Bilge keeler wins 88th Round the Island Race 2019

Photo – Paul Wyeth

Photo – Paul Wyeth

No records broken this year but complex, light conditions proved ideal for local hot shot Jo Richards and team, who stole the show by winning the Gold Roman Bowl on the smallest boat in the fleet writes Sue Pelling.

Beating 1,210 other boats in extreme light, shifty conditions aboard ‘Eeyore’ the smallest boat in the fleet – a 55-year-old, 18ft modified bilge keel Alacrity – to win the coveted Gold Roman Bowl will undoubtedly go down in the history books as one of the finest Round the Island Race achievements on record.

Yves Le Blevec’s 100ft Grand Prix racing multihull – ‘Actual Leader’ – the largest boat in the fleet – was the favourite for a stab at outright record but with the light to moderate forecast, and the wind set to veer from east to west later in the day, record-breaking opportunities for the 88th edition of Island Sailing Club’s headline event diminished soon after the start.

Le Blevec and team however, did take overall line honours with a time of 7hrs, 33mins, 36secs. The first monohull to cross the finish line taking 9hrs 28secs was Sir Peter Ogden’s well-sailed Judel Vrolijk Mini Maxi ‘Jethou’. To give a good indication of how extreme the weather was this year, only 257 of the 1,210 that started, completed the race before the 2230 deadline. Even the eventual Gold Roman Bowl winner finished with just 23 minutes to go.

The passion to compete in this 50nm endurance race has never been so strong however, and given the fact the smallest boat and largest boat in the fleet headlined the event this year, Island SC’s tag-line #RACEFORALL could not be more appropriate. Even after completing his duty as official race starter, the likes of Michael Kitchen, the highly respected actor known particularly for his role as Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle in the ITV drama series Foyle’s War, was keen to get on the water to take part in his own boat and enjoy what he describes as “a brilliant event.”

Jo Richards (center) and Duncan Deboltz (right) receive the Gold Roman Bowl from record breaking global sailor Brian Thompson – photo Paul Wyeth

Jo Richards (centre) and Duncan De Boltz (right) receive the Gold Roman Bowl from record breaking global sailor Brian Thompson – photo Paul Wyeth

While undoubtedly there’s a certain amount of luck involved with succeeding in this sort of race, ultimately it’s about preparation, skill, tactics and making the least mistakes. Gold Roman Bowl winner Jo Richards – Flying Dutchman bronze medallist, yacht designer and regular RTIR competitor said it is also all about being able to recognise when luck it is going your way, and utilising it.

One of the first challenges of the day was keeping the right side of the line on the downwind spinnaker start on an ebbing tide. Richards, who was sailing with his regular crew David Rickard and Duncan De Boltz, agreed that getting the start right this year was particularly tricky. “The key was locating the line. For a downwind start my advice is to get onto the line with a minute and a half, or two minutes to go then sail back up. That way you know you are not going to be too far away and you can have a good look and make a decision where you want to be.

“If like us, everyone around you is quicker, there is no point in fighting for the best place on the line, you’re best off being a bit further down the line and finding an area of clear air. Having clear air and being in control is vital, and of course less stress!”

After the start Team ‘Eeyore’ basically sailed along the mainland shore to avoid the wind holes off the Island shore then judged favourable crossing over to the Needles to establish a good rounding position. Richards said being outside the bunch at the Needles is a no, no: “You can’t afford to be outside because the tide on Shingles Bank runs at 30 degrees to the Channel so it sweeps you off towards Bournemouth. You need to be wary of that, particularly in light conditions. If you end up on the outside, you’ll have no options and you’ll be totally controlled by others.”

The subject of exactly how close to sail round Needles Point is always up for debate, but Richards has one firm view: “I would seriously not recommend doing as we did and go through the Channel between Goose Rock and the Needles because it is a wreckless thing to do.”

Commenting on what he believes to have been one of the turning points in the race, Richards said: “We knew we could benefit from a wind bend between the Needles and Compton so, having rounded, we had to take a bit of a short term loss for a long term gain by tacking out in order to be on the inside of the wind bend. It seemed to work but we still had no idea how well we were doing overall.”

Richards says with this race it is vital have a strategic plan and stay in control of it. “It is all too easy to be ‘bullied’ away from where you want to go, so it is well worth taking a couple of ducks in order to do what you think is strategically good. You have always got to be thinking about long-term gains. If you have thought it through beforehand at least, you have a good starting point and if/when the conditions do change you have something to work on.”

Racing for 13+ hours in a short boat like ‘Eeyore’ that has no directional stability is quite uncomfortable and tiring and more like dinghy sailing said Richards. “Balancing the boat and keeping movement to a minimum is a priority. And because you can’t really find ‘the groove’ you constantly have to steer it, which requires lots of concentration. How did we sustain it? It was a management exercise and I seriously believe that the seven plus cups of tea on the way round was what kept the brain in order!”

Recalling when he finally felt comfortable about finishing the within the 2230 time limit, Richards concluded: “It really wasn’t until we were halfway across Osborne Bay. After we crossed the line at 2207 we still had no idea where we’d finished until we got ashore and looked at the results, so yes, it was an absolute lovely surprise.”

For Yves Le Blevec and his pro team aboard the 100ft Grand Prix round the world, racing multihull ‘Actual Leader’ they were unable to achieve anything other than overall line honours. Matt Sheahan – leading sailing journalist/commentator who joined the crew for the day said what impressed him the most was the way in which the crew handled the 100ft speed machine and their ability to keep it moving through the water in the light airs. “Because the team is so used to the size of the boat and they knew their angles really well they knew exactly when to call the gybes. They always got it spot on, which was extremely impressive.”

