The History of the Two-handed Round Britain and Ireland Race
The Creation of the RB&I
Following the success of the first two OSTARs, Blondie Hasler proposed to the Royal Western Yacht Club that there should be a two-handed race around the British Isles. No doubt he considered a single-handed race, but the weather conditions and proximity to land necessitated two crew.
The Club considered the proposal and agreed to organise the first Round Britain and Ireland race in 1966. The course, of about 2000 miles, would be split into five legs separated by compulsory stop-overs of 48 hours each at Crosshaven in Ireland, Castle Bay, Barra in the Outer Hebrides, Lerwick in Shetland, and Harwich on the East Coast. It would circumnavigate Britain and Ireland and, with the exception of the Channel Islands and Rockall, all islands and rocks would be left to starboard.
The character of the event was set by the rule which said “The race is a sporting event to encourage the development of suitable boats, gear, supplies and techniques for efficient short-handed cruising under sail, and also to test the speed and seaworthiness of widely different types of boats by enabling them to race against each other on equal terms.”
Early critics argued that a race of this nature is no place in which to find out if a boat is seaworthy or not. But Blondie responded “The only reliable judge of seaworthiness is the sea itself, and the seaworthiness of an individual boat depends to a large extent on how she is handled. Many popular features in the design of modern racers would have been thought quite unseaworthy forty years ago. It is reasonable for inspection teams to reject anything that is in bad condition, but very difficult to reject a hull or rig as being inherently unseaworthy, particularly when the skipper is at least as experienced as the inspector. To exclude a boat on a questionable point of opinion is not usual in yacht racing but creates instant bad feeling and leaves the opinion unproven. To allow the sea to eliminate a design feature is fair, unanswerable, and a useful contribution to the science of seafaring. One of the main points of our two races is to allow experimenters a free rein and to learn something from the results.”
The first race was a great success with multihulls making their mark for the first time in oceanic racing by taking the first 6 places.
The RB&I was established on a four year cycle (two years off the OSTAR cycle). Lowestoft replaced Harwich as the east coast port from the second race on. Thereafter the course remained the same until Kinsale replaced Crosshaven in 2006.
The race grew rapidly to a multinational entry of many boat sizes and types. In 1982 the 85 starters included an 80ft monohull, a 70ft catamaran, several 60 and 65ft trimarans, down to a 25ft monohull, and represented over a dozen nationalities.
The following race was sailed in 1985, since 1986 was given over to the second TWOSTAR so it could run two years apart from the OSTAR. The four year cycle continued with races in 1989 and 1993. The 93 race was sponsored by the Teesside Development Corporation and saw Hartlepool replace Lowestoft as the East Coast stop-over. The RB&I reverted to its original schedule in 1998, returning to Lowestoft, then in 2006 Kinsale replaced Crosshaven as the Irish stopover port.
The Round Britain Race has certainly produced an amazing assortment of yachts. We have seen the 70 foot purpose-built racing yachts, both monohulled and multihulled, along with family cruising boats of all shapes and sizes. We have seen young, athletic crews sitting out on quarter-tonners for long periods while others have chosen to go round comfortably in a 47ft cruising boat with a junk rig which they could handle almost completely from inside.
Although the 48 hour stopovers are intended for rest, replenishment and repair, they are very much enjoyed as occasions for socializing. A tremendous spirit builds up amongst the crews of yachts of like speed as they meet each other in successive ports.
To add to the interest, various handicaping systems were devised but the important thing has always been the boat for boat competition. Handicapping was not universally approved of by the competitors and in one race the only entry on one, daily, page of a yacht’s log read “wind northerly (from ahead) force 9 – HOPE THE HANDICAPPER DROPS DEAD!” For a while handicapping was, as in the OSTAR, replaced by the sub-division of the fleet into a number of classes based on length in which the yachts race “boat for boat”, but now both use IRC and MOCRA for handicapping. However, the winner is still the first over the finish line in Plymouth and elapsed times are still used to recognise records by length.
RB&I Records & Results
1966 – The First RB&I, the growth of shorthanded oceanic racing
The first Round Britain and Ireland Race (then called the Round Britain Race) was blessed with predominantly fair winds. The attracted a 16 strong fleet of both multihulls (10) and monohulls (6), including an unusual flat-bottomed monohull entry from Hasler himself.
This was the first race in which multihulls showed what they could do in ocean racing; multihulls finished in the first six places and the remaining four finishers were monohulls.
Derek Kelsall entered a brand new boat of his own design, a 42ft trimaran called Toria. Despite undergoing last minute changes right up the gun, she went out in front and stayed there throughout the race. Her time of 19 days 17 hours was not beaten until 1974.
The first monohull to finish was the 47.5 ft William Fife designed Severn, the largest of the fleet and, at 36 years old, the oldest! She was sailed by owner Tony Wheeler and Angus Buchan.
Blondie Hasler and his wife Bridget entered a very radical, flat-bottomed, slab-sided 45.5 footer called Sumner. Unfortunately they suffered a damaged rudder and had to retire to Barra. James Wharram suffered a broken centreboard in his Polynesian style trimaran and was forced to retire near the Scilly Isles.
The one disqualification was the trimaran Tao which completed the course but with only one crew member on board, the other having left after a disagreement – a problem that would recur in later races.
