Round The Island Race Memories - Isle of Wight

Round The Island Race, Isle of Wight

Andy Cassell is the elder statesman of Ratsey and Lapthorn, now in his seventies, he joined Ratsey and Lapthorn as a director in 1981. Growing up in Cowes, Andy has always sailed, despite not having any legs. He started sailmaking in 1965 and that has always been his trade, but sailing is most definitely his passion and he won a Gold medal at the Atlanta Paralympics in 1996.

Westerley Fulmar 32

‘Over the years I have completed the Round the Island Race probably 35 to 40 times in many types of boat ranging from a 20ft Flying Dutchman as a non-entry (i.e as this boat is a dinghy without a keel it does not satisfy the IRC rating and therefore cannot officially enter the race) to a Fraers 49 and a 125ft Superyacht ‘Sojana’.

In 1985 I took part on a Westerly Fulmar 32, which is probably the best cruiser racer westerly ever built, designed by Ed Dubois. The Chairman of Blesma, a charity supporting limbless veterans, Hugh Hammersley invited me to a fundraising party where I suggested that we entered a boat with a disabled crew for the 1985 Round the Island Race, he agreed this was a great idea and put me touch withy 6 Veterans with missing limbs who had expressed an interest in taking part. But I needed an experienced crew for the foredeck and Mike O’Hagan volunteered, he’s an old friend that only has one eye, which as far as the Navy is concerned classifies him as disabled so he fit the requirements!

We entered the Island Sailing Club Cruiser Racing Division as the only disabled crew taking part. There was one other Westerly Fulmar 32 entered that year and it was skippered by the Westerly Yachts Sales Manager who was a very good sailor so we really had our sights set on beating them around.

By the time we reached Bembridge ledge our opposition were nowhere to be seen and that meant excitement levels on board our boat were starting to increase. The prospect of actually beating this other Fulmar spurred the crew on to work even harder over the long beat around the edge of Ryde Sands, touching the bottom a number of times whilst trying to avoid the strong tide.

Once we were under Norris Castle our nerves returned due to the famous ‘Norris Naddgers’ where fluky winds can cause heart break catching out even the most experienced of racers turning first places into thirds or worse. But we made our way fairly unscathed, crossed the finish line, dropped our sails and motored into the yacht haven with hope in our hearts.

Waiting with baited breath for the Island Sailing Club to publish the results… we were 10th! No, some more calculations.. we were 6th! No, some more calculations… we were 1st in class and 1st overall in our division. The crew were in tears of joys, a great night in the sailing club followed as you can imagine after such a brilliant result for the only disabled crew to sail in the Round the Island Race in 1985.’

Ratsey & Lapthorn are UK sailmakers based in Cowes on the Isle of Wight. We specialise in racing sails, cruising sails and classic sails. Combining the latest sail making technology with hundreds of years of experience established within the loft, no boat is too big or too small.