The RAF's Red Arrow team were first to sign up for Shetland and Ireland Race

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston was at the first day of the London Boat Show to mark the occasion of the official ‘opening of entries’ for the Shetland Two-handed Round Britain and Ireland Race. And not surprisingly befitting their reputation of immaculate time-keeping, it was the Royal Airforce team who secured the first official entry.

Flight Lieutenants Marcus Wilson and Richard Steel who’ve been in training for this event for nine months now are delighted that they were able to be present at the race official announcement and have their entry accepted. Wilson and Steel will be racing the RAF’s J/109 Red Arrow ( see previous news story here ) in this doublehanded marathon that starts from Plymouth on 11 June. As well as their race training for this event, Wilson and Steel have been working tirelessly to secure sponsorship for the event and although they still have some way to go, they are fairly positive they’ll reach their target.

Chatting about how they’ll fund the event, Wilson said: “Most of the money we have raised has been done commercially, independent of the RAF. Our main sponsor is through ASIG (Aircraft Service International Group). They have been very kind to us. They provide services for aircraft and airports around the UK. We’ve also been fortunate to secure Direct Ferries who have also very kindly given us our ferry travel for our shore party we’re putting round the country. B&G have come in with the handheld remote for the boat to allow us to be fairly effective as a two-handed crew. And of course Gill who have supplied us with clothing.”

Although taking part in this race will effectively take one of the RAF’s racing boats out of service for the duration of the race and the associated training Wilson was adamant that it will not dramatically affect the RAF racing programme, commenting: “This is very much an Airforce directed race. It falls between the Spring Series and Cork Week. It’s in a period when the boat wouldn’t be heavily used anyway.

Chatting about the fitness regime in the run up to the race Steel said: “Fortunately we have a level of fitness expected by the RAF but I would expect the pair of us to be doing a fair amout of fitness training before the event, starting quite soon. We have six months to prepare so we do need to start working on that, the endurance side of things and short burst of excessive strength training. Getting the spinnaker down with two people in a blow is going to be five or 10 minutes of hard work and then you might have a few hours to rest. Sleep depravation is one of the big things to overcome.”

Sir Robin Knox-Johnston said he was pleased that the military are upholding the tradition of a strong entry in the race and was on hand to give the RAF boys a tip or two commenting: “The toughest part of the race is the navigation. Because you’re always so close to land, you can’t afford to relax. The most important part of the race to me is getting the weather right and being aware of what the weather is going to be doing, and where I’m going to be when it happens. How many times have I seen boats getting into trouble before they get to Muckle Flugga by just allowing for the fact that they are going to get headed towards the top? Five out of the six times I’ve done the race I’ve got headed up there. It’s inevitable. When you get close to the land you have to beat off and you’re tired and there is just two of you. It’s really hard work but I suppose that’s the challenge.”

The RAF team will be at the London Boat Show at ExCel all week aboard Red Arrow that is moored along the dockside. Or for more information about the sailing section of the RAF head to the RAF stand.