Peter Bruce, a past winner of the Gold Roman Bowl, highlights 11 hotspots and offers advice and tactics to improve your performance

Peter Bruce, a past winner of the Gold Roman Bowl, highlights 11 hotspots and offers advice and tactics to improve your performance

The start
There’s a lot of dirty air down wind from a big fleet, so make sure that you are near the line and in clean air at the start. It may pay to start at a point that is also clear of faster yachts. A succession of faster yachts going through to windward will kill your chance of leaving the Solent in good shape.

After the start, manoeuvre, or tack, with clean air as one of the higher priorities. Don’t become tangled up with bunches of boats, and be prepared to waive right of way when the other boat concerned looks as if it is doing the only race of the year. If the choice is between clean air or good tide, go for clean air, but then work hard to be back in the good tide.

West Solent
Keep in the deeper soundings and therefore the best tide. Only when the wind is light and from the north will it pay to take the north shore. If the wind is SSW there may be some good lifts on the island shore. The wind and tide are usually a little stronger off Hampstead Ledge buoy.

Hurst Harrows
Keep in the deep water where the tide is strongest. This means staying near a line between Sconce and NE Shingles buoys.

The Needles
Be careful not to overstand The Needles and be swept down to the west by the tide. On the other hand don’t tangle with the wreck, inviting though it may look to cut the corner. With its four separate hunks, the wreck is difficult to place, so unless you really know what you are doing, you should keep clear.
Once past the Needles do not go into Scratchells Bay unless you are absolutely sure you know where Irex Rock is from reading Wight Hazards. You are safely to seaward of all of them if you keep Old Pepper Rock in sight.

Hanover Point, Hardman Rock and Atherfield Ledge
Rock ledges extend a long way out from the island shore in places from Hanover Point to Atherfield Ledge. When it pays to take an inshore route, and it often does, you must be aware that an echo sounder will neither help you much in the approach to Hardman Rock or Atherfield Ledge. Use of other means of pilotage, such as the transits in Wight Hazards, is essential if you are planning to cut them fine. Hardman Rock is shown in Wight Hazards, but only on recent charts.

St Catherine’s Point
The coastline is rock bound from Rocken End via St Catherine’s Point to Dunnose Point and there are many offlyers. Try to find a route that keeps your wind clear, minimises the contrary tide and gives a sensible margin over unexpected rocks. The water is often clear enough to see rocks that shallow-draught boats would ground upon, so an alert bowman in a smaller boat can save the situation even when one is imprudently close to the shore.

Bembridge Ledge
It is seldom advantageous to go close to the ledge itself but be careful not to overstand the buoy. Once round it can pay to go well up to windward to avoid dirty wind from overtaking yachts. On the other hand if they are big and heavy try to get a ride on their quarter wave.

No Man’s Land Fort
If your boat carries her way well it may pay to shoot the windless area a little on the lee side of the fort to be clear of other boats’ dirty air. Don’t go too close, though, as one can ground on the annular ledges around the base of the forts.

Ryde Sands
Try to stay out of the tide off Ryde Sands; however, don’t run aground, as it will slow you and one doesn’t always come off too easily! Once past Sandshead post, the bottom shelves steeply, so someone needs to keep an eagle eye on the echo sounder and be ready to call for water (if entitled) on outsiders. The book Solent Hazards has some useful information on Ryde Sands.

Castle Point
When one is close to the finish it is easy to relax. Generally it pays to go in close at Castle Point but, exceptionally, when there is a lot of south in the wind, there’ll be no wind under the point at all and one will need to stay out in the tide. With the normal southwesterly wind direction, one may well find that the wind goes up one force after Castle Point – if your boat was hard pressed in the approach to the point, it may well pay to change to a smaller headsail, even for the short distance to the finish.

The finish
The race is not over until the finish. Alert crews can gain a tremendous number of places in the last two or three tacks. If the tide is against, keep inshore, but remember that the Shrape, off Old Castle Point, shelves rapidly.

Ten tips for how to win the Round the Island Race
1 Make sure your rating is as good as it can be, so check with your class association or the RORC to find out what you can do to optimise it.

2 Scrub the bottom within the week before the race – June is a good time for growing weed!

3 Be brutal with the cruising gear – dump it, even if it does seem to weigh nothing!

4 Choose fit and competent crew, because passenger weight is only useful in heavy weather!

5 Take easy-to-eat, energy-rich food together with bottled water or isotonic drinks – definitely no alcohol during the race, because it makes you drowsy, but don’t forget a bottle of your well-earned favourite tipple for after the race!

6 Get to the start area in good time to watch previous classes starting.

7 Once at the starting area, lock the propeller shaft (with mole grips) to prevent spinning and propeller drag during the race, but remember to unlock before starting the engine again!

8 Just before the start, keep in the strength of the tide and stay near the line.

9 Try to keep a clear wind in congested parts of the race, for example at the start and again at the Needles, where the race often begins again. It generally doesn’t pay to force another boat to tack, even if you do have the right of way, because they’ll only tack back on top of you.

10 Sail the shortest distance possible round the course (don’t overstand the Needles, as most boats do), and stay as much as possible in the strongest fair tide, and then don’t get caught on Ryde Sands on the final leg!

Good luck and have fun!

The author
Peter Bruce first wrote this feature for the June 2004 edition of Yachting Monthly.

He is the author of the well known volumes, Solent Hazards and Wight Hazards. Click on the relevant cover image to order a copy through