Round The Island Race 2010

Although by definition a race, the Round the Island Race is not just for racers, it is a race for sailors of any kind.

It is a race that sits atop many sailors’ ‘to-do lists’.

1,754 boats started this year, from the 129-foot J-Class Velsheda and four Extreme 40 catamarans to an assortment of cruisers on their one-off, annual racing jaunt, although only 1,606 made it to the finishing line.

This makes it the biggest yacht race in the world and the fourth largest sporting event in the UK, and the largest non-running event, after the London Marathon, the Great North Run and the Great South Run.

I was one of the rookies popping my Round-The-Island-Race-cherry on Saturday.

The fastest boats begin from the start line at Cowes at 5am, with everyone else beginning at 10 minute intervals thereafter.

I sailed a Reflex 38, Lion Logic, operated by Sailing Logic, and we started at 5.30am.

Awaking at around 4.30am is always a strange, slightly groggy, experience, but usually you are the only person stupid enough to be up at that time.

Not so in the Round The Island Race. It was a surreal experience, peering through the sunrise to see the Solent busier than I had ever seen it before.

At the start the wind was light at around 10 knots, but still very sailable.

My dad taught me to fly a spinnaker by drilling into me that they have an innate, sixth sense – ‘as soon as you look away, the spinnaker will flap.’

So please forgive me if my spinnaker duties meant I took little notice of the other boats from the start en route to the Needles.

I failed to observe the multi-coloured mass, filling the Solent, behind us, giving the impression that you could travel from the Isle of Wight to the mainland simply by leaping from boat to boat.

By the time we reached the Needles, IDEC, the French trimaran skippered by Francis Joyon, was already earning line honours on the finishing line.

As the time was just a little past 9.30am, there barely seemed any point.

We took a little longer. At the Needles the wind rose to around 20 knots, which held to the finish, benefitting those with later start times.

The spinnaker stayed in its bag after the Needles, allowing me to witness the scale of the event, a line of boats streaming around the island, as far as the eye could see.

When the finishing line came at 1.20pm, I was delighted to have been part of the race and the Lion Logic team.

Although I have now ticked that box on my sailing to-do-list, I hope my relationship with the race does not end here.

I plan on completing many more before my time is up.