The Round Britain & Ireland Race attracts a barrage of criticism over its poor website


**** Update on the blog below: the RWYC have gone live on a new website design. Check it out here.****


This may pass the Royal Western Yacht Club by, but there has been a barrage of criticism this week about the Shetland Round Britain & Ireland Race website on Twitter, on our ybw forums and more recently on Scuttlebutt.

This is a great race and a very wide audience is mad keen to follow it, but it’s 2010 and we’re expecting to be able to do it online. The RWYC’s event website (click here) is woeful: like something from a different age.

First, it’s important to say that the Royal Western is run for and by members, and those members work hard and give up lots of their time voluntarily to run the Round Britain race. It is well organised, the club is friendly and welcoming, as are the legendary stopovers, and it is this atmosphere that makes the RB&I one of the most social and friendliest of all the great classic races.

But the website side of things really does need attention if this race and the RWYC’s four-yearly OSTAR is to go forward. This is not a question of money; good website design and functionality is not expensive. It really is a matter of understanding that the sailing demographic has changed – it’s younger! – and a decent, up-to-date, informative website is no longer an add-on, it’s a building block for any event and is one of the key things any new organiser would start with.

The trouble is, the poor website isn’t quite an accident, it’s almost a policy.

These same criticisms arose last year before and during the RWYC’s other big race, the OSTAR. It bothered one competitor, Marco Nannini, so much that he made a parallel site, the excellent BlogSTAR.

Marco’s site had news, photos, blogs and videos for his fellow skippers to contribute to free, and most did enthusiastically. “It made the race,” one skipper told me. Marco says he offered the whole set-up to the club. The RWYC disowned it.

Former OSTAR skipper Hannah White reminded me yesterday that the club’s argument was that they wanted to preserve the race’s Corinthian spirit. “Efforts have been made by myself and others to try and help them modernise this side of things. But to no avail.”

If conserving the amateur feel is the reason, I’m afraid it’s a poor excuse. Corinthian has moved on. Look at the boats, look at the people. Everything is done that bit more professionally than it was 15 or 20 years ago. This is the same in all areas of amateur participation, including cruising events such as the ARC (which, incidentally, has an excellent website and forum).

And it works the other way round, too. I was told a colleague from another yachting magazine came down to see the fleet in Plymouth, declared it was too racy now and not Corinthian enough for his magazine, although it was a race they once covered and promoted extensively.

That’s sad. In fact, it’s the top professionals who’ve vanished from the RB&I. The crews today are the same as the Corinthians ever were – overwhelmingly skilled amateurs paying out their own money to realise a long ambition to take part in one of the great races. The reason why they look younger and the boats look more racy is simple: we pundits are getting older.

Time has moved on, so has design. It’s for those of us in the business to keep up, not for things to stay comfortably the same. It’s change or die and for the club, as for rest of us, when that old clue phone starts ringing it’s a good idea to pick up.

What shouldn’t be forgotten is the tremendous amount of time that members of the RWYC devote to this race. Its continued success is all credit to them.

The website must seem like very small beer when there are so many other things to run and organise on the ground, but it’s not. Really it’s not. Getting something better for next time is absolutely vital to the future of the race.