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Leg 5 highlights: Round the Island Race

Posted in : gbsc

round the island race

The Round the Island Race is world-famous event, with some 1600 boats, crewed by some of the biggest names in sailing as well as keen amateur sailors. Starting and finishing at Cowes on the Isle of Wight, the routes skims past The Needles, the island’s iconic rock formations on its western shores, before rounding St Catherine’s Point and Bembridge Ledge and back into the Solent. It’s a brilliant event that you have to experience. Here’s our sailor’s guide to the route.


The Start

The event always aims to start down tide, although timings each year can make this a little tricky. The strength of tide varies hugely across the width of the Solent, so making sure you are in the strongest current is key (although only if you’re racing!) Best way to know where the string tide is? Look for all the fancy racing style boats!

Race to the Needles

It’s an absolut joy to sail past these rocks, but nearly always some one tries to sail too close and has to take some emergency avoiding action. There are shallows and wrecks to contend with, and there’s a lot to be said for giving it some space and enjoying the turn east. Some yachts with shallow draights will try to squeeze down the gap between the wreck of  Varvassi and Goose Rock. Those who do, also end up very close to Irex Rock in Scratchells Bay which can lead to even more emergency moves! While we are all for giving space to the rocks and wreck, we also have to be careful not to get sweet too far down tide, as it can be a long and necessary slog back up!

Isle of Wight: southern shore

Almost certainly now we are fighting the tide, so again we want to try and stay closer to shore where the current is weaker. The trade off is that our sails can get choked of wind by the big cliffs.  It’s all the fun of the tactics and navigation as we make best speed  to St. Catherine’s on the southern tip. Known as ‘Windy Corner’, this promontory usually has wonderful sailing conditions and the boats pick up maximum speed and it’s max power to Bembridge Ledge on the eastern hores.

The Riddle of Ryde Sands

The shallows off Ryde provide a good challenge for the navigators. The temptation is always to cut the corner, but it requires careful calculations of draught and depth, and we have no intention of suffering while the tide drops and we get marooned for the next 6 hours!  Several boats run aground here each year.

Sprint for home

It’s now a final charge west along the Solent, past the forts, avoiding the large commercial ships plying their trade and just making maximum speed toward Cowes. Before we know it we’re home, berthed, in the pub and having a wonderful time.

The Round the Island Race. Included in Leg 5 of the Great British Sailing Tour