1970 – The second RB&I, the growth of shorthanded oceanic racing
The following race in 1970 saw 28 entries split 50/50 between mono and multi. It took a 71ft monohull sailed by Robin KnoxJohnston to break the multihull dominance of the previous year – the largest multihull entered was the 52ft Wharram junk rigged catamaran Tehini, which later retired. Rough conditions and mishaps took their toll on many of the entrants which made for an exciting race with the lead changing more than once over the course. First multihull home and second over the line was Snow Goose an 11 year old 36ft catamaran repeating their success in the first race. Kelsall attempted the race with his own 51.5ft proa design Sidewinder, but retired at Crosshaven.
1974 – The third RB&I, the growth of shorthanded oceanic racing
The race really began to take off in 1974 when 61 starters were on the line with several big boats present and a strong international entry. Robin Knox-Johnston sailing the 70ft cat British Oxygen was up against the likes of Leslie Williams and Peter Blake aboard the 80ft mono Burton Cutter, Philip Weld aboard Gulf Streamer (60ft tri) and Alain Colas aboard Manureva (70ft tri). Other well known names out to rewrite the record books were those of Tony Bullimore, Nick Keig, Mike Birch and Claire Francis. Snow Goose was back again as was Toria (renamed as Gancia Girl).
In gale force conditions that prevailed for much of the race British Oxygen went on to set a new record of 10 days, 4 hrs 26 mins at sea (18d 04h 26m overall). They were followed closely by Three Cheers (Mike McMullen and Martin Read) and Gulf Streamer (Phil Weld and David Cooksey).
Entries rose again with sailors from ten nations competing with a mix of racing and cruising boats. The race was sailed in mainly light winds resulting in longer than usual times, and some of the slower boats running out of time. Among the competitors were Giles Chichester and Mike Richey in Gipsy Moth V, and Peter Jay, then British Ambassador to the United States, sailing Norvantes (a boat whose position was always known!). While becalmed off the east coast two boats rafted up and enjoyed dinner together – a breach of the rules that was commented on, but not protested!
Kelsall designed trimarans took first, Great Britain IV, and second (Three Legs of Mann) place with the Newick designed tri Rogue Wave third. Again the only proa entered failed to make it home. Walter and Joan Greene were back again in A Capella finishing fourth and Nigel Irens entered the fray with a 31.5ft tri Jan of Santa Cruz and finished fifth overall.
1982 - The fifth RB&I, a record fleet, a record time
Race numbers peaked in 1982 with 85 craft from twelve countries competing, including three French multihull entries. As in 78 the weather was less harsh than in previous years, and with the constant advances in multihull design, the stage was set for a record breaking run. Colt Cars GB – a 60ft tri sailed by Rob and Naomi James achieved just that with a time of 8 days 15 hrs 3 mins at sea. Multihulls won all classes with two Nigel Irens built and designed 40ft trimarans making their mark on the international racing scene, taking 1st in class IV – IT82 (6th overall) and Gordano Goose – 3rd in class IV (8th overall). Twiggy capsized in the North Atlantic off the northernmost point of the Orkney Islands. Luckily both crew and trimaran were saved. A lack of media attention for what had become a top class international event left some competitors and sponsors slightly disgruntled.
Only a three year gap to avoid clashing with the French racing circuit.
This edition was sponsored by the City of Plymouth, the first time they had sponsored a yachting event.
Escape hatches were made compulsory in that year. Three new British designs took to the water just prior to the race – Apricot (60ft tri designed by Nigel Irens), Paragon (60ft tri designed by Adrian Thompson) and Novell Network (80ft cat designed by John Shuttleworth). The competitors experienced strong winds all around the course with several retiring at Barra. But the final leg saw the worst weather, and several of the tail-enders were forced to seek shelter.
The Observer returned to sponsor the 1989 edition of the RB&I, and 60 boats made it to the start line.
Frenchmen Francois Boucher and Loic Linglois sailing Saab Turbo (ex Elf Aquitaine II) set a new record of 7 days 7 hrs 30 mins on the water, 15 days 7 hrs 30 mins overall, which still stands.
1989 RB&I Entries
1989 RB&I Winner
Francois Boucher / Loic Linglois
15d 07h 31m
1993 – The eighth RB&I
A change to the course this year. A new sponsor, the Teesside Development Corporation, brought a new east-coast stop-over at Hartlepool where they were building a large marina.
The field dropped to 58 but with a rise in nationalities represented. The drop was in the number of large multihulls; of the nine multis entered, only one in class I, two in class IV and six in class V. Steve Fossett’s 60ft Lokata looked set to beat the existing record had it not been for light winds in the channel. Brian Thompson sailing the 40ft Severalles Challenge set a new class V record of 9 days 21 hrs 30 mins.
1993 RB&I Entries
1993 RB&I Winner
David Scully / Steve Fossett
15d 12h 04m
1998 – The ninth RB&I
A wild race this year with gale force winds for much of the time, usually on the head, resulted in slower times than usual.
A new development was the reintroduction of handicapping – IRC for the monos and MOCRA provided handicaps, and a Cup, for the multis. However not everyone was impressed and several boats did not provide factors, and two multis refused to sail under their allocated handicaps.
A notable entry was Paradox skippered by Alan Grace, a paraplegic. Alan and his crew, Chris Briggs, drove Paradox hard arriving 8th at Crosshaven. They had a damaged rudder and hull and despite repairs the problems reappeared on the next leg and they were forced to retire.
The race provided an exciting finish with Spirit of England arriving only 36 minutes behind FPC Greenaway.