Extreme conditions severely depleted the fleet of the 2024 Round the Island Race, with hundreds of boats opting not to compete or retiring in 50-knot winds

Competitors in today’s 2024 Round the Island Race, an annual 50-mile circumnavigation of the Isle of Wight, faced one of the most severe conditions in years with gusts of over 50 knots recorded at The Needles, the westernmost point of the course.

The Round the Island Race traditionally attracts one of the largest fleets of any yacht race, and this year saw 939 boats originally entered.

However, today’s extreme conditions have severely depleted both the number of starters and finishers, and just 153 yachts completed the race with 418 retiring.

First to complete the course was Irvine Laidlaw’s Gunboat 80 Highland Fling, which posted an impressive elapsed time of 3h 39m 5s.

The Gunboat 80 Highland Fling was first multihull in the 2024 Round the Island Race Photo: Paul Wyeth/RTIR

Owner Irvine Laidlaw said: “It was the first event for us in 2024 and we’ve travelled over 3,000 miles from Palma to be here but it’s worth it! I thoroughly enjoyed the race – I like the fact we go around an island with the start and finish in the same place, it’s rather satisfying.”

Boat captain Xavier Mecoy added: “[The] Boat is only a year old and it’s the first time we’ve sailed her in a big breeze, we’ve never had 2 reefs in the main before, so that was pretty exciting and we spent quite a bit of time sailing bare-headed as it was safer. 

“We were charging around the course doing 30 knots of boat speed at times.”

First monohull around was the Cowes based TP52 Notorious, owned by Peter Morton, who finished more than 40 minutes ahead of the nearest monohull yacht in 4h 21m 20s.

Notorious also finished 1st overall in IRC on correcrted time, winning the coveted Gold Roman Bowl.

Peter Morton, owner and skipper of Notorious, said: “I’ve not had the boat that long but I’ve competed in Round the Island Race many times over the last 50 years in various boats I’ve owned.

“It’s one of the most famous yacht races in the World and we went out to try and win. It’s 40 years ago since I won it on a little 25ft boat called Odd Job, so today was very special for me.”

Peter Morton’s TP52 Notorious took monohull line honours and 1st overall under IRC in the severe conditions of the 2024 Round the Island Race Photo: Paul Wyeth/RTIR

54 knots at the Needles

Despite a deceptively sunny start as the first fleets set off from the Royal Yacht Squadron at 0600, conditions quickly deteriorated to become even more extreme than many forecasts had suggested. The Needles Battery wind station (above the famous rock formation) recorded gusts of 54 knots from 0700 and a steady wind of 39-45 knots from the south-west. Competitors reported 35-40 knots going through Hurst Narrows.

This led to a severe sea state on the south of the island which saw many boats which had started choosing to turn back before the Needles. Fewer than 100 boats in the IRC and ISCRS fleets (the majority of monohulls) were recorded as rounding the Needles. 

Many of those retiring have reported sail damage, particularly torn mainsails. There was a collision off Yarmouth, and at least one man overboard incident, which was recovered swiftly. However, organisers report that there were just nine other incidents – fewer than in previous years. Local RNLI and Independent Lifeboat crews were on the water across the Solent and on the south of the island supporting the fleet throughout the day.

David Rolfe, skipper of the Sigma 33 Shadowfax was one boat whose race ended by the Needles. Shadowfax was welcoming her new part owners aboard for their very first race on the boat.

“We started with a reef and our Number 2 [jib],” explained Rolfe. “It was, I would say deceptively – not calm, but quieter than forecast. When we came off the line, and if anything, it then dropped a little bit. As we headed down the Solent we even had a little bit of a talk about how we might set the spinnaker lines for when we’re on the south side of the island.

“Then a weather band that came in, a whole load of rain squalls, and that just changed mode completely. Suddenly we were in full on, probably 30-odd knots, gusting high 30s. It was a bit on and off through those squalls, some heavy rain, maybe even a little bit of hail in amongst it.

“The sea state was a bit rough, but not crazy. And then as we got towards Hurst, it went up another level. We could see it coming down the track towards us, and a few boats were really on their ear. One boat was definitely 45 degrees or more over, out of control, just pushed on its side by the wind. So we were battened down and gearing up for that.

“Then we got pushed right on our ear. We’d trimmed the main out. We’re trying to control it, but we were right on our side and going slowly, and almost sideways! I don’t know the wind strength, probably gusting into the 40s. And the sea was getting bigger and rougher with wind over tide really driving it pretty hard. So we decided we needed to go for a second reef, put that in. And after putting that in [we] tacked off to go into the full [tidal] stream through Hurst.

“That’s when we saw, unfortunately, we’d ripped our main, probably as we were reefing it. That was the end of the race for us. We bore away and hurtled back, surfing down these waves on our way back to Cowes.”

The Needles recorded winds of 54 knots as the 2024 Round the Island Race fleet passed the landmark. Photo: Paul Wyeth/RTIR

2024 Round the Island fleets cancelled

The race typically attracts a large cohort of family and amateur crews, for many of whom this is the only race they may compete in all year. A building forecast over the preceding week had led many competitors to withdraw ahead of the race. 

The day before, organisers had also announced that eight classes would not start. Racing was cancelled for the Classic Racing Yacht (ISCRS), Diam 2 class, Gaffers under 23ft, J/70s, both divisions of Bridgedeck Multihulls, the smaller Grand Prix and MOCRA Multihulls, and the Sportsboat division.

Race safety officer Mark Southwell said on Friday 14 June, when making the announcement: “We will only cancel fleets where there is a significant chance that the majority of the fleet could get into difficulties and risk injury to the crew, a situation that could quickly overwhelm the support services. 

“For other fleets, with a wide range of crew experience and boat types, it is each skipper’s sole responsibility to evaluate the capability of their crew and the suitability of their boat to handle the expected conditions (including wind and sea state) and make the decision as to whether their boat should take part.”

Race Director, Dave Atkinson said in a statement from the organisers after the race: “This race was a challenge for both the competitors and the Race Team at the Island Sailing Club, with the safety and well-being of the crews being the main priority.”

“We would like to thank the RNLI, independent lifeboats and coastguard teams for their assistance and co-operation before and during the race on Saturday. Despite the challenging conditions we only had nine incidents connected to the race which is less than previous years, this shows the seamanship of the crews and the correct decision making that went into undertaking of the race.”