep clear wind. Getting bored with that we decided to go low and slowly pulled through the lee of the Mumms ahead. Much mutterings by their skippers! We rounded the fort with only one Mumm30 ahead. It was now a flat water beat to the finish, in a wind that had increased to around 20 knots.

Back to "that" book. How does its author explain how we overtook the Mumm30 to windward? (lots of very audible mutterings from the Mumm skipper) especially as they are pure racing boats with no creature comforts, kevlar sails, 8 crew hiking hard etc. We had 4 crew, solid fuel stove, big freezer etc. We also had a bit of fun forcing a couple of the big (60' plus) monohulls to tack as we skirted Ryde Sands. But sadly as we approached the finish we found our own private wind hole and all we'd gained over the last 7 miles was lost 1/2mile from the finish. But eventually, we crossed the line at 4pm with around 1600 boats still behind us.

So what of the results?

Well you can see more at http://www.mocra.org.uk and then follow the links from the news page, but suffice to say that Maiden finished in 3hr 20 min, while we took 71/2 hours. But on corrected time we won our class by over an hour! So we could have anchored for lunch and still won!

The MOCRA site also has a link to ratings so you can see which boats are which, as well as all their dimensions. (so well worth looking at wherever you sail)

I've now done the race 5 times, and been first in class twice and second once. In mid August there is another Round the Island, but this time 2 handed. I hope to race, but probably won't do so well again as I won't be so fortunate with my choice of crew. The highlight of the race was definitely overtaking the top Mumm30 to windward. They were not amused, but it's why I like doing these sorts of races. I'm tired of people who say multihulls don't sail well.