Round the Island Race, 2015

In 27 June 2015 ‘Ivy Green’ won the Gaffers Division Class 1 in the historic Isle of Wight Round the Island Race. Skipper Richard Jacobs brings us his report

This being late June it’s already light when the 04:45 alarm sounds. We leave the mooring in good spirits at 05:15. The bowsprit and jib are already rigged and ready to go. The mainsail is up by the time we’re out of the Hamble river and it’s a gentle sail across to the start line, with a stream of other boats doing the same thing. We’re near the Bramble Bank and the outer distance marker by 06:30 and the crowds are building.

The starting area really is a boat watcher’s paradise. There are yachts of all shapes and sizes pouring out of Cowes. ‘Mariquita’ heads West up the course and is a great sight coming back downwind, while ‘Eleonora’ powers the other way, from Osborne Bay. In between is Leopard3 with an army sitting on the rail. We jockey for position with a MOD70, get a cheerful wave from Dan Shaw, finally out on ‘Susan J’ and generally enjoy the show. The wind is already stronger and further to the West than forecast, so it’s going to be a long beat to the Needles.

At 07:00, the superstars of class zero are away and then it’s our turn at 07:10. We decide on simplicity and get a great start at the pin end of the line, positioning ourselves right in front of Polly Agatha. The majority of the fleet are out of sight in the melee at the Squadron end of the line. We’re delighted to hold Polly Agatha off for a couple of tacks, then head in to Gurnard and the start of the ebb tide. Now we’re trading tacks with David Dimbleby in ‘Rocket’, who also provides a cheerful wave. Then he tacks in close to Beaulieu, hoists his topsail and disappears into the distance. We try to follow, but don’t get the same lift. Looking at the tracks afterwards it really does look like ‘Rocket’ got their own private wind. Most of the fleet stays in the tide closer to the island.

By 10:00 it’s wind over tide in the Hurst Narrows and every square foot of water has a boat on it. The wind’s up to a steady 4 and there’s plenty of tacking and ducking going on. I may never know how a 44ft Feeling managed not to split ‘Ivy Green’ in half, but a few inches make all the difference. At 10:40 we’re round the Needles and there’s time to draw breath. Tucked inside us is a line of Cornish Shrimpers, clearly going well. It’s a beautiful sunny day and we’re on a broad reach in rolling seas… time for an early lunch. We know that most of the rest of Division 1 are ahead of us, but ‘Morning Star’ has clearly struggled on the long upwind leg. Now she barrels past, under full sail, making a fine sight.

At 12:45 we’re round St. Catherine’s and tuck inshore to avoid the last of the ebb tide. We’re going well, but every time we think things are looking good, there’s another Shrimper in front of us. They’re all blue too, so I’m not sure who it is, but we appreciate the raised glass from one shrimper skipper, as we fail to overtake him. We finally hoist the topsail, which is just about possible straight downwind.

14:55 sees us round Bembridge Ledge and we tuck into the line heading for Ryde. With the topsail up and a steady breeze, we’re holding our place well against the boats around us and finally pick off another blue shrimper. We watch the boats in front of us tacking inshore at Ryde Sands, to avoid the tide. Then we watch the inshore lifeboat trying to help them get back afloat. The idea of close tacking a 10 ton gaffer in a crowd, against the tide doesn’t appeal and we take the Northern option. Our Port tack from Ryde, keeps us in great wind and takes us up past Lee-on-Solent. There we tack along the Southern edge of Bramble Bank before diving across for Cowes. Of course we’re too early, but not by much. We rejoin the melee at Shrape Beacon and tack back out for the finish. The flood tide leaves us just short, so a last tack to starboard about a boat length before the line, which is ignored by the yacht behind us coming in on port. That leaves us both in irons a bowsprit from the finish, with the tide pulling us back. Ivy Green falls back on to port tack and we scrape around the line to record a finish at 18:11:02. The sail numbers just lasted the day, but we’re out of flapjack and sausage rolls, so we bear away and head straight for Hamble.

A well earned pizza in the pub turns into a victory celebration after checking the results. We’ve won our class (Gaffers Division 1) on our first attempt!

I don’t know what makes blue Cornish Shrimpers so fast, but they took the first 5 places in division 3. Congratulations to all of them, especially to ‘Pasty’ for their win and to ‘Rosenn’ for division 2. And thank you for being in a different class from us!

It would be great to see more gaffers out there next year. Divisions 1 and 2 seemed distinctly under-represented. The Round The Island Race is a unique event. Over 1500 boats of all sizes, shapes and experience, racing on the same course. It’s hard work and I can’t deny the odd tense moment, but we had a fantastic time. We started and finished happy, sailed in perfect conditions and didn’t break anything! Thank you to Louise, Alex and Ian for all your efforts. We shall be back to defend our title next year.

Round the Island Race