Thousands of boats and their sailors will be taking to the Solent on July 1 to create the annual marine spectacle that is the Round the Island Race. In among them will be this family crew of four from Bembridge.

As a professional marine photographer, Ben Wood of Island Images had photographed the RTIR at least a dozen times – but it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that he and his wife Anna actually took part in the event.

Having bought their fin keel racer cruiser Tamangure, in December 2020, Anna decided she wanted to do the race in 2021.

“She had never done it before, and was really keen” said Ben. “I wasn’t sure the boat was ready, but we worked hard to get her up to speed, and did the event in 2021 and then again in 2022”.

This year will be different though, with three more family members joining Ben and Anna’s crew: their sons Sol, a 21 year-old paramedic student at Greenwich University, and Rufus, 19, a chemistry student at York University, plus Anna’s brother George Whitefield.

Ben says they’ve been busy preparing the boat all year with an ongoing programme of maintenance and upgrades.

As a family, the Woods have previously done lots of dinghy sailing at Brading Haven Yacht Club since 2008, as well as family cruising on the Solent, and day skipper and competent crew experiences with Salty Sailing, in Cowes. 

Ben and Anna moved to the Island from London in 2000, which gave them more opportunity to enjoy their love of sailing – although, as a marine photographer since 1995, he was already spending lots of time on the water.  

Like many sailors, he can clearly recall what proved to be a formative experience as a youngster. His family had rented a holiday house in Skibbereen, southern Ireland when he was 10 years old, and a Mirror dinghy came with the place. 

“I just loved it” he said. “My parents were very supportive, and I then learnt to sail in north Norfolk and France where we took our Topper. I then did a little wind-surfing as a teenager at school”.

Hardly surprising then that his own sons, born on the Island, should have inherited the family passion and learned to sail as youngsters.

Ben says he’s looking forward to the experience of sailing with the family this year, and particularly with his brother-in-law George, who has never been aboard with them before.

It will certainly be different from photographing the RTIR, which Ben has done many times, and which can be a challenging experience. 

“Obviously the starts are very early but the light can be amazing, and the volume of yachts still surprises me” he says.

“There are plenty of backdrops to frame the racing: RYS, Hurst, The Needles, St. Catherines, Culver Down etc. So it’s a really long day. 

“In 2015 I followed Mariquita the whole way round in unbelievable conditions. Probably the best day’s marine photography I’ve ever experienced. 

“In 2019, one very windless race, we started photographing at 5.30am and the boat I was commissioned to photograph finally finished at 21.00. 

“To be honest, sailing around is a bit more straightforward!  It will be nice to have a day off and concentrate on the sailing.”

And his aim for the 2023 race?  “I’d like to get a better start this year. We’ve been very conservative the last two years”.

*Organised by the Island Sailing Club, the annual Round the Island Race, one-day yacht event that regularly attracts more than 1,400 boats and around 15,000 sailors, making it one of the largest yacht races in the world and one of the biggest mass participation sports events in the UK.