The Round the Island Race is not just a compelling spectacle, but is a racetrack with wind shadows, tidal eddies, rocks, wrecks and sandbanks to contend with, writes Peter Bruce

The actual Round the Island Race course is quite straightforward, but negotiate it well and there are gains to be made at around 20 different hurdles all the way round. Strategically the trick is to break down the track into four parts and focus on the major tactical issues on each leg.

Initial strategy

Plan to aim for Sconce buoy where you can make the most of the ‘tidal slingshot’ just to the west of Yarmouth. Then continue in the fast moving current towards Hurst Castle. If you are beating into southwesterly winds, work the area of best current close to the Shingles, prior to peeling off and aiming for the Needles.


A bit of geometry

The actual start line is 1.2nm long (from West Bramble to the Royal Yacht Squadron). In simple geometry terms, the shortest distance to Sconce is the perpendicular (rhumb line) to the buoy and is not in the middle of the line, but just a quarter of the distance up the line from the RYS.

Starting close to West Bramble is a whole 200m further than at the perpendicular point. There are often good reasons to start else where, depending on the wind, tide and the main body of the fleet, but always remember that extra 200m if you are aiming for Sconce and starting near West Bramble buoy. If the wind direction is to right of the axis of the Western Solent, then the north shore is often a winning place to be.

Osborne Court top window

The RYS start line transits and high intensity lights are never more difficult to see than on the Round the Island Race in the final 25 seconds to the start gun, as they invariably get obscured by other boats. Brief your bowman to also be aware of the transit of the RYS Flag Staff, in line with the top window in the tower of Osbourne Court apartments.

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This transit is usually visible above the height of other boat masts. With a simple GPS, consider making each end of the line a way point/route and you can read off your distance to the line (when it is difficult to gauge due to the sheer number of boats) prior to the start, as cross track error.

The best tidal stream

Look for ‘Micky’s Tidal River’. On the ebb, this is a local ‘river of water’ that looks brown and flows between 0.8 and 1.4 knots faster than the rest of the ebb. It is actually a layer of ‘fresh water’ that is usually only 400m across and sits on top of the more dense salt water.


Cowes Race Village is the heart of the action before the Round the Island Race. Photo: Paul Wyeth

It runs west, just north of Gurnard buoy, prior to swinging over towards West Lepe buoy and then swinging back towards Yarmouth and merging with the strong tide off Sconce. Note the local mini tidal race just inside Black Rock buoy, as the tide sluices round a mound on the seabed (don’t hit Black Rock itself, 200m south of the buoy).

Clear wind versus dirt

Never is it so critical, than on the Round the Island Race with so many other boats around. Pick your lanes carefully and avoid having to tack too often and getting ‘buried’ in a pack of boats. Beating into a southwesterly along the Cowes Green, works well for the leading boats, but in such a large fleet, those a little further back, end up ‘eating dirt’ for along time.

If necessary, forego a little of the tidal advantage if it means sailing for longer in clear air. Generally the further north along the starting line you start, the more time you will have in clear air.

Beware the escape route

Beating against a southwesterly along the Green with a close fleet can easily end in tears! You may be in great shape, as you race in on starboard tack, in clear air, with the fleet lined up on your starboard hip, but you have to be able to plan your escape.


Photo: George Mills

If you have larger faster boats inside you, it can be very tricky and if you have a poor tack, you could well end up dipping a lot of sterns as you exit on port tack. If the fleet is close up to you and you approach the shore and have to call for water, start the dialogue early. The boats close by inside may also be trapped on starboard by other boats on their hip.

It was here that one Fastnet Race favourite ended their race damaged after only 200m, whilst another boat sailed the whole course, thought they had won, and later got disqualified for an infringement after only 55 seconds of racing.

Winds bends and shadows

The river valleys in the western part of the Isle of Wight have a marked effect on the wind in the western Solent. With a wind left of 250 degrees, the valleys such as the Newton River create relatively large lefthanders over a local area, as the wind funnels out of the estuary and then fans out, creating significant gains on port tack.


Totland Bay is best admired from afar

In east/west winds, there is a wind bend around Egypt Point as well as an area of lighter winds close into Gurnard Bay. In an easterly wind, this is created by the hill directly inland, whilst in westerly winds, is created by the wind detaching from the surface to get over that same hill.

Avoid Alum and Totland Bays

View the great scenery from afar! There is less tide to help you here and most significantly a lot less wind caused by the high cliffs and hills (140m high) close on the shoreline, that create huge wind shadows.

  1. 1. Introduction
  2. 2. The Needles
  3. 3. Chale Bay
  4. 4. Sandown Bay
  5. 5. Osborne Bay
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