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Polly's Round the Island Race Adventures

Author: Jo Bowden   Date: 14:44 Wednesday 27 Mar 2024

Every boat that crosses the finish line in Cowes has a great story of their Round the Island adventure. The Impala 28 'Polly' is a wonderful family boat that has been raced since 1999 and is moored on the River Hamble. Polly's owner is Ben Meakins, who works for B&G (Race Marine Electronics Partner) as a Test Engineer. Ben has competed in the race for over 25 years.

Ben: I grew up racing and cruising on Polly before my parents sold her and bought another boat. Eight years later, in 2009, my wife and I bought Polly back along with good friends Adrian and Jo, and we've raced all but three Round the Island Races since.

RIR: What makes you keep coming back?

Ben: I love Round the Island Race. It might be hectic and exhausting, with more snakes and ladders than any other race I've done, but we keep coming back year after year. It's got it all - a huge fleet, challenging tactics, a variety of sailing conditions. It's also a boat-spotter's dream to see the spectacle of over a thousand sailing boats of all shapes and sizes.

RIR: How many races have you done and what was your best result?

Ben: I've lost count of how many races I've done - I think the first was back in 1999. The best result in our ownership was 13th overall in 2010, but we haven't quite matched the boat's best position which was 2nd overall and missing out on the Gold Roman Bowl by only a few seconds in 2000 - I was on the bow for that one!

RIR: What's special about the race?

SR: No two races are the same. One thing we've learned is that you can't rest easy even if things appear to be going well - we've had a few races where the wind has shut off at Bembridge Ledge and turned what was a commanding lead to a scrabble at the back of the fleet.

Some years you can be buried under seemingly the whole 1,000+ boat fleet and fight to get clear air, and in others you can do the whole first beat in your own patch of wind and water. There's the nerve-wracking decision as to go inside or outside the wreck of the Varvassi and the often tense short-gybing along the shore at St Catherine's to keep out of the tide. Flashes of previous races keep me up at night in the week leading up to the race, but once the starting gun fires it's all forgotten and you're immersed in the race.

For years in a row, we lost out to our competitors on the final leg from Ryde Sands to the finish. We have now realised that it is this leg when we flag both mentally and physically, so we make sure to swap helms regularly around the back of the Island and to stock up on flapjacks at Bembridge to make sure we're as fresh as possible for the final push.

It's a strange relationship - we can be saying 'never again' after a punishing race, but a few days later that's all forgotten and we're looking forward to the next one.

RIR: How was your 2023 race?

Ben: It was a classic, with a windy beat to The Needles followed by a long, exciting spinnaker leg all the way to Bembridge where a strange quartering sea played havoc with the fleet, but we managed to sail past most of the chaos to a decent result in the conditions of 30th overall.

We've had races spent all but becalmed, races spent clinging on as the boat surfed down big waves and others where we swapped positions with fellow Impalas all the way around the Island.

RIR: Are you looking forward to this year's race?

Ben: Absolutely! Our crew of family and friends has been sailing together for years, and between us we've built up quite a file of reports and notes on the race. This year we'll be back on the start line in the early dawn once again for another crack at what is a uniquely rewarding, frustrating and fascinating race - see you out there!

B&G Race Support Blogs

Whether you are a seasoned racer or 2024 will be your first experience of Round the Island Race, Race Partner B&G is here to help all the competitors get the most out of their electronics with a helpful hints blog series.

The next blog lands in early April and comes from Ben Meakins, a Test Engineer at B&G, who shares his fascinating insights into what makes this iconic race attract competitors like Ben and his crew back year after year. Future blogs this year will focus on chartplotter race modes and calibration using the powerful new Triton Edge processor. Check out all the race support blogs on the B&G website -

B&G will also be sharing a series of Race Interviews in April and May, covering stories and race weekend memories from a host of competitors, including B&G's very own ambassador, Pip Hare.

Last few days of Early Bird entry deals

For more race information and to take advantage of great Early Bird entry deals visit the online entry page. Early Bird entries finish at 23:59 on Sunday 31st March and Standard Entries finish on 1st June.