Giles Scott, Finn world champion and British Olympic Gold-medallist, deciphers what’s going on in this photo of a situation that occurred during the JP Morgan Asset Management Round the Island Race
Anyone who has ever had the delight of taking part in the Round the Island Race will understand how common it is to end up in a situation like this. This particular Round the Island Race demonstrates the wind failing as the boats have congregated around the Needles, with many appearing to have sailed dangerously close to the rocks, with little space for manoeuvre.
Not only is there the risk of collision with other boats, but also groundings on the rocks, and all sorts of other problems.
The thing to remember about rounding the Needles is that as well as the shallow rock ledge, which extends 250m to the west-south-west of the light, there is the remnants of the wreck of the Varvassi on the ledge. It’s on the chart, of course, but check out the video below for a real close-up look.
Although the wreck of this 3,874-ton ship is broken up, there are bits and pieces of her scattered all around the area, including the ship’s engine boiler, which can do some nasty damage if you get it wrong.
Here the lack of wind and lots of tidal stream in that area has resulted in at least a couple of particularly risky situations: one is the yacht pointing directly into the rocks and the other is where there are two boats very close to collision with the risk of their rigs becoming entangled.
Scott’s advice on how to get out of this situation
All boats in the picture look to be on the same gybe so windward/leeward is the key rule. However, this is complicated because the boat nearest to the rocks is unable to keep clear owing to an obstruction (shallow water, rocks). This being the case, the inside boats all need to hail for room.
The outside boat of the pack therefore, must take action to allow for room for all inside boats to pass the rocks safely. Above all, each and every boat must show good and proper intent to avoid a collision, even if they have grounds for a protest later on.
From a racing point of view, as soon as the boats round the Needles, those on the inside are in the worst position as there will be a large wind shadow that they are likely fall into; but that said, there doesn’t appear to be too much wind anywhere!
How to avoid it in the first place
To avoid the concertina effect, the boats approaching from the back of the fleet in seemingly more wind have a couple of options. The first would be to find a clear gap through the middle of the fleet, the second would be to go around the outside. Although option two is the longest route there’s a greater chance of finding clear air and less chance of ending up with any boat on boat issues.
Having said that, it’s still a gamble – an example of one boat that looks as though it is opting for the ‘long way round’ can be seen right above the lighthouse.
Depending upon how long these boats have taken to reach this point from the start of the race, they will have to be wary of the tide, as it turns at the Needles first and will seriously affect whether or not the boats can make it round the Island at all.
The situation they have found themselves in is unfortunately fairly unavoidable in those conditions. I recall a Round the Island Race when this happened and many teams ended up retiring at this point owing to a combination of the factors mentioned.