Sheahan was also amazed at how many boats risked crossing the bows of the huge trimaran in the jostling before the start: “You can’t really head up because it will accelerate so all you can really do is bare away. I think a lot of people out there are unaware of how dangerous it is slip across the bows. It’s like old age pensioners walking out on the M4; it’s ridiculous.”

Pip Tyler, Brand Ambassador at Neilson Holidays, one of the 17-strong contingent from Brighton, sailing with his brother Pete and crew on ‘Redeye’ – Jeanneau Sun Fast 3600 – in Division 1C finished seventh in class and 118th overall. As a race regular Tyler said among one of the things to do before you get on the boat is to read the sailing instructions: “Read them carefully. They look complicated but aren’t and it’s a shame to get bunged out for an error – especially the safety gear you have to carry. Also don’t get to engrossed in route/passage planning – have a strategy but keep it flexible for if/when the conditions change.”

Andrew McIrvine – RORC past Commodore and Admiral, and former class winner – who raced his 10-year-old Beneteau First 40 ‘La Reponse’ into second place in IRC Division 1A and 61st overall this year said it pays to study the tides: “Go and look at what is actually happening near start time. And watch lobster pots, buoys and your boat speed compared with SOG. Also watch the AIS of the boats ahead to predict wind speed and direction on various parts of the course.”

The classic boat contingent is always well represented at the RTIR and this year was no exception, with the likes of Giovanni Belgrano’s 80-year-old Laurent Giles One-off IRC ‘Whooper’ making her presence known once again. She won the Gold Roman Bowl in 2015 and this year won her division and finished eighth overall 

Belgrano, representing the home club and Gurnard SC said it is important to identify lessons learnt from previous years: “Our objective is to sail our very best, and our whole campaign revolves about practicing and preparing for the race. This year we definitely stepped-up, mostly from lessons learned last year. We pride ourselves in our starts, course tidal/wind positioning, and crew-work/sail-changing manoeuvres but it is important to measure performance.” 

Recycled winner – interview with Jo Richards

Eeyore – Gold Roman Bowl 2019 winner

Eeyore – Gold Roman Bowl 2019 winner

 modest as he is, there is no getting away from the fact that Jo Richards – international yacht designer, Olympic medallist, local racing hot shot and serial RTIR competitor – was a favourite to win the Gold Roman Bowl at some point. He lives in Gurnard, and has competed in virtually every Round the Island Race since 1975 so, not surprisingly this talented sailor has an extensive knowledge of the Island, and its complex tides/winds. Although he has come close in recent years with a couple of seconds overall, his win in his latest ‘recycling’ project ‘Eeyore’ the 18ft bilge keel Alacrity, which cost him £500, was probably the most challenging. “Actually,” corrected Richards, “It was the road trailer that cost £500 and the boat was thrown in for free!

“What possessed me? Well, having spent many happy family holidays aboard my parents’ Alacrity when I was young, and remembering how well it sailed, I thought it would be a fun project to get hold of one. However, the boat in question was advertised as a Vivacity, which I thought would do, because the design was fairly similar but to my delight, when I arrived to collect her I realised she was actually a 1964-built Alacrity.

“She came from a very gloomy place at Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station, near the River Trent sitting in a field and was in a terrible state. She was full of really smelly oily water so I had to drill a hole in the hull to get rid of the gunk before I trailed her back to the Island.

“The original deck had almost collapsed in on itself, so I totally replaced that with a deck I had hanging in the rafters of my shed. All the internals and bunks are original but I ended up putting an additional layer of laminate either side of the hull because I didn’t think it was strong enough for purpose. Unfortunately this made her heavier so her hull now weighs 400 kilos, while the keels only weigh 200 kilos, so it is not the ideal ballast ratio by any means.”

The new keels are, as expected, no longer bog-standard bilge keels instead they have been totally re-designed by Richards to look more like the keels on the ACC boat ‘Australia II’ without the wings. Richards added: “I did this to keep the keel in the water that runs parallel to the centerline. The good news is we still only draw 900mm so we can get into, and, importantly get out of a lot of places others wouldn’t even contemplate, so it is a great boat for the Round the Island Race.” 

In his summing up of how he sourced components for his re-cycled race winning boat, Richards confessed to carrying out a spot of ‘bin diving’: “I do a lot of work with Selden so I have special permission to raid their scrap bin, which is a lot of fun. I managed to recover an RS Elite mast second which, after a bit of modification and chopping the end off, worked perfectly, as did the National 18 mast I used as the boom. You’ll be delighted to hear that I did actually replace the original sails with a new suit of North Sails, which seemed to do the job.”

Results

Gold Roman Bowl – 1st overall IRC – ‘Eeyore’ (Alacrity) – Jo Richards (Elapsed 13hrs, 36mins, 31secs

Line honours

‘Actual Leader’ (Grand Prix racing multihull) – Yves Le Blevec (Elapsed 7hrs, 33mins, 36secs)

Round the Island Race 2020

The 89th edition of the Round the Island Race is earlier next year – 30 May 2020.

 

Records to beat

  • Monohull course record: 3h 43m 50s – supermaxi, ICAP Leopard (Mike Slade) set in 2013
  • Multihull course record: 2h 22m 23s – MOD70, Team Concise 10 (Ned Collier Wakefield) set in 2017

Feature as published in Yachts & Yachting September 2019.