You don’t have to be big and fast to win the Round the Island Race, just sail well and be tactically aware. Matthew Sheahan analyses the routes taken by key performers in the 2012 race, which offered classic conditions

One of the most appealing features of the country’s fourth biggest participation event is that you don’t have to be the biggest or fastest to win. Indeed, despite the repeated efforts of some of the top boats, which have been known to finish while breakfast is still being served in Cowes, the Round the Island Race is almost invariably won on handicap by a small boat.

The 2012 race was a perfect example. The record holder for the fastest lap in a monohull, Mike Slade’s ICAP Leopard, was just six minutes short of her record time and yet she was beaten on handicap by 52 other boats in IRC.

The Round the Island Race is huge, but it is also a great leveller, which is what brings many thousands of crew to the event year after year. No doubt the classic conditions, with a moderate south-westerly, helped IRC Class 3 dominate the 2012 race – there were seven boats under 30ft in the top ten places in IRC overall. But among the 1,200 boats that completed the course there were many other impressive performances.

What comes across clearly is how the best crews identified the key areas that could give them a helping hand even if the tide was against them. And it was interesting to see how they prepared to arrive at these areas at the right time. Hitching a ride on a back eddy is a great way of slipping through.

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Here we look at six very different boats that did well to find out where they went and when – click on the charts to view them more closely.

Our study used the tracking system run by Next Generation Results for the race.

J-Dream GBR7111L


J-Dream. Photo: P Eden

Type J/111

Owners David and Kirsty Apthorp

Built 2011

Class IRC 1A

IRC 1.094

1st Class 1 and 1A

23rd Overall IRC

Elapsed time 6:21

Finish time 1351

David and Kirsty Apthorp’s J/111 set a cracking pace, providing a good illustration of how working the shifts and the tidal nuances of the course can help to lever you through the fleet. While asymmetric kites can be simpler to handle in many ways, they provide different tactical issues, especially when you’re trying to sneak along a shoreline to make best use of the tide.

J-Dream's track

J-Dream’s track

Bugler GBR8874


Bugler. Photo: D Harding

Type Contessa 32

Owner Darren Ballard

Built 1971

Class Contessa 32

1st in class

Elapsed time 8:04

Finish time 1614

In a textbook track round the Island, Darren Ballard and his crew sought out the faster-running tide and kept close to rhumb lines. Another Contessa, Catherine, finished 2nd just under four minutes behind Bugler and both tracks show how closely the pair matched each other round the Island, taking the shortest distance and staying in the best tide wherever possible. An eight-hour match-race.

Bugler's track

Bugler’s track

Maya GBR1223


Maya. Photo: CK Wordk/Pixtel

Type Contessa 26

Owners Kevin Collins and Simon Rogers

Built 1973

Class IRC Div 3D

IRC 0.768

6th in Class, 7th Overall IRC

Elapsed time 8:45

Finish time 1645

If there’s one type of boat that seems to keep making it into the top slots in this race it’s the Contessa 26. Then when you look at the names of owners, the famous Rogers family pops up frequently. In 2012 there were four Contessa 26s in the top 14 places in IRC overall. The first two were rather coy about their tracks and didn’t log on, but co-skippers Kevin Collins and Simon Rogers did. Maya was the third Contessa 26 to finish.

Maya's track

Maya’s track

ICAP Leopard GBR1R

ICAP Leopard

ICAP Leopard. Photo: P Wyeth

Type 100ft super maxi

Owner Mike Slade

Built 2007

Class IRC Zero

IRC 1.776

Monohull line honours

6th in Class, 53rd Overall IRC

Elapsed time 3:59

Finish time 1059

The fastest monohull round the Island isn’t always the winner as Mike Slade’s Leopard demonstrated. Although starting early gives the big boats clear air and an open view of the Western Solent, draught issues often limit their manoeuvrability. Leopard’s track shows longer tacks, fewer manoeuvres and long straight lines at speed.

ICAP Leopard's track

ICAP Leopard’s track

Humdinger GBR137

Humdinger. Photo: CK Wordk/Pixtel

Humdinger. Photo: CK Wordk/Pixtel

Type Dragonfly 920 Extreme

Owner John Beech

Built 2006

MOCRA 1.247


1st MOCRA multihull

Elapsed time 5:20

Finish time 1230

Fast off the breeze, but more of a struggle upwind might have been the case with traditional cruising cats, but John White’s Dragonfly 920 trimaran Humdinger demonstrates that a long beat west is no major handicap for boats of this type in a south-westerly.

Humdinger's track

Humdinger’s track

Ariel GBR8645R

Ariel. Photo: P Mumford/Beken of Cowes

Ariel. Photo: P Mumford/Beken of Cowes

Type Grand Soleil 45

Owners Noel, Catherine, Richard Dobbs

Built 2003

Class ISCRS Div 4B

ISCRS 1.029

1st ISCRS Div B

Elapsed time 7:05

Finish time 1433

Ariel sails a conservative route to a class win. Noel Dobbs (75) is at the helm of his son’s Grand Soleil 45. Together they demonstrate the advantage of maintaining a steady route and minimising manoeuvres and tactical risk-taking. While Ariel’s crew don’t make use of the subtle tidal slingshots available, their route is a good datum for a simple, effective track in a south-westerly wind.

Ariel's track

Ariel’s track