Tom Gruitt

Two handed Round Britain

Royal Western YC's legendary race to take place in June

Saturday January 4th 2014, Author: James Boyd, Location: United Kingdom

The Royal Western Yacht Club doublehanded Round Britain and Ireland race is due to take place this, starting from Plymouth on Sunday 1 June. This will be the 13th running of the legendary race that was first staged in 1966 and has seen some legendary contests including the victories of Robin Knox-Johnson in the 1970s aboard Ocean Spirit and British Oxygen and subsequent maxi-multihull dust-ups with Chay Blyth or as a pre-cursor to the ORMA 60 class when Tony Bullimore and Nigel Irens on Apricot beat Mike Whipp's Paragon in 1985.

The race again will follow its traditional route of around 2,000 miles, with a clockwise lap of the British Isles and Ireland, leaving all islands and rocks to starboard. It comprises five legs with two day long stopovers in Kinsale, Barra, Lerwick and Lowestoft before returning to Plymouth.

The race is open to monohulls and multihulls from 27-50ft feet.

Race Director Alan Nichols of the RWYC anticipates a strong international entry of 40-50 boats. to contest the toughest of the two handed races. The race record stands at 15 days seven hours, competitors should allow about 23 days to complete the event including the eight rest days.

The combination of open ocean racing and dramatic scenery provide an intensity of experience that is unique to the Round Britain and Ireland race and which is magnified by the close competition throughout the fleet.

The relatively short stages of two or three days demand that the crews race flat out in short sprints and this high tempo is maintained by the four restarts when the anticipation of closing the gap on the boat ahead and defending a lead on the boats astern raises the adrenalin of the crews for long periods often in challenging conditions.

Recognised as the most testing of the double handed races this event attracts experienced teams from all over Europe; line honours last time went to a Norwegian crew a few minutes ahead of an Italian/British team with South Africans in third place.

Course in detail

The first leg from Plymouth to Kinsale is a 230 mile sprint via the Eddystone and Bishop Rock lights to finish at Bulman Rock. Kinsale Yacht Club at the head of the accessible and safe harbour is famous for its hospitality to visiting yachtsmen and Kinsale is well known for its gourmet restaurants where the crews can rest and recover for 48 hours.

The Fastnet Rock is passed to starboard early on the second leg which is a daunting 440 miles of open ocean racing around the south and west coast of Ireland via Mizzen Head, Bull rock, Great Skellig and Inishtearaght. Heading north from Tory island the boats cross the one hundred miles of open water in sea area Malin to Barra in the Outer Hebrides. The fleet moors or anchors in the shadow of the ancient Castle that gives its name to Castle Bay.

Leg three at 420 miles is launched from Barra Head NNW 70 miles out into the Atlantic, the yachts aiming for the isolated volcanic island of St Kilda, a 400 metre high rocky cone and then north east to the Flannan Isles and Sula Sgeir, racing in seas seldom sailed toward the most northern point of the British Isles at Muckle Flugga, Shetland, at 61°N. Being further north than the southern tip of Greenland in June there is almost 24 hours of daylight and crews enjoy the low air temperatures to match. At the Lerwick Boating Club the hospitality is legendary and the two days rest are appreciated in this island community with strong historic links to Norway.

The longest leg is 470 miles southward from Lerwick to Lowestoft which is the most easterly point of the British Isles and at about half way the clear blue waters of the north change dramatically to the brown tidal soup of the southern North Sea where the horizon is dotted with gas rigs and wind turbines and suddenly busy with shipping. The Royal Norfolk and Suffolk Yacht Club provide a very hospitable stopover at Lowestoft where family and friends can most conveniently visit the competitors for the first time in the race.

The final leg of 305 miles sets of south across the Thames Estuary to North Foreland and then west round all those familiar headlands; Dungeness, Beachy Head, St Catherine’s, St Alban's, Portland Bill and Start Point. This south coast leg often proves to be where the podium places are decided since there are many tidal gates and it is vital not to relax the racing effort until the finish line at the Royal Western Yacht Club in Plymouth.

The Round Britain and Ireland race results are decided on accumulated time (IRC corrected).

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