Since the previous Round Britain and Ireland Race the Observer had withdrawn sponsorship of the race for they now had two transatlantic races to cope with, and Binatone International, makers of CB radio which was coming into vogue in Britain, now sponsored the event.
The race seemed to be a great deal more international and high powered than previously. The entry list was closed and a waiting list was established with several top names appearing on it. As often happens some dropped out. Philip Weld withdrew because he felt his newly rigged boat was not “raceworthy”, Mike Birch had not sorted out his boat or sponsor and Philippe Faque also withdrew.
Marc Pajot and Robin Knox-Johnston had entered a new French race from La Rochelle to New Orleans in the belief that they could be back in time for the start. Marc shipped his Elf Aquitaine back but instead of stopping in the UK the boat continued on to Hamburg; no way to Plymouth for Marc Pajot. Robin elected to sail back but arrived only a day before the start incurring an enormous penalty of 19½ hours for late arrival. Despite that, the effort of a double Atlantic crossing, and only one day to prepare for the next 2000 miles, Robin, encouraged by his fresh crew, Billy King-Harman, started on time. This decision probably prompted his fellow competitors to vote him the winner of the Henri-Lloyd Trophy which is awarded in the Round Britain Race, to the yacht, not being a major prizewinner, adjudged by the competitors to have achieved the most outstanding performance in completing the race within the time limit.
Others too had lengthy trips getting to Plymouth. Ian Johnston and Cathy Hawkins sailed their 31ft trimaran, Twiggy, from Australia, Bertie Reed and John Martin brought Voortrekker II from South Africa, and American Warren Luhrs was back with Tuesday’s Child after his OSTAR and TWOSTAR races.
The mix of hard racing and enjoyable stopovers resulted in the RB&I always being a very family affair. Husbands and wives were a particularly strong section led, literally, by Rob and Naomi James in Colt Cars GB, Walter and Joan Greene came from America, and Philip and Frances Walwyn were back again from St Kitts. David and Jane Ashe, Katie and Alex Allan, and Bob Menzies and Christine Bruet, were among this year’s couples. The brothers included identical twins Richard and John Oswald. There were three very experienced female crews – Eve Bonham and Diana Thomas-Ellam, who had sailed together in the previous TWOSTAR, Mary Falk and Fiona Wylie sailed Wild Rival, and June Clarke and Vicki de Trafford in Moondog.
The weather was kind during the race and there was stiff competition in all classes. The first three yachts changed at each port. Rob and Naomi James were first into Crosshaven. On the next leg Mark Gatehouse and Peter Rowsell came up from 5th to be 1st into Castle Bay, then Chay Blyth and Peter Bateman took up the running and were 1st into Lerwick and then Lowestoft.
Despite the weather two boats were lost in this race. The catamaran Jan II, sailed by Robert Denny and Tony Smith, capsized on the second leg, 20 miles south west of Mizzen Head. Their EPIRB signal was eventually picked up by an RAF Nimrod who homed a helicopter, and the Irish Naval vessel Aisling, to the scene. The crew were rescued but Aisling was unable to take Jan II in tow and it was abandoned and sank.
Ian Johnston and Cathy Hawkins were averaging 14 knots in a force 6 breeze west of Orkney when they hit a confused sea. A wave picked up the stern, dug the bows into the sea and the trimaran pitchpoled. They followed their agreed procedures for a capsize and Cathy, who was outside, cut a hole so Ian could get out and they could go in and out without having to dive down. They waited, safe but cold, on the hull for any response to their EPIRB. By daybreak they were loosing hope and looked out for another boat. Eventually they spotted a spinnaker approaching and fired off flares to attract their attention. Their rescuers were the Oswald twins in Pepsi.
In the light winds the fleet spread out over the course, as the finishers neared Plymouth the last boats were still in Lerwick. The three leaders produced an exciting finish with Rob and Naomi James in Colt Cars setting a record time of 16 days 15 hrs and 3 mins. Chay Blyth and Peter Bateman (Brittany Ferries GB) were close behind them; they were actually in Plymouth Sound when Colt Cars finished but took another 43 minutes to complete the course in the light winds. Mark Gatehouse and Peter Rowsell in Exmouth Challenge finished only an hour later. A clean sweep for the multis who took the first 11 places ahead of Voortrekker first monohull who finished in 18 days 16 hrs 10 mins.