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