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 Needles

Plan ahead for your manoeuvre

The tightest ‘hairpin bend’ of the course, requires early preparation for sail handling and headsail changes. Make sure the team are all briefed early, so that you can concentrate on the pilotage. There always seems to be a wind change here and you are about to turn a ‘blind corner’. Check out the wind for the next leg, through the gaps in the Needles as you head for the lighthouse.

IRC Division 3B competitor Nanna II rounds The Needles in the 2018 Round the Island Race. Photo: Paul Wyeth

The Varvassi wreck: inside or outside?

Several boats get badly damaged on the remains of the wreck each year, if in doubt, go outside and don’t change your plan half way through because you see others getting away with it, this will certainly attract the wreck to your keel.

The depth at chart datum to get though the gap between Goose Rock and the remaining boilers of the SS Varvassi is between 2.4m and 3m nearer to Goose Rock. Note that the tidal range at the Needles is only about a half of that, of the Portsmouth tidal range, so depth is not a problem for most yachts. The boilers are about 150m west of the lighthouse and lie roughly on a heading of SSW and extend about 2.5m above the seabed, hence about 30cms below the surface at MLWS.

The recommended technique for the inner passage is to identify Goose Rock (usually by the breaking water) and leave it about 10-15m close to port. Make sure you don’t hit Goose Rock itself (keep the old coastguard station in sight as you line up to round between the boilers and the rocks off the lighthouse).

One well-known Maxi recently managed to avoid the wreck, but hit the Isle of Wight itself and ended up in big trouble. Make sure you brief your helmsman well prior to this corner, if in doubt take a conservative route outside the wreck.


Photo: Paul Wyeth

Tidal strategy

Having made the most of fair tide to the Needles, you now have the ebb stream against you. Getting out of the strongest counter stream is important if you can’t make it to St Catherine’s Point in one tack, and vital if the wind is light.

Cheating the foul tide is essential in smaller/slower boats, where the adverse tide is relatively a greater negative percentage of your forward speed vector. Generally speaking, going inshore, you will experience considerably less foul current, however you need to be conversant with the various ledges and rocks close to the shore, though there can be slightly less breeze.

Beware of going inshore too early after the Needles

Again the high cliffs each side of Freshwater Bay can have the effect of stealing your wind. Irex Rock is an important hazard to watch out for a third of a mile SE of the Needles in Scratchell’s Bay. Sticking up like a pinnacle above the rest of the seabed (depth 8m) this rock is awash at Chart Datum and lies outside St Anthony’s Rock named after a treasure ship, that was wrecked on it in 1691.

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