AFTER a long, tactical day on the water, an Isle of Wight-based skipper and his crew won this year's Round the Island Race with the smallest boat — and with it, the coveted Gold Roman Bowl.

Jo Richards, with crewmen and friends David Rickard and Duncan De Boltz, steered the 18ft long Eeyore — an Alacrity 18 Bilge Keel, from Cowes — to victory yesterday (Saturday).

A member of Gurnard Sailing Club and Cowes Corinthian Yacht Club, Richards was delighted with the win, on corrected time.

He said: “It was an interesting, but long race. We actually started at the opposite end of the line from the rest
of the fleet, which paid off for us in the end.

"We got down to The Needles in the middle of the fleet, then there was almost no wind. We bounced off a couple of rocks on The Needles just for good measure.

"Then we were tempted to stay out of the tide, so we did a couple of little tacks, but thought no, we need to be strong-minded and go out, because you always get a wind bend down off Freshwater and, if you sail along under the cliffs, it just leaves you in a hole eventually."

Richards said he had competed in the Round the Island Race more times than he could remember and, with two
second place finished already under his belt, he eventually achieved his ultimate goal, to win the race.

”It was probably about time too. We’ve been second a couple of times over the years, but the reality is there are some very good sailors out there and very good boats, so you’ve got to be lucky and get the breaks," Richards added.

"Unless you’ve done the preparation and put yourself in a position to get the breaks, it doesn’t happen — but you do still have to be lucky.”

The race offered challenging sailing conditions for the crew of Eeyore, which circumnavigated the Isle of Wight in 13 hours, 36 minutes and 31 seconds.

Isle of Wight County Press: Cowes-based yacht, Eeyore, skippered by Gurnard's Joe Richards.Cowes-based yacht, Eeyore, skippered by Gurnard's Joe Richards.

The fleet of over 1,200 entries contended with fluctuating wind speeds from every direction, with only 257 boats completing the race before the 10.30pm deadline.

The first finisher, with a time of 7 hours, 33 minutes and 36 seconds, was Yves Le Blevec’s Grand Prix racing multihull, Actual Leader, which appropriately led for much of the race.

In light to moderate winds, the Frenchman managed to shake off his closest rivals — Jethou, Ino XXX, Lady
Mariposa and Mini Y — throughout the race.

A delighted Le Blevec, 53, from La Trinite Sur Mer, said the Round the Island Race made for a long, but exciting day.

“I really enjoyed the race. I always enjoy sailing here and it was great to have taken line honours," said Le Blevec, after his fourth time competing in the race.

"It was tricky. We stayed in the same place for two or three hours off Ventnor, in no wind, which was frustrating.

"Actual Leader is designed as a Round the World boat, not for Round the Island racing.

"It is very difficult to manage tacking or gybing so often, so we are pleased to have done so well.”

The award for the first monohull across the line, taking 9 hours and 28 seconds, went to Sir Peter Ogden’s Judel Vrolijk Mini Maxi, Jethou, which almost snatched the lead from Actual Leader earlier in the day.

Despite hitting the bottom and hooking a lobster pot, the crew of Jethou had a great race with owner, Sir Peter Ogden, who said: “Our top speed was 20 knots, which was two minutes after the start — but it went downhill after that and we averaged 7.9 knots over the course.

"The best sail of the day was the stretch from the forts to the finish, where we enjoyed a really nice breeze.”

This year’s race saw thousands of sailors compete, on over 1,200 yachts, in one of the UK’s largest sporting events.

Competitors enjoyed a spinnaker start for the first time in almost ten years.

Commodore of the Island Sailing Club, David Atkinson, said: “It's been a difficult day. We started in such great conditions in the morning, with the wind doing exactly what we thought it would.

"But as the day progressed, the wind became increasingly unpredictable. One example was at St Catherine’s
Point, where one side there was 15 knots of breeze, but just around the corner, half a mile away only, it was five to six knots of breeze from a totally different direction.

"Tactically, it was difficult because the wind was all over the show.

“But the competitors were terrific, with lots of positive feedback on what a lovely day people had on the water — despite the wind.

"Someone said to me, anyone can sail in a reasonably good, steady breeze, but when you have to tactically think about the wind, the tides and everything else in order to make your boat go, that can make it really interesting.

“I’d like to thank all the competitors for making this a fantastic event. The new official race village went down well and had a real buzz around it.

The Round the Island Race prize-giving ceremony starts at noon today (Sunday).

Next year's Round the Island Race will be held on Saturday, May 30 — reorganised after Isle of Wight Festival organisers had opted to hold the music event over the same weekend as the previously scheduled Round the Island Race.