How about racing around Britain and Ireland?


It’s an experience that will live with you forever and it may not be too late to enter? Competitor Jerry Freeman previews the Royal Western Yacht Club’s Shetland 2006 Round Britain and Ireland Race

Imagine surfing down the front of a steep Atlantic roller with just a deep reefed mainsail at 60 degrees north latitude with 100 meters of ocean under the keel, the bow slicing through liquid gold as the setting sun reflects off a solid wall of cloud, evidence of a retreating cold front.

The autopilot has long been disconnected. These big seas call for total concentration. The lone helmsman with white knuckled grip on the tiller, glances astern to avoid a pursuing breaking crest. Boat speed seldom drops below 8 knots and the current of the North Atlantic drift is speeding you towards the most northerly point of the British Isles, Muckle Flugga, at the top of Shetland, further north than the southern tip of Greenland. It’s never dark here in mid-June, but it is seriously cold.

Welcome to leg three of the Shetland Round Britain and Ireland race – only another 1,000 miles to go, after a 48-hour stop at Lerwick and the delights of the Boating Club BBQ!

The Shetland Round Britain and Ireland race is probably the toughest of all the two-handed events, because of ever changing course and breeze and the proximity of the rocky shore which demands constant attention to navigation. The 1,900 mile course is simply stated: ‘All rocks, less Rockall, to starboard’ ?but so much harder to complete.

Leg one from Plymouth is a warm-up. The first rocky reef is the Eddystone, 10 miles south of the famous breakwater, followed by Wolf Rock and Bishop Rock, before the sprint to Kinsale: 230 miles, 36 hours tops? The gourmet capital of Ireland will provide ample opportunity for excess refreshment before the serious business starts.

Leg two opens with the Fastnet Rock (to starboard, don’t forget), the course veering at every headland until the wide Atlantic lays brooding on your port side for 600 miles or so. Castlebay in Barra is a stop that emphasises the isolation of the Western Isles, 60 miles nor’ west from there, St Kilda remains unlit as ever. The fleet in Fair Isle is racing in seas close to the edge of the continental shelf, but there are no Dragons here, nor Melges.

From Lerwick?
Leaving Lerwick Fiord at some inconvenient early hour, the prospect of supper in the Victorian conservatory of the Royal Norfolk and Suffolk YC in Lowestoft is 470 miles distant. As if by magic, somewhere off Flamborough Head, the puffins and gannets say farewell as the yachts move from clear blue water into the brown soup of the southern North Sea. Traffic density increases and the horizon is crowded with gas platforms.

The final leg is a short hop of 320 miles in familiar waters across the Thames Estuary, through the Goodwins and around all those friendly headlands from Dover to Start Point. This is no time to relax as British summer weather plays its trump card – it could be
a cool northwester, with hail storms and violent 40-knot gusts, or a flat calm and fog, sea breezes teasing the boats between kedges. The most painful scenario is the 300-mile beat as the wind veers with every headland passed and no prospect of easing sheets until you climb the stairs into the bar at the Royal Western YC.
Runners and riders.

When trying to pick the winners in the RBI look for a fast bullet-proof boat with a track record of finishes sailed by an experienced crew who know when to race and when to go into survival mode – the key to success in this gruelling event.
Line honours usually goes to a multihull – 10 are entered this year. Favourite Pete Goss is back after 17 years, teamed with Paul Larsen in a top secret trimaran.
Veterans Michael Ellison, 1966, and Michael Butterfield 1970, in the multi-hull fleet are back to show the young’uns how it should be done in style and safety. The smallest boat in the fleet is the Sadler 290, Tusitala, sailed by Jon Coleman and Simon Ellyat.

The race, established 40 years ago by Blondie Haslar, starts from Plymouth on 11June.

See for full entry list

Jerry Freeman (56)has started five and finished four RBI’s since 1978, all in small boats. His best result was in Alice’s Mirror (2002). He is a founder member of the short-handed group, Petit Bateau.