Christina Sampson reports from onboard Linklaters Rebel during Saturday's Round the Island Race
The 67th Round the Island Race was my first ever race around The Island. Aboard IC45 Linklaters Rebel I soaked up the atmosphere of racing with the professionals and 1,597 other boats entered in one of Britain’s most famous yacht races.
My alarm went off at 5am and I pulled back the curtains to see the sun rise slowly across the Solent and J Class stunner Valsheda glowing outside my window. Not the standard crew accommodation I’m used to, but as a guest of Robert Elliot from Linklaters, I welcomed a stay in a luxurious house just up from the Squadron start line and the chance to race round the island aboard the renowned IC45 Hawk recently renamed Linklaters Rebel.
We’d enjoyed an afternoon’s practice sail on Friday to familiarise ourselves with positions onboard for the race itself. Tim Powell, ex-Volvo ‘Tyco’ racer and regular on the international race circuit, eased us into the race routine and ensured everyone was clear with what they were doing. Roles were taken up accordingly and even Barry Cole (who’d never been on a boat before) was helping tail the spinnaker sheets by the end of the afternoon.
Saturday’s forecast had been for light winds and as we set off at 6am we were pleased with a 4-5 knot steady breeze, slightly more than had been expected, things were looking good. There was much talk of the ‘lucky thirteen’ number of crew aboard that day and I was reassured as they reminisced of their previous victory of the Gold Roman Bowl in 1996 with 17 aboard! I felt privileged to be racing on a boat I knew would be up with the front runners.
A short briefing on the way out to the start line ensued. We had only acquired our helmsman, World Etchells Champion, Stuart Childerley that morning, he ran through the days tactics; “to take the shortest course possible”, positions were checked and the team seemed unphased as they prepared for the start.
The start line was a mass of boats, most memorably the smaller gaff rigs and classics cruising in and out of the larger race yachts. We had a smooth start gliding over the port end of the line closest to the Royal Yacht Squadron and bang on the 0710 gun off we went.
Close to competitor IC45 Babalaas and the new Europrix 45 Heatwave skippered by Emma Richards up went our spinnaker for the long run to the Needles. Constant trimming by Simon Russell, Etchells World Champion, attention from Peter Morton navigating, and of course constant tactics being devised by the team meant we quickly pulled away from the rest of the fleet.
The sleek silhouette of Leopard of London skulked past us as well as Bear of Britain, Chernikeef and Chernikeef 2 steaming along with their gleaming dark hulls. But, it was the Europrix Heatwave that kept us most entertained as we made our way along to the Needles. Not to mention that, as a gybe was needed, up jumped US bowman Roger Marino who only just managed with a mouth full of bacon roll to mumble ‘made’ when the spinnaker was ready to be set, much to everyone’s amusement. With a hazy horizon of spinnakers as far as the eye could see, the sun shone as we rounded the Needles.
I jumped below to pull in the spinnaker and was really glad nothing got caught as it slid down the hatch. The breeze freshened as we tacked north to St Catherine’s Point and so too did the competition. Adam Gosling’s Swan, Yes! Bellerose crept past us and Chris Bull’s new Jazz kept us close to the shore. But IC45 Heatwave led us and the navy hull of Chris Little’s IC45 Bounder was hot on our tail.
We all watched as the magnificent bow of Valsheda pounded her way towards us, tacking to clear the shore and remaining with us for an enjoyable beat up towards St Catherine’s Point. A steady breeze of 15 -20 knots gave us a chance to hang on the rail and with gusts of an unforecast 21knots we managed to get two-thirds of the way round by 11am, much to our amazement.
The Bembridge Ledge mark saw us rapidly hoist the spinnaker with the equally keen Bounder pursuing us. As we sailed down to No Man’s Land Fort, tactics were played as we jostled around for clean wind and tried to keep up with the lighter Heatwave.
Passing No Man’s Land Fort with the Commitments blaring from the shore was a brilliant feeling. I gave the onlookers a wave and thought what an enviable way to do my first Round the Island Race aboard such a first class race yacht, with some of the industries world class sailors.
Our run to the finish line brought much discussion of time allowances as a couple of close contenders edged towards the finish not far ahead of us. We crossed the finish line 08hrs 23mins 09secs after the start and came 13th overall in our class.