"Stock up on flapjacks" – the countdown is on for the 'Race for all' around the Isle of Wight

With only 11 weeks to go until the 87th edition of the Round the Island Race (RTIR), it’s all systems go for the team at Island Sailing Club (ISC), which has proudly organised this annual race around the Isle of Wight since 1931.

More than 100 volunteers are recruited to get involved, both on and off the water, to assist with the smooth running of the race, which this year will take place on Saturday 15 June 2024.

Early-bird entry deals, which save sailors around £5 per boat – and are encouraged to assist with the organisation – will close at 23:59 this Sunday, 31 March, then standard entry will be available until Saturday 1 June.

“Boat-spotters dream”

sailors smiling aboard Impala 28 Polly

Ben and crew aboard Impala 28 Polly. Credit: Ben Meakins

Every boat that crosses the finishing line in Cowes has a great story of their Round the Island adventure, and former PBO deputy editor Ben Meakins’ Impala 28 Polly is a family boat that has been raced since 1999.

Ben Meakins, who after years of gear testing at PBO now works for B&G, the event’s race marine electronics partner, as a test engineer, has competed in the race for over 25 years.

Polly is kept moored on the River Hamble.

Ben said: “I grew up racing and cruising on Polly before my parents sold her and bought another boat.

“Eight years later, in 2009, my wife and I bought Polly back along with good friends Adrian and Jo, and we’ve raced all but three Round the Island Races since.”

He added: “I love Round the Island Race. It might be hectic and exhausting, with more snakes and ladders than any other race I’ve done, but we keep coming back year after year.

“It’s got it all – a huge fleet, challenging tactics, a variety of sailing conditions. It’s also a boat-spotter’s dream to see the spectacle of over a thousand sailing boats of all shapes and sizes.”

Ben’s best result with Polly “in our ownership” was 13th overall in 2010.

He said: “We haven’t quite matched the boat’s best position which was 2nd overall and missing out on the Gold Roman Bowl by only a few seconds in 2000 – I was on the bow for that one!”

“Stock up on flapjacks”

The Round the Island Race boat fleet at the Needles lighthouse

The Round the Island Race fleet at the Needles lighthouse. Credit: George Mills

Ben added: “No two races are the same. One thing we’ve learned is that you can’t rest easy even if things appear to be going well – we’ve had a few races where the wind has shut off at Bembridge Ledge and turned what was a commanding lead to a scrabble at the back of the fleet.

“Some years you can be buried under seemingly the whole 1,000-plus boat fleet and fight to get clear air, and in others you can do the whole first beat in your own patch of wind and water.

“There’s the nerve-wracking decision as to go inside or outside the wreck of the Varvassi and the often tense short-gybing along the shore at St Catherine’s to keep out of the tide.

“Flashes of previous races keep me up at night in the week leading up to the race, but once the starting gun fires it’s all forgotten and you’re immersed in the race.

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“For years in a row, we lost out to our competitors on the final leg from Ryde Sands to the finish.

“We have now realised that it is this leg when we flag both mentally and physically, so we make sure to swap helms regularly around the back of the island and to stock up on flapjacks at Bembridge to make sure we’re as fresh as possible for the final push.

“It’s a strange relationship – we can be saying ‘never again’ after a punishing race, but a few days later that’s all forgotten and we’re looking forward to the next one.”

“Uplifting and supportive race”

Disabled veteran Talan Skeels-Piggin with his unadapted Colvic UFO 34

Disabled veteran Talan Skeels-Piggin with his unadapted Colvic UFO 34

Disabled veteran Talan Skeels-Piggin will be taking on the ‘race for all’ for a third time.

Talan, who is paralysed from the chest down, will be sailing his unadapted Colvic UFO 34.

In previous years he has come 7th and 6th in class in his previous yacht, a Colvic UFO 27, which he raced in 2022 with his partner Juli, and in 2023 with new crew Neil Baxter.

Neil is also a disabled veteran, who has lost one leg from diabetes and is struggling to save the other leg. Together they have plans to circumnavigate Great Britain, sailing over the top of Scotland, in the Colvic UFO 34. Departure date is scheduled for 20 June this year.

Talan said his first RTIR experience “became the catalyst for me wanting a bigger challenge, namely to sail around Great Britain.”

Disabled veteran Talan Skeels-Piggin sailing

Disabled veteran Talan Skeels-Piggin sailing

Talan, 53, who became paralysed in March 2003 when he was knocked off his motorcycle, has learnt to ski and represented Great Britain at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Paralympics, becoming European Champion in 2011.

His reason for taking on RTIR for a third year running is: “The atmosphere of the competition is uplifting and supportive.”

Electronics advice guide

B&G marine navigation electronics

B&G is providing a series of blogs with helpful advice about how competitors can get the most out of their electronics during this year’s Round the Island Race: www.bandg.com/en-gb/blog/racing/round-the-island-race-series

Lifeboat crews prepare

RNLI lifeboat crew emergency procedures at the college training facilit

RNLI crew emergency procedures at the college training facility. Credit: Nathan Williams/RNLI

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) has been named the official race charity for 2024 in the lifeboat service’s 200th anniversary year.

The safety of all the competitors is integral to the smooth running of the race and that’s why RNLI Lifeboats from Cowes, Calshot, Bembridge, Yarmouth, Lymington, Mudeford and Portsmouth have been involved in the supporting the event for decades and are strategically positioned around the course.

More than £2,000 has been raised so far. All donations raised will go to these stations and specifically for the training of their volunteer crews.

Happy crew at the Round the Island Race - boat race around the isle of wight

Happy crew competing in the Round the Island Race. Credit: Paul Wyeth

The seven RNLI volunteer crews involved in the race come together and train at least fortnightly to replicate the real-life incidents that could occur on race day and during emergencies throughout the year.

This might involve practising with sailing vessels like those in the race, or crew in difficulty scenarios to ensure they are ready to respond to a range of incidents.

For all the latest news visit the event website or search for @roundtheisland and #RoundTheIsland #RaceForAll on social media.