Sailing from South Coast sunshine to Irish fog

The first Round Britain and Ireland Challenge took off from Weymouth on Sunday 27 March, hosted by the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy (WPNSA) in the Jurassic Coast waters that will be the venue for next year’s Olympic sailing events.

Seen off by sizeable crowds in warm spring sunshine, the five matched Dehler Variant 44s (plus another in support) struggled at first to make something of the very light winds in Weymouth Bay.

Heading out, continuing light winds meant 20 hours’ motorsailing to keep on schedule, but conditions improved to let the boats show their mettle, giving some fantastic sailing at up to 8 knots.

However, prior to the race, skipper James Gair (currently in first place on the Dean & Reddyhoff-sponsored Veronica) had told PBO that they were expecting to sail into fog in the Irish Sea by Tuesday.

The fleet is now weather-bound in Crosshaven, though conditions should improve enough to set off again tomorrow morning. RBI Challenge MD Charlie Watson told PBO that they are nonetheless changing plans to head straight up the East Coast to Londonderry, rather than risk the more exposed West Coast of Ireland.

The sleek yachts are all skippered by professionals but each is crewed by a mixed-ability bag of up to eight paying amateurs, who can sign on for just one leg or even complete an entire circumnavigation. Up to three such circuits, each taking in nine stopovers over approximately 28 days, are planned for the 2011 season and opportunities are still available for some of the legs.

The WPNSA is supporting the RCIB in a long-term partnership, helping to provide training and management. All crew undertake two weeks’ training with the boat in Weymouth prior to each Challenge. The current intake comprises roughly 33% women/66% men, ranging in age from a ‘charming character’ retired gentleman to a Weymouth lad who turned 18 on Monday.

For more information visit the RBIC and WPNSA websites or follow the Challenge on Facebook