I was asked earlier on in the year by a friend of mine if I wanted to crew on his lovely Rustler 31 for the Round the Island Race, before I finished reading his message I knew I was up for it. The RTIR is something most sailors want to try once, to sail with so many other boats in a relativity relaxed race. We hadn’t really prepared for the race, I’m not sure there was a need to. David regularly sails his boat single-handed only sailing to Scilly a few weeks before solo plus we had a full crew so there would be no shortage of hands.
The week leading up to the race there was very little wind, and even less forecast for the day, what was blowing was from the East. This wouldn’t be a problem but the boat was in Falmouth from David’s Scilly trip. David pulled a blinder to get the boat back to Portsmouth in time despite lack of wind, and fear of not even starting the race, he could have called it off just going by the 3kt forecast for race day. I had booked the Thursday and Friday off to get down with the though that I would help out with prep where possible and David pulled in to the marina pretty much as I arrived by car. Unfortunately I didn’t know he had moved berths so I was waiting for him at his old berth for half an hour whilst he was supping coffee in his.
David and Kate were kind enough to let me sleep on their boat Toroa and even kinder to treat me as one of the family as Kate had family up so we got to know each other before the race. We had entered the family cup so as well as David and Kate, David’s son, Kate’s father were the key crew, David’s friend and myself made up the other two. After meeting the family on Thursday and going out for food the Friday was race prep so we got Toroa ready before heading back to David’s for food and then an early night ready for an early start Saturday.
Although our start was the last at 08:10 I woke at 5am to get ready before the rest turned up at 05:30 and we cast off at 06:00. Looking out at a full horizon of sails was a wonderful sight and I think it woke us up with the excitement of the day. We motored to the North holding area and hoisted the sails and hung around till the 10 minute gun was fired. We collectively decided the north end of the line would be best as the wind was forecast to be more in the North. What we didn’t do was sail the line or at least sailed about a bit to see what the wind was actually doing at that time.
After the gun went and our group crossed the line, which was a cracking start it came apparent we made more progress on a port tack. In hindsight we may have been better to start further down the line on a port tack with the hope of crossing before the starboard boats got to us… a risky tactic and one I don’t think I would have called, we played it safe and that was it probably the right thing to do. As we tacked our way towards Yarmouth we kept in clean air keeping away from the main bunch close to the island. Looking at the chart they were in deeper water and getting the most of the tide but having to short tack their way up. We were going well and catching up with boats in the group before us although we may have been a little sloppy tacking on the small wind shifts, not bad though as we’re in a heavy long keeler in pretty light winds.
We had to get round the Needles before 11.30am before the tide turned but it came pretty apparent this wasn’t going to happen. We could see the tide turning before we had even past Hurst Point, probably the worst part of the Solent to push the tide. We closer we got the more we slowed, we got pushed backwards as we tried to get through. A couple boats were right on the shore but being low water and those boats much smaller we only went as close as we felt comfortable. It worked but we got pushed back again so we ducked back in, peering over the side at the seabed for as long as we dared before tacking I’m sure I would have touched Hurst Castle with a boat hook. A half an hour battle to break through followed as we watched boat after boat drop out and one getting pushed onto the rocks!
Kate noticed the tidal stream was weaker behind the Shingles Bank so we made a line to the Needles, putting more and more water between us and Hurst Point. It was hard work but we did it and although we was close to giving up with the others we didn’t. I think if we got pushed back one more time we would have gone to the pub in Yarmouth or Lymington.
We got round the needles, despite getting very shallow over the Shingles and the wind just behind the beam David talked us through getting the kite up. I’ve never flown a spinnaker, or even been on a boat with a spinnaker flying so I was quite looking forward to it. Kite up, we flew down the west side of the IOW for about half an hour before the wind died completely and we bobbed about for a couple of hours. It was decided at about 16:00 to retire, there was no wind, a bit of tide pushing us to St Catherine’s, we we’re only about half way round.
That was that, motor on, we made a course to Portsmouth, still 6 hours away at 5kts through the water as the tide had turned against us again. God know when we would have got in if we had waited for the wind. A few boats that we caught up were sailing, lots motorsailing with the same thought. Yes we retired but we made a lap of the island and although it was a long, hot and tiring day we didn’t turn around!