Round the Island

PUBLISHED: 12:26 18 May 2011 | UPDATED: 19:24 20 February 2013

Round the Island

Round the Island

Celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, the J.P. Morgan Asset Management Round the Island Race is set to be bigger than ever as Dan Wilkinson discovers on a journey through the archives.

Its fair to say that from its humble beginnings in 1931 when just 25 boats lined up at the start, the Round the Island Race has become one of Britains biggest sporting participation occasions ranking alongside Ascot, the Boat Race, Wimbledon and the London Marathon and regularly attracts over 1,700 boats and 16,000 sailors.

This year the tides dictate that the 50 nautical mile race will start at 0600 off the Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes on the Isle of Wight on Saturday 25th June. The massive fleet will then set off in stages, heading towards The Needles and providing that iconic image of thousands of boats, often flying their colourful spinnakers, racing west from Cowes. The fleet then rounds St Catherine's Point, races around Bembridge Ledge buoy and heads back into the Solent towards the Cowes finish line.

Record-breaking has become an important feature of the race with the current multihull record of 3 hours 10 minutes and 11 seconds being held by Francis Joyon since 2001. Property developer and current record holder Mike Slade has broken the monohull record on four occasions, most recently in 2008 on board ICAP Leopard in 3 hours 53 minutes 5 seconds. Whilst the majority of the fleet will generally finish the race within eight to ten hours, it does totally depend on the weather and the class of boat being raced. In 2008, the breeze was up and the first boat home blasted round in a staggering 3 hours 23 minutes and 50 seconds, which meant the crew was back for breakfast. However for others at the back of the fleet it can be a long old haul, taking up to 12 hours to complete.

So why do so many sailors compete year after year? Its all about the experience, the fun, the atmosphere, and the competition. There are two key accolades to this race, to take line honours (i.e. fastest boat round) and the overall Gold Roman Bowl winner (rated on a handicap system). However, there are some 60 trophies to be won and every single finisher receives a special Tankard to mark the occasion.

A quick scan of the entry list reveals the extraordinary diversity of yachts and sailors taking part, from small day boats to high tech maxi yachts and amateur sailing enthusiasts, families, work colleagues and first timers competing against some of sailings most iconic figures such as Olympic medallists Ben Ainslie and Shirley Robertson plus sailing heroes like Dame Ellen MacArthur and Russell Coutts. The Race has also played host to some truly high profile competitors in its time; one of the most successful being Prime Minister Edward Heath in the 1970s. He won the Gold Roman Bowl four times in three different yachts, all called Morning Cloud.

The starting line

The original idea for such a race around the Island came from Island Sailing Club member Major Cyril Windeler. In 1930 he suggested a handicap race around the Isle of Wight that would cater for smaller boats. From that time on, entry numbers steadily increased, from 105 in 1950 to 1,309 in the mid-1980s and in 2008 the entry total smashed the all time record with a turnout of 1,875 entries! Before the first race, as a prize to the race winner, Major Cyril Windeler chose to have a replica made of a Roman drinking vessel that been dredged from the Thames and had caught his eye in a goldsmiths shop in London. However, Major Windeler was disappointed by the result and asked the Isle of Wight jewellers Bruce Benzie to make another replica in gold. On 11th July 1931 the first Round the Island Race winner on handicap was Peter Brett in his 5-ton gaff cutter Merry Conceit. He was presented with Major Windelers trophy that has now become known as the Gold Roman Bowl.

Celebrating 80 years

To celebrate the 80th Anniversary of the Round the Island Race an Exhibition entitled Round the Island in 80 years has been launched. This Exhibition comprises a feast of imagery, anecdotes and characters representing the Race, with Exhibition photographs accompanied by fascinating story panels celebrating a remarkable milestone in the history of yacht racing. As well as featuring the images and stories of sporting, political and sailing legends that have competed in the Race, the Exhibition organisers have maintained the Race ethos A Race for all, by showcasing the memories and pictures of the everyday sailors who have taken part, or been involved in, the Race. The Exhibition will be shown at two public display locations on the Isle of Wight in June, namely Quay Arts Gallery (14-19 June) and finally to the J.P. Morgan Asset Management Race Village in Cowes Yacht Haven (24-26 June) for the Race weekend so that all the competitors and Race fans can enjoy it. All Exhibition images will be available for purchase, with proceeds being donated to the Official Race Charity, the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust.

Charity Challenge
The Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust, founded by round-the-world yachtswoman Dame Ellen MacArthur, takes young people sailing to help them regain their confidence on their way to recovery from cancer and leukaemia. The focus is on rebuilding the young sailors confidence and most importantly, having fun. This year you can help the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust get six boats and 30 crew members virtually Round the Island through their new Buy a Mile fundraising initiative. Every mile purchased will move the virtual yacht forward one mile and miles can be bought at different values from 10-50. If you buy a mile before the 1st June you could be in with a chance to fire the starting gun on the steps of the Royal Yacht Squadron with the celebrity race start and with 31,500 worth of miles to be bought, the race is on! To Buy a Mile go to

Since 2007 Race participants have raised an incredible 350,000 for good causes with last years sum totalling 100,000, the Race organisers hope to reach 500,000 in 2011. As an extra incentive for fundraisers, any competitor who raises 250 or more, will be automatically entered into the Charity Challenge where the yacht with the fastest corrected time on handicap racing in both ISC and IRC will receive a 1,000 donation to their chosen charity. To make it even easier for competitors to fundraise, a special Virgin Money Giving page has been set up at

Track your time
Competitors with GPS-equipped mobile phones or laptops will this year be able to track their Race as they compete. Their position will be broadcast onto a live tracking platform that will be available on the official Race website throughout the day. This will allow friends, family and sailing fans from around the globe to watch the race unfold live. Visitors will be able to select the boats they want to follow when they open the Race Viewer and the live tracking will commence from the very first start time of 0600hrs right through to 22.30hrs. The competitors also benefit from this tracking technology as they will be able to replay their race and compare their performance with their rivals to see where they got it right - or wrong!

Onshore activities

If youre not planning to sail then dont feel left out, get down to the Regatta Village in Cowes Yacht Haven on Friday 24th and Saturday 25th June for some great, free family entertainment. There are options for all ages; the younger members of the family can enjoy a kids zone featuring face painting and arts & crafts while the sailing simulator and Segway course are sure to entertain the older members of the family. A colouring and drawing competition will also be run over the weekend, with triple Olympic gold medallist Ben Ainslie picking the winner and with the village benefitting from a fully licensed hospitality marquee and live music/broadcast stage youre sure to have a fun-packed day.

Get involved

The Round the Island Race has a very comprehensive website with details of interesting facts about this years participants and their boats as well as some charming and clearly still vivid recollections from past competitors in celebration of the 80th Anniversary. It guides you through the course, where to get the best views if youre a spectator and whats happening in the Race Village on the day for land-based visitors. If you want to enter, you can still do so at: where you can download all the vital information on how you can be a part of Britains favourite yacht race.

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