RAF team return to Plymouth having completed the Round Britain and Ireland Race 11/7/06

The Royal Air Force team – Flight Lieutenants Marcus Wilson and Richard Steel – competing in the Shetland Round Britain and Ireland Race aboard the RAF J/109 Red Arrow have completed the race. Here’s Wilson’s final report from Plymouth?

Red Arrow left Lowestoft at 1000 on Tuesday 4 July fully refreshed after a very pleasant 48-hour stopover at the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk Yacht Club. Perfectly situated at the marina edge in an old purpose-built clubhouse, the RNSYC were wonderful hosts to us during the final stopover of this race.

En-route again, we enjoyed a lovely sail as far as the mouth of the Thames where the pressure softened as we coasted amongst the anchored freighters waiting their chance to enter harbour. I was amazed to see just how many vessels loomed out of the gathering mist as we skirted the Sunk Deep Water Anchorage on our way towards the main shipping channel.

Crossing the mouth of the Thames we drifted slowly towards the Elbow cardinal off North Foreland where we stopped. And stayed stopped for quite a long time as the wind finally died away completely, leaving us to move back and forth with the tide. The few miles to Dover seemed to take forever. I went to sleep, woke did a watch and went back to sleep and we were no nearer to lights on the horizon to the south. Another sleep, another watch, and finally we started to move slowly towards and then past the twin entrances to Dover, watching all the time for the ferries rushing back and forth.

Dover to Dungeness, another watch. Dungeness to Beachy Head, another two, and then three more to Selsey Bill where suddenly the wind veered slightly and picked up to a steady four with gusts of Force 5 and we were footing off slightly to pass the Owers before hardening back up onto the breeze towards Start Point just over a hundred miles away. Our final corner was in sight – metaphorically.

Tide against us, wind on the nose. No change here, it seemed that we had been beating since day one and the tide simply never seemed to be fair. The electric tides on the chart, the tidal diamonds, the tidal streams in Reeds and the Tidal Stream Atlas all showed a fair tide in Lyme Bay. Could we find it? Not a chance. We fought the tide every inch of the way to Start Point but finally we called up Race Control with a best guess ETA for the finish.

Around the Great Mew Stone and still we were headed by the wind – even on the final three miles to Plymouth Breakwater. In through the western entrance to Plymouth Sound and out came the big kite for the final reach up the harbour to the finish, just off the Royal Western Yacht Club of England flagstaff between the clubhouse and a buoy just north of the Mountbatten Breakwater. Clearly there was just sufficient time for one final drama and that came during the spinnaker drop when, with insufficient room to bear away, one of us could be seen doing the traditional upside down spinnaker wrestle on the foredeck as the other tried to keep us away from the harbour wall. At last – a plastic cup of lovely, cold Champagne. We had finished.

A great race and a really fantastic event which provided logistical, organizational, technical and seamanship challenges. We are only sorry to have suffered an unnecessary equipment failure that dropped us down the rankings.