RKJ to race RBRRobin Knox-Johnston has teamed up with William Foster, the new American owner of Spirit, (ex Spirit of England), a 40ft trimaran, for the Royal Western Yacht Club's Two Handed Round Britain and Ireland Race this year. Foster, an ex-US Navy Pilot from Connecticut, now flying with Delta Airlines, bought the boat last year from Peter Clutterbuck.
The race starts from Plymouth on 9th June and stops in Crosshaven in southern Ireland, Barra in the Outer Hebrides, Lerwick in the Shetland Islands and Lowestoft in Suffolk, before returning to Plymouth.
This will be Knox-Johnston's seventh entry in this classic four yearly event and interestingly his first aboard a trimaran.
His first race was in 1970, which he won with Leslie Williams in the then giant ketch Ocean Spirit. In 1974 he sailed with Gerry Boxall in the largest racing catamaran then built, the 70ft MacAlpine-Downie designed British Oxygen -he won again.
In 1978 he chartered Great Britain 2 the 80 foot maxi ketch which he raced with Billy King-Harman and finished nowhere. In 1982, again with Billy King-Harman he competed on board another large catamaran, the 70ft Sea Falcon and finished fourth (but bumped down to 11th after a time penalty for arriving late at the start), the same position as in 1985 with British Airways again with King-Harman.
For his most recent race in 1989 he teamed up with renowned yachting journalist Bob Fisher sailing Fisher's Barracuda and not only won their class but beat the boats in the next two classes above them.
The Round Britain Race was first sailed in 1966. The British Isles seem almost designed to be raced around and the course goes outside all the islands of the British Isles apart from Rockall and the Channel Islands in a clockwise direction.
This presents a permanent navigational challenge and reduces the tactical scope as land is always close to starboard. This coupled with the crowded shipping areas puts a premium on keeping a good lookout.
Add to this the variable weather conditions to be expected and the race takes on aspects that make an Atlantic crossing seem easy by comparison. To provide some respite, compulsory 48 stops are made, but obtaining rest is some of these stoppovers can be a challenge in itself as the local sailors often feel a need to demonstrate their hospitality.
Ellen MacArthur said at the London Boat Show that she did not expect to be competitve after reaching the age of 40. Now aged 63, Knox-Johnston feels that he has a mission to encourage the next generation of short handed sailors to be a bit more ambitious about the potential longevity of their sailing careers! (In fact Sir Robin still has a way to go before he gets his ocean racing bus pass - Mike Birch took part in the last Route du Rhum aged 66 and Spaniard Jose Ugarte was still competing in solo round the world races into his mid-60s!)