Round Britain preview

James Boyd looks at the Royal Western Yacht Club's classic two handed event, starting on Sunday
Sunday will see the start of the Royal Western Yacht Club's two handed Round Britain and Ireland, an event which coincides with the club's 175th anniversary year. It will also mark the 50th anniversary of the Duke of Edinburgh's patronage of the Club. Prince Phillip will be on hand to fire the start gun. The Round Britain and Ireland race was first held in 1966 and has been run every four years (more or less) since, based on a no-handicap format with the fleet simply divided up into classes defined by overall length, a structure similar to that of the Europe 1 New Man STAR (OSTAR). Starting in Plymouth the race stops in Crosshaven in southern Ireland, Barra in the Outer Hebrides, Lerwick in the Shetland Islands and Lowestoft in Suffolk before returning to Plymouth. Stopovers last two days from the time competitors arrive until they leave, so there are no mass restarts. Among short handed races the event has become a classic. The 1966 race was the first major event of its kind to be won by a multihull - Derek Kelsall and Martin Minter-Kemp on board Toria, a boat which later influenced the great French sailor Eric Tabarly to try his hand at multihulls and prompted the massive interest in this genre of sailing in France. In 1970 line honours returned to a monohull - Les Williams and Robin Knox-Johnston in the 71 footer Ocean Spirit. Knox-Johnston returned again to take first place in the gale-ridden 1974 race, this time with an early maxi-multihull, the 70ft catamaran British Oxygen, while Williams finished sixth sailing with a young Peter Blake as crew. Four years later the race was won by Chay Blyth and Rob James on Great Britain IV, a 54ft trimaran in a fleet that included names