For a time it looked as though the 1985 Round Britain Race might have no sponsor, but, in February 1985, the City of Plymouth came forward. This was their first full sponsorship of a yachting event, though for some years the city had shown an enlightened attitude towards sailing events in Plymouth, providing assistance in kind and entertaining visiting crews.
This was the last race for which the pre-race assembly was in the old Millbay Dock. In future, events would be in the modern yacht harbour of Queen Anne’s Battery Marina. As this had been backed by the City of Plymouth, it was appropriate that the 1985 race should be started by the Lord Mayor. There were no naval vessels available and the Lord Mayor and the RWYC committee were embarked in the motor yacht Trago Voyager, kindly made available by Mike Robertsott. With their necks on swivels, they anchored in the middle of the starting line with the motor yacht Cordelia marking the eastern end and the Queen’s harbour master’s launch Swift on the western end. The monohulls started on the western section and the multis the eastern end. Light westerly winds and a few calm patches later on made the first leg, to Crosshaven a slow one.
Among the fleet in 1985 Tony Bullimore had his designer, Nigel Irens, with him in Apricot, and BCA Paragon sailed by Mike Whipp was also crewed by his designer, Adrian Thompson. These two started favourites, but there were a number of other yachts with a good track record. Morr Energy (ex Travacrest Seaway ex Livery Dole III) was sailed by Paul Hargreaves and Jeff Houlgrave, Marlow Ropes (ex Umupro Jardin, winner of the 1984 OSTAR and previously Exmouth Challenge was sailed by Mark Gatehouse and Peter Rowsell, and Don Wood had acquired the salvaged Colt Cars which Jeff Houlgrave had abandoned in the 1984 OSTAR and, with sponsorship from British Rail’s parcel department, named her Red Star / Night Star. His crew was Butch Dalrymple-Smith. Robin Knox-Johnston and Billy King-Harman completed the top British line up and from the U.S.A., the formidable combination of Waiter Greene and Philip Steggall sailed Sebago. The French end was kept up by Pierre le Maout and Antoine Pouliquen in the 40 foot catamaran Macallan – Festival de Lorient .
Only a minute separated Apricot and Paragon at Crosshaven. Apricot had halyard troubles during the second and third legs and had to have her mast lifted out in Lerwick. Paragon, despite having sail problems, beat the course record for the leg from Crosshaven to Castle Bay but was forced to retire into Peterhead, after leaving Lerwick, having suffered structural damage and a torn mainsail in 40 knot winds. Red Star / Night Star hit an unlit buoy after leaving Crosshaven damaging the bow of her port float. This was the crew repaired under way with fibreglass cloth and epoxy resin. From all accounts Don Wood had as much of both on him as the boat by the time he had finished this balancing act. It was a considerable achievement. They had problems on the leg from Lerwick to Lowestoft which dropped them down to 6th place from which they only managed to climb one place by the finish. Peter Philips and Bob Fisher parted their main halyard on day one and went into Fowey to fix it, arriving in Crosshaven in 32nd place. Beset by rigging problems they retired and returned to Plymouth.
Among monohulls the contenders for best time were Warren Luhrs’s Thursday’s Child (60ft), John Martin’s Voortrekker I! (60ft) and Donald Parr’s Quailo of Wight (63ft). They finished in that order and Thursday’s Child led them all the way. Following his rescue by Alan Thomas in the previous year’s OSTAR, John Mansell was crewing for Alan in Jemima Nicholas. This time he was allowed to help. In the middle of the fleet were many previous competitors on this course, back to settle old scores. A gale that savaged the leaders on the east coast of Scotland caused the smaller boats, still on the west side, considerable discomfort and delay. On 17 July 10 yachts were reported held up in Castle Bay due to weather. These were Zeehaas, Sarie Marais, Silk, Max Factor, Shoki, Spring Gold, Taal, Quixote, Beefeater and Robiijn. They decided to leave together at 0730 the next morning but in fact never did so. Sarie Marais retired on medical advice directed towards the skipper, and Max Factor also retired. At this time there was concern for Newcastle Brown Ale, Nick Skinnard’s little Folkboat crewed by Robert Moncur, but they battled their way into Castle Bay at 2040 on 17 at a time when winds there were reported between force 7 and force 9.
On 18 July the number holed up in the Castle Bay had risen to 23; however at 1830 that evening the weather had moderated sufficiently to allow about 15 of them to set off for Lerwick. The wind was then SW 6-7, moderating, and backing southerly. One not to be delayed by this storm was the little Humberts, sailed by the Trafford brothers, Richard and James. This J 24 class inshore racer had to be “stretched” by the addition of 12 inches” at the stern, for her to be admissible to the race. Humberts arrived in Castle Bay on the morning of 14 July, so was away again on 16 and in Lerwick three days later. On that leg they reported surfing at 15 knots under bare poles. They finally finished 33rd overall, the first monohull in their class and ahead of several class 4, 5 and 6 boats.
There were a number of retirements at Castle Bay and Tobermory. Just how many of these were due to gear or boat failures, or simply an urge to change from racing to cruising the Western Isles, is not recorded but among those who went on were the Folkboat Newcastle Brown Ale and Christine Bryan and Sally Harrison in their 26ft Sadler Girl. In the end they were able to finish the race within the time limit. Another boat at the very bottom end of the size scale, was the 25ft Danish trimaran Majic Hemple, sailed by Eric Quorning and Eric Fruergaard, who managed not only to get around the gruelling course but finish in 18th place overall.
The Henri Lloyd Trophy for special endeavour, awarded by the votes of competitors, went to Newcastle Brown Ale with the following all not very far behind (not in sequence of votes scored) Ghoster, Quixote, Sadler Girl, Intermediate Technology, Majic Hemple and Quickstep. Excluded from this prize under its rules were all those who had won a major award. The Boxall Trophy for the yacht with the highest speed to waterline ratio went to Majic Hemple. The tail enders were treated to another gale before they finally made Plymouth and with threats of storm force winds, a number of yachts sought refuge along the south coast between 2 and 4 of August. These delays were, in some cases just enough to force some retirements as time ran out for skippers and crews. Of the casualties during this race there were three dismastings, a number of rigging problems and some structural damage but the worst was the destruction of Glucometer II by a Dutch coaster of Beachy Head, on the last leg of the race. Fortunately her crew Simon Frost and Lock Crowther were rescued. Merchant ships, many of whom maintain a deplorably low standard of look-out remain the most dangerous thing yachts have to contend with in the English Channel.