Students compete in Round the Island Race

Kirsty Thomas, English Teacher turned sailor, gives her account of an incredible weekend racing with students round the Isle of Wight.

The weekend of 24-26 June was the culmination of many months of organisation and fundraising, but the rewards were paid in dividends.

Ten lucky students and two teachers completed the Round The Island yacht race around the Isle of Wight, coming in a staggering 634th place out of 1156 boats – a remarkable achievement, considering none of us had sailed before March!

The students had a Nautitech Open 40 Catamaran named the INXSA, a beautiful double hulled boat which could sleep fourteen.

Together, the sailing team had planned menus for the weekend to cater their own meals, budgeted for the food, and even gone on a group outing to Waitrose to buy the groceries. Waitrose had kindly given them a third of their grocery bill off in support of the endeavour.

Prior to setting sail the students received a boost in the form of a message from adventurer and TV presenter Bear Grylls: “Thinking of you all and remember life rewards the positive, the courageous, the resourceful and the determined – You can do it!”

While rounding the tip of the Needles, we were lucky enough to witness a Spitfire fly overhead, as it was Armed Forces Day!

Mutahira Sheikh, Year 11, commented: “This is making memories kind of stuff, we’ll not forget this for the rest of our lives.”

It was a great weekend and the crew were very lucky with the weather conditions for the race – remarkably they got the boat up to 11.5 kts (13mph) which is quite an achievement for that particular design.  The wind, which was very favourable for most of the day, played a final trick and died off right at the end and we found ourselves becalmed with about 100 other yachts watching the finish line bobbing up and down in the distance! Eventually it picked upand we made it over the line!

The whole experience has given many of the students a thirst for the sea life. Rio Wilmott said: “The whole experience was once in a lifetime and I can’t wait to buy my own boat and get back out there. I hope we can continue this next year.”

On Sunday we sailed back to port in Gosport, first stopping off for a swim in Priory Bay, a sheltered beauty spot, which was not unlike a Caribbean beach. The crew had a much-earned swim and enjoyed splashing in the surf.

The whole weekend was a fantastic achievement for the group - it was an early start and 12 hours can be a bit gruelling at times, but their training week in March and a day in May down in Brighton on Red Eye meant they were incredibly well-prepared. Skipper Martin was incredibly complimentary of their sailing skills and eagerness to learn.

A huge thank you to Martin our skipper and host for the weekend, UTC Reading’s Neil Pouney for all his efforts and endeavours setting up the sailing program over the last eight months, and also the RAF Charitable Trust, Ulysses Trust and Connaught Trust, which have given very generous donations to help fund this exercise.

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