One of the first is lifeboat supporter


Long-time RNLI supporter Tony Purser is one of the first people to sign up for the Round Britain and Ireland Race run by the Royal Western Yacht Club in Plymouth. A seasoned veteran of the event, Tony has taken part three times before and is pleased that the RNLI is the chosen charity partner for the 2014 event.  
The two-handed race, which will start on 1 June is run every four years and first began back in 1966. The race starts and ends in Plymouth with stop overs in four ports. Entries are now being accepted for the race, which is open to all yachts and multihulls between 30 and 50 feet in length, crewed by two people only. Tony will be racing with Plymouth sailor Mark Hanley onboard Tony’s Cornish built yacht Backlash, a 40 foot Australian designed multi-hull that he keeps in Plymouth:
‘I was a bit of a late starter, taking up sailing at the age of 40 when I read a book about a man who bought a boat and sailed it back from Hong Kong. My wife says I’m a sadist. I groan and moan about this race and say I’m not doing it again but there’s something very special about the event. It’s quite an achievement to sail around Britain and extremities like the Shetlands and the weather can be a tremendous challenge, there’s always a gale at some stage during the race.’
Tony, who claims to be 72-ish, says he’s raised around £1,000 for the RNLI each time he’s taken part in the Round Britain and Ireland Race because he feels the charity deserves as much support as possible. But his tales of taking part are many and varied:
‘I remember that one year we raced all the way round Britain and Ireland only to be beaten over the finishing line by 22 seconds and it’s one of the few races where you can row your boat if the wind dies and yes, I had to row my boat out of Barra in Scotland one year. It’s not easy but we did generate some movement. And the best bit? It has to be finishing, it’s a very special moment when you cross the line off the Royal Western Yacht Club, knowing what you’ve just achieved. Another highlight is passing the island of St Kilda, which is breath-taking, beautiful and inspirational.’
This year Tony will race with crew member, Mark Hanley from Plymouth even though to date they’ve only met a couple of times:
‘We have yet to sail together but I’m sure we’ll be fine. We’ll have a very busy March and April as we have to do a 300 mile qualifying sail so I’m sure we’ll get to know each other properly then.’    
For Mark Hanley from Plymouth the Round Britain and Ireland Race is a challenge that just has to be done:
‘Not only have I never sailed with Tony before, I’ve never sailed a catamaran and I’ve never attempted this race. But this is a sailing challenge you really need to do because it’s a test of your sailing skills, tenacity and endurance. To me it’s a more demanding race than the Fastnet and around some pretty unforgiving coastline.’
Mark, who is now the civilian RYA (Royal Yachting Association) Chief Instructor at the Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, was originally a fisherman, but after being rescued by the Royal Navy, went to Plymouth and signed up for the senior service.  He says the qualifying sail that he and Tony must do will ensure they’ve tested their new sailing relationship:
‘I was delighted when Tony asked me to join him for the race, I’m very excited and I know we’ll sort ourselves out when we go off on our qualifying sail. I’m surprised that the event isn’t more popular but having said that, I do understand it calls for a lot of commitment in terms of time, costs and the like. In fact there’s a lot of hard work just to get to the start line. It’ll be worth it though and I know this is an adventure I just don’t want to miss.’