Round Robben Island Race – a bit of history, by Toni Mainprize, written in 2015

“This popular race has always attracted large fleets, and now we’re lucky enough to run it twice a year. The first at the beginning of the year, is an all-class start with handicap divisional winners.  In October, it takes the form of a pursuit race to start the sailing season. So why does this race attract so many sailors?

In the early years, many races sporadically went around Robben Island – even a double-handed race. But the earliest one I (with the help of my fellow researcher Dale Kushner) could find, was held back in 1906. A beautiful trophy with a Deed of Gift was donated to the Club by one Mr Ohlsson, who stipulated that it was to be awarded to the winner of a race around Robben Island. This was completed by a small number of boats in the early days of the Club. After discovering this beautiful trophy and its history, I have restored and returned it to its rightful place of being awarded for the Round Robben Island Race.

It seems that the Club held the Round Robben Island Races sporadically after the 1950s. Teddy Kuttell reported that in the mid 1990s, Club racing was rather boring and there wasn’t much going on, so he decided it would be nice to have the Round Robben Island Race back and donated prizes from his company, Spilhaus”. Thus the race as we know it was born.

Spilhaus sponsored beautiful prizes of quality crystal, silver and other lovely things for the home.  Naturally, the winners loved this and the race became an annual affair, called the Spilhaus Robben Island Race, with fleet sizes often reaching over 80 boats. Spilhaus sponsored the race up until 2008.

In 2011, Harken began supporting this great race, becoming new partners to the race we know today, the Harken Round Robben Island Race. In January 2016, Lord Irvine Laidlaw’s Cape Fling went around the island in two hours and 49seconds. This was the fastest rounding I’d seen in the five years that I’d been at the Club, but I wanted to know what went down in previous years. I started asking questions of some of the long-standing Club members and sailors, who I know would’ve rounded that island many times, and was pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm of the recited memories.

Lord Laidlaw | Image courtesy of Boat International

Of course, the name synonymous with the Round Robben Island Race is Teddy Kuttel, so that was where my inquest started. It seems one of the most well-known roundings (or perhaps it’s urban legend) was that of David Abromowitz being protested for cutting into the one-mile exclusion zone (which is still indicated on the charts as “entry prohibited – military practise area”) and sailing too close to the rocks. David based his defence on the premise of “a miss is as good as a mile”, and the protest was dismissed.

Cape Fling

Back to the record times…. Many boat names came up, such as Keith Bellamey’s Simonis 52, Mykonos; Mike Daley’s Wizzard and Padda Kuttel’s Simonis 67, Bossanova.  It was Rick Nankin that shed light on the fastest island roundings. In 2005 Teddy Kuttel’s Spilhaus went around in two hours and 15minutes; Rhett Goldswain’s Thunderchild rounded in two hours and 10 minutes and Adrian Kuttel, on the Simonis 67 Shackattack, came in under two hours, in one hour, 55minutes and seven seconds.  But on 12 February 2005, a warm and sunny day with flat seas and a medium west-south-west the winner  – beam reaching all the way there and back, starboard rounding – was Phil Gutsche’s Warrior with a time of one hour, 51 minutes and 13 seconds. Warrior (owner Phil Gutsche, skipper Rick Nankin and tactician / navigator Rob Meek) remains the record-holder for the Round Robben Island Race.

We will now have an official record sheet of the fastest times around the Island for each race, and a newly restored Ohlsson’s Cup back in circulation. I do hope the Club will reprint a few copies of Mary Kuttel’s great book and it would be great to have a full history of the race recorded.

For the January  2022 edition, which of the 46 boats on the start line will challenge the record?

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