The annual JP Morgan Round the Island Race is a staple in the UK inshore racing diary, with upwards of 1,700 boats and 16,000 participants regularly taking part in this 50 nautical mile race around the Isle of Wight. With this quantity of race entries, the Round the Island Race is the 4th largest participation sporting event in the UK after the London Marathon and the Great North and South Runs.
Round the Island Race first took place in 1931. The race was an idea proposed in 1930 by Major Cyril Windeler, a member of the Island Sailing Club; Major Windeler suggested holding a handicap race that would cater for smaller boats between 5 and 25 tons.
It has been suggested that Major Windeler may have been enjoying a quiet joke at the expense of the Royal Yacht Squadron (RYS) also situated on the Isle of Wight. The RYS had stated that their members must own a yacht of at least 30 tons, and so their members would be excluded from Windeler’s idea.
There were 25 entries to the first race in 1931 and the race was won by a 22 foot Cornish fishing boat in a time of 9 hours and 51 minutes.
The race has been held annually ever since, although it didn’t take place between 1940 and 1949 due to the war.
By 1950 the number of entrants had increased to 105 and the number steadily grew to 1,309 in the mid 1980’s. In 1989, the Centenary of the Island Sailing Club, there were 1813 entries and the 2008 Round the Island Race saw a record number of 1875 entries.
Since the introduction of a multihull class in 1961, the course record has tumbled from 9 hours 51 minutes set in the augural Round the Island Race, to 2 hours 52 minutes and 15 seconds set by Sir Ben Ainslie on his AC45 in 2013. The 100ft ICAP Leopard owned by Mike Slade is the current holder of the monohull record with an elapsed time of 3 hours 43 minutes and 50 seconds, which was also set in 2013.
Round the Island race has become a popular challenge for sailors of all levels and experience. Professional yachts with Olympians onboard race next to a family who are enjoying a day sail around the Island. The Island Sailing Club introduced an ISC rating system to allow boats that don’t regularly race to participate and ISC rated entries now outnumber the yachts in the IRC classes. Entrants come from all over the South Coast of England, as well as France, Belgium and the Channel Islands.
Round the Island Race course
The course is as simple as it is complicated- start on the Royal Yacht Squadron line at your designated start time, and keep the Isle of Wight on your left.
What makes Round the Island interesting is the complex tides and change of directions, offering race navigators options on each leg.
Leg 1: Cowes to the Needles – The start time is normally to coincide with the first high water on the day. This means that the tide will be with the boats as they sail down the Western Solent towards the Needles. Staying in the strongest tide is key to this leg then when you get to the Needles do you risk going inside the Wreck?
Leg 2: Needles to St Catherine’s Point – At this stage the tide will be against you so heading inshore to stay out of the strongest tide may seem like a good idea. But with numerous rocks you have to be careful. The steep cliffs can also cause wind shadows close to shore, so heading offshore to get the best wind is often the best course.
Leg 3: St Catherine’s Point to Bembridge Ledge – This is the halfway point and boats will converge again. Due to the rip tides around St Catherine’s Point it can become choppy and the breeze can increase. If the tide is still against you then getting inshore can avoid the worst of it and can pay off. Beware big wind shifts in Sandown Bay as you head towards the East Cardinal mark of Bembridge Ledge, boats can again bunch up so care should be taken.
Leg 4: Bembridge Ledge to Ryde Sands – It is an almost certainty the tide will again be against you so getting into the shallow water can pay dividends. A good set of charts and an accurate depth sounder is essential, but beware, every year a few boats push their luck and get stuck on Ryde Sands.
Leg 5: Ryde Sands to the Finish – Again the tide will be against you and heading into shallow water will get you out of the worst of it, but there are large wind shadows close inshore so it can be a balancing act. There are two finish lines so check your sailing instruction to make sure you know which one you are supposed to use.
The tides and wind direction make this 50 nautical mile course never the same twice, keeping entrants coming back year after year hoping to win the Roman Gold Bowl awarded to the winning yacht.
Off the water and after the race sailors descend on the town of Cowes in their thousands with plenty of places to eat and drink and party the night away.
Interested in participating in the Round the Island Race? Why not have a look at our Equinox Coastal Race Package for more information on how you too can attend the most popular yacht race in the UK