This year's anniversary is a fascinating insight into changing technology and social history

To a lunch in London to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Round The Island Race.

Sponsored by JP Morgan Asset Management, the lunch and photo exhibition was held in the magnificent Great Hall of the old City of London School on Embankment, a building now owned by the company.  

The photo exhibition traced the history of the race since the first in 1931 and there was an impressive gathering of past winners. Designer Simon Rogers talked about winning the Gold Roman Bowl (for 1st overall on handicap) three times with his brother Kit and parents Fiona and Jeremy in their Contessa 26 Rosina of Beaulieu.

Simon confessed that a family tradition was to carry a bottle of whisky on board and polish it off between the end of the race and the sail back to Lymington. Probably best, then, if the Rogers don’t get a very much faster yacht.

Ian Lallow, from the famous Cowes boatbuilders, remembered his time as helmsman for Sir Edward Heath on Morning Cloud III. The former Prime Minister’s 40ft S&S design was built at Lallows.

Sir Edward won the race an as yet unbeaten four times: in 1971, 1972 and 1973 in Morning Cloud III and in 1980 in Morning Cloud IV.

Ian Lallow remembered the owner taking over breakfast galley duties and coming back from the foredeck to find that raw eggs had been broken over slices of toast and popped in the oven to keep warm. Sir Edward clearly thought that’s how eggs on toast were made.

The history of the race charts some fascinating social changes. Peter Nicholson recalled the advent of glassfibre productions boats in the 1960s. Camper & Nicholsons’s first pair of Nich 36s, his own Janessa and Guy Bowles’s Sunmaid IV, were the first GRP boats to race in 1962.

The growth of production yachts brought lower purchase and maintenance costs and coincided with greater affluence and social mobility, which in turn led to an explosion in entries. Between 1960 and 1980 entries quadrupled and went on to top 1,800 yachts.

Those changes were reflected in some of the anecdotes. One professional crewmember innocently recalling the 1970s told stories in which the owner always referred to him as “boy” (he was well into his thirties then) while in return the owner was “Sir”.

Equally noticeable was the dearth of women winners and sailors. That’s the way it was, but it was something that really stood out because times have changed. In Cowes Week, 40 per cent of competitors today are women and I expect it’s about the same in the Round the Island Race.

Unfortunately the only female past winner of the Gold Roman Bowl wasn’t represented. Sadly, Helen Tobin from Lymington, who won in 1954 in her 26ft Lymington Slipway 5-ton cruiser Barbar is no longer with us.

There were some very beautiful photos of the race on display. All are on sale to raise money for the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust, which takes young people of between 8 and 24 sailing to help them recover from cancer.

You can see the exhibition for yourself from 14-19 June at the Quay Arts Gallery in Newport, Isle of Wight or on 24-26 June at the race village in Cowes Yacht Haven.

 Round the Island Race exhibition 2

The schooner Seabill ghosts over the start line on a
glorious calm summer’s day in 1959. Photo: Beken of Cowes

Round the Island Race exhibition 3

Sir Max Aitken’s smartly dressed crew on his successful Sparkman & Stephens designed IOR racer Roundabout in 1971. The boat had won the Gold Roman Bowl five years earlier. Photo: Beken of Cowes

Round the Island Race exhibition 4

A light airs drifter in 2006. This aerial photo taken from a helicopter shows some of the fleet converging at a mark off The Needles. Photo: Thierry Martinez

 Round the Island Race exhibition 5

A strong tide running and a strong breeze sends yachts bowling down the Solent in 2008 Photo: Thierry Martinez

Round the Island Race exhibition 5

A pattern of colour spread over the sea as yacht fan out across the Solent, appearing to stretch to infinity. Photo: Thierry Martinez