Solent Gaffers


Susan J's 2016 Round The Island Race Challenge

Triumph over adversity: The 2016 Round the Island Race   by Hatty Fawcett, crew member on-board Susan J

The conditions for this year’s Round the Island Race were challenging to say the least. There was wind against tide conditions at the start and, with a F5 wind gusting F7, and 30+ knots of wind in the Hurst Narrows it was with some trepidation that we sailed forth in the Gaff cutter, Susan J.

Boat faff prior to the start.jpg

Boat faff prior to the start

And we're off.jpg

And We're Off

In a way, those of us on the start line were the lucky ones because many of the 1,500 boats registered to take part in the race only heard about an hour before the race started that they wouldn’t be racing as weather conditions meant that the smaller, lighter boat classes were cancelled. Whilst disappointing, as it turned out, it was probably a good decision. Conditions were challenging

It took us three hours to get to The Needles. We heard later that, by then, the first boats had finished the race in just two hours and twenty three minutes, breaking another record.
As we approached The Needles we had our first major scare of the race when a boat suddenly tacked (to avoid another boat) but didn’t look behind to see if there was anything coming. We all screamed (even our calm and collected Skipper!) as it looked like a collision was unavoidable.
With amazing fleet of foot the boat headed up and we scrapped past with little more than a hair’s breadth between us.

The view down the bowsprit.jpg

View down the bowsprit

Things got more sobering from there on in.
Just after we rounded The Needles, a Mayday call went out over the radio. A boat was sinking, fast. As we listened we realised the boat was very close to us and, sure enough, within a few moments we could see the stricken vessel. The coast guard and lifeboat crews were amazing, responding with the speed and professionalism for which they are known. All six people on board were rescued and, seemingly, in the nick of time. As the boat came into our sights, we saw it for only a few moments before even the tip of its mast was under the waves. From the Mayday call to the moment it disappeared from view had taken just 5 minutes. 

The sail down from The Needles to St Katherine’s was exhilarating. We rode down enormous waves with 30 knots of wind on our beam. The motion also brought its own challenges with motion sickness affecting one of our crew, although not bad enough to rend him useless!


By the time we’d rounded the Bembridge Ledge bouy the tide was against us again and the challenge of beating up past Ryde, avoiding the sands and desperately trying to get Ryde Pier behind us, began.
The wind was strong (F6-7) so the constant tacking took a physical toll and, I have to confess, I had “sense of humour failure” at one point and had to be shut up with a restorative chocolate muffin. Oh for electric winches!
Finally after 10 and half hours (our final elapsed time) the finishing line hove into sight. It was a very tired crew that acknowledged the gun signal with a feeble wave.

waves off St Kats.jpg

Waves off St Kats

Motion sickness!.jpg

Motion sickness

Beating up to Ryde.jpg

Beating up to Ryde

Good view of race

Hang on ?  Did I say Gun Signal !  Yes. Such was our exhaustion that it took us a little while to realise the significance of this sound. But, once moored up and with a restorative glass of wine in hand, we checked the results and all our exhaustion fell away as we realised we were actually the first boat in our class AND the first Gaff across the line. The gun signal had announced our line honours!

That news did a lot to ease the bruises, the aches and the complete exhaustion. We had triumphed over adversity.

Finish Line in sight.jpg

Finish line in sight

Twelve gaff rigged boats started the Round the Island Race but only 4 finished. All credit should go to all who participated. This was a physical and challenging race. Special mention should go to all the boats who finished:

Susan J,  Thalia,  Ivy Green, and  Sophie