A view through the photographer’s lens

Saturday’s dramatic 80thRound the Island Race may have

been won by Nick Rogers and Jo Hutchinson on the Contessa 26 Sundowner, but it was

dominated by the weather. Of the more than 1,900 boats that jostled for space

at the start, only 1,302 successfully crossed the finish line, 50 wild and

windy nautical miles later. PBO‘s photographer David Harding was on hand to

witness some of the broken masts, torn sails, MOBs, capsizes and a total of 75 incidents logged by Solent Coastguard. Here’s his report:

 

Approach with caution

I have raced in the Round the Island many times, both as helmsman

and as a member of crew, recording respectable results on occasions and even

the odd win in class. For the past few years, however, I have concentrated on

recording the event in pictures from my photography boat.

This year, as several times before, I was planning to head across to

the island from my base in Poole, leaving early in the morning and arriving at

Hurst to catch some of the early starters on their way to The Needles.

I watched the forecast with interest during the week before the

race, having had some lively moments in previous years in strong

south-westerlies off The Needles and around the back of the island. If it

looked stupidly windy I was going to race instead (in a Poole-based boat that

subsequently came 2nd in her IRC class). I need to get good shots, but

preferably not at the expense of seriously-pricey camera kit: it really doesn’t

like salt water. Slamming into waves for hours at a time takes its toll on the

boat and engines as well.

Eventually I had to commit myself one way or the other and decided

to go in photographic mode. The early morning wind reports were showing gusts

over 30 knots at Hurst, which wasn’t what I wanted at all, but the forecast was

that conditions would ease – so I set off and had a lumpy ride across

Christchurch Bay, the horizon being obscured by waves more often than I would

have liked. My power cat is a brave little seaboat, but it’s still only 17ft

(5.25m) long and even with a following sea one has to be a little careful when

it’s like that.

Shooting the fleet

The big multihulls had already been and gone by the time I reached

Hurst, but they weren’t my main target. Next came the smaller multihulls and

the faster IRC boats, most of the smart money hugging The Shingles bank where

the tide was strongest and the waves biggest. I spent the next few hours

working my way gradually towards The Needles. Here the waves were steep enough

on occasions to make me concentrate as much on looking after my own boat as on

taking shots of others. With a wheel, two throttles and two cameras to manage,

positioning the boat, dodging waves and ducking spray, one could really do with

at least six hands and two pairs of eyes – not to mention two fully-operational

engines. One of my outboards kept cutting out, which added more interest than I

really needed.

Strangely enough there weren’t many other photographers out there.

Once the bulk of the fleet had rounded The Needles, I followed them

south-east and made for St Cats. I didn’t want to get there until the tide had

turned east, as being off the point with 25-30 knots of south-westerly wind

against the tide would have been distinctly uncomfortable. As it was, a wave

took out the front of my sprayhood and filled the boat some way before the

lighthouse, so everything got even wetter than it had been already but the

water drained quickly and the cameras lived on. I was thinking very

uncharitable thoughts about the recalcitrant engine, having spent a lot of time

and money on both it and its better-behaved twin.

With the sea state like that it was hard to go downwind much faster

than most of the fleet, so I managed relatively few shots between The Needles

and Bembridge but did witness the upturned hulls of a small trimaran off St

Cats. Then past Bembridge was a nearly-inverted cruising catamaran, the RoRo

designed for disabled crew, its mast evidently touching the bottom and

preventing complete inversion.

The water flattened out in the lee of the island and, eventually,

the sun started to come out by the time I approached Osborne Bay – several

hours later than the Met Office had predicted.

It was a quick race and most boats were finished by 1700. Then I

anchored in Newtown Creek for the night, having no intention of bashing my way

home to Poole into a wind that had barely begun to moderate despite the

forecast. It sounded like a much easier ride on Sunday – as indeed it turned

out to be.

My sleeping quarters on board were damp and, with the partial

sprayhood, a bit breezy as well – but boat and driver/photographer lived to

tell the tale.

Survival game

The life of my cameras and lenses has no doubt been shortened, the

sprayhood needs repairing, the outboard will get a serious talking-to and

nearly everything I took with me is now wet and salty (even things that were

double-wrapped in plastic bags). The mopping-up operation begins.

Report & images by David Harding

For full story: www.roundtheisland.org.uk