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Round the Island: A Sailing Adventure

Published on: 30/08/23 

By Gary Lowe 

“The annual Round the Island Race, organised by the Island Sailing Club, is a one-day yacht race around the Isle of Wight. 

The race regularly attracts over 1,200 boats and around 10,000 sailors, making it one of the largest yacht races in the world. It's the fourth largest participation sporting event in the UK after the London Marathon and the Great North and South Runs.

Competitors come from all over the UK and worldwide to follow the 50 nautical mile course round the Isle of Wight. Starting on the famous Royal Yacht Squadron line in Cowes, the fleet races westabout, to The Needles, round St Catherine's Point and Bembridge Ledge buoy, and back into the Solent to the finish line at Cowes.”

Go Ape team members and other crew member on the Jeanneau Sunfast in the Round the Island Race

The crew aboard the Jeanneau Sunfast 35 - Nimrod. Picture left to right: Gary, Rich, Paul, Katie, Andy, Owen

In 2023, two members of Go Ape’s own construction team, Paul Love-Williams and Gary Lowe, took on the challenge and were treated to “strong weather conditions” on the Jeanneau Sunfast 35 - Nimrod.

Paul is an experienced skipper, having completed this and many races before. He has taken on multiple Fastnet competitions (one of the toughest offshore races in the world taking 6-7 days), as well as races in Australia and the Caribbean. Gary, however, had four days sailing under his belt before joining the mixed team of 6 for the race. Two of those days were a couple of weeks before on Nimrod, getting to know the rope (there’s only one rope on a yacht!) and the rules.

Getting 1,200 boats across the start line meant splitting the field into categories, the bigger and faster boats starting first to clear the way. Nimrod’s start time was roughly in the middle of the fleet. A yacht race start is an unusual thing.


Rule 1: Don’t fall into the sea.

Rule 2: Don’t get hit by the boom.

Weather beginning to turn in the Round the Island Race

Into the cloud and chop, serious angles for a serious turn. Full steam ahead!

There’s an imaginary line in the sea, marked by a flagpole on the mainland and a boat marker out in the sea. If your start time is 8.40am, you must cross the imaginary line no sooner than 08:40:00. This time is marked ceremoniously by a cannon, and a countdown on the Very High Frequency (VHF) radio.

Nimrod made a good start, and followed the fleet up into the wind, but down tide on the Solent. A few tacks, and a bit of boat dodging, and we made good progress up to the Needles, the first part of the race felt easy. A combination of things then added some emotion to the race.

Sailing Glossary

Down tide/ Down wind - in the direction in which the wind is blowing.

Halyards - In sailing, a halyard or halliard is a line (rope) that is used to hoist a ladder, sail, flag or yard. 

Sheet - The lines used when sailing are called sheets. Each sheet refers to the sail that it controls.

Spinnaker Sail - A particular type of sail designed for use when a boat is reaching or sailing 'off the wind'.

Tack - change course by turning a boat's head into and through the wind.

Upwind - in the opposite direction to that in which the wind is blowing, against the wind

Entering into the choppy channel waters and turning downwind, we hoisted a large spinnaker sail. Raising a large sail in windy and choppy conditions was a tense moment for the uninitiated. Lots of flapping, “loud talking”, and hauling all need to happen in a short space of time. Everyone got involved, and the more experienced sailors helped the less experienced to correct some issues and we were underway.

Sailing appears to be partly sitting on the side of the boat watching the world go by, and partly frantically pulling of sheets and halyards. At this point we checked our position in the race. We were stone dead last in our division. This would not stand.

The experienced sailors were able to tweak and adjust our big sails to get all the pace we could out of them. One crew member even emptied his stomach to get some weight off the boat!

Boats Competing in the Round the Island Race

Photo Credit: Island Sailing Club

Near the end of the race, in front of the Portsmouth Spinnaker Tower, and the weather is beginning to clear. Amid the throng and pushing ahead (Nimrod far left). 

We stayed away from the coast, which meant choppier waters but more wind. Sailing is a game of matching computer models to the boat and crew to get the best results. Nimrod advanced to the middle of the pack; spirits were high.

Rounding St. Catherine’s point, the going was good, so we opted for a jibe (changing the angle of our sails to point us in the right direction). All was going well until the rope holding the boom to one side became “unmade”, allowing the boom to swing across the boat.

Remembering Rule 2, fortunately nobody was hit by it, but the trailing ropes knocked Gary into Andy, and Andy’s sunglasses broke Rule 1. The boom swinging across also tipped and turned the boat, which left Paul, our skipper, sitting half in the sea, scrambling to give directions to the team to get the situation under control. Seasick Rich had no option but to hold on for dear life.

We finally got the situation sorted, dropped the spinnaker and unfurled our jib. We rounded Bembridge Ledge and it was pretty plain sailing back to Cowes, a bit of boat dodging, and the sun even came out. We crossed the finish line in high spirits and moored up in Cowes for a well-earned burger and drinks.

Nimrod finished:

  • 280/838 finishers - Nimrod came in ahead of renowned sailor Ellen McArthur!
  • 15/22 in division 2C. The conditions leant themselves to the smaller boats, the winner of our division won Group 2 overall.

All in all, it was a day of type 1 and type 2 fun, rain and sunshine, burgers, smiles and grimaces. Like all good adventures should be.

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