This great race is like a addiction: a compelling mixture of pain and pleasure

Taking part in the Shetland Round Britain and Ireland Race is an addiction some people cannot seem to break. Others pine for that fix for decades before managing to get the time and the right boat.

Maybe it is because the race is so steeped in history. You only have to look at wooden winners’ board that greets everyone who enters the Royal Western Yacht Club, gilded with names of such legends as Derek Kelsall, Rob James, Robin Knox-Johnston, Chay Blyth and Nigel Irens. You complete this race and become part of a particular club.

From its early heyday the race has waxed and waned. Read the list above and you can deduce that its early editions charted the rise and fall of the racing multihull. Today, line honours might still go to a multi, but the plum dogfights are between monohulls.

The Royal Western Yacht Club has seen a period of smaller fleets but its members believe the high days of this ocean classic are returning. For the first time ever the race, which starts from Plymouth on Sunday, will have cohesive and exciting class racing between a dozen Class 40s.

Like I say, some people cannot shake off this race. Dutch sailor Hans Plas is back for the fifth time. He is in his Class 40 Roaring Again, which he raced in 2006. Plas is an OSTAR aficionado, too, and took part in this boat’s predecessor, Roaring Forty.

Mary Falk and co-skipper Jerry Freeman have, between them, done 10 Round Britain Races. Richard Tolkien, who graced the gilded winner’s board in 1998 in the 40ft cat FPC Greenway, is back in a Class 40.

Another class race taking shape will be between three Dick Koopmans-designed VQ32. And someone who will probably have sailed furthest to compete is racing his VQ32 Streamline. Leslie Irvine comes from Lerwick, the furthest point and stopover of the RB&I. He, too, is a repeat offender, having raced before with Dick Koopmans.

Afterwards Irivine bought the boat for the 2010 race. He points out that it involves two circumnavigations of the British Isles to get to the start and return from the finish. He is sailing with Andrew Wood, a highly competitive Mini Transat sailor from Cornwall. They are pictured below, Leslie on the right.


 Irvine and Wood

Even some of those who have seen the rough side of this demanding race return. Another Dutch aficionado, Huib Swets has returned in his 40ft aluminium De Ridder design Vijaya. Four years ago, Huib was caught in atrocious weather after leaving the stop in Barra and was pitchpoled, damaging the rudder and bending the keel.

The Barra lifeboat went to help him and his injured crew and it was pitchpoled as well. They nevertheless managed to take Vijaya in tow and make a hairy return through the channel between Barra and Benbecula.

Huib tells me that the boat has been fixed up and “is stronger than before. So this time we hope to do the race in a good way.”