Although the Atalanta was designed primarily as a family cruiser it was natural that some owners, who had previously raced dinghies, were attracted to competitive sailing. The first venture was the Round the Isle of Wight Race on Saturday 12 July 1958. The main fleet of well over 100 boats started at 0900 and sailed away down the Solent like a ‘host of butterflies’ with their spinnakers set. The Atalanta class crossed the line at 0915 and consisted of six boats including the prototype Atalanta A1, sailed by Captain Urry and A77, an Atalanta demonstration boat, sailed by Alan Vines, with a trial masthead rig.
It was a grand day’s sailing, with winds ranging from calm to strong squalls, and full of excitement because the five boats with standard rig were always changing places in close proximity to each other with A61, Ellisa, sailed by D Cottrell finishing first. The non-standard boat with the masthead rig, having the advantage in light winds of greater sail area and, no doubt, the advantage also of being helmed by Alan Vines, finished 44 minutes ahead of Ellisa and beat many of the main fleet which had started earlier.
This result convinced their owners that the Atalanta class had racing potential and need not be regarded as just a handicap cruiser.
In August of the same year they took part in West Solent Week and results in several races during that event confirmed this view. Also A77 with her masthead spinnaker and genoa again proved that the class performance could be improved against other classes of similar type.
As President of the AOA, Alan Vines in his New Year Message in 1966 wrote. “Those owners who like to discuss the performance of Atalantas with owners of other classes and types of boats, will probably be interested in the results of the race round the Isle of Wight organised by the Island Sailing Club in which Atalantas race as a class. The total entry for all classes each year was over 300 boats” and after setting out the results for 1963, 64 and 65 he added. “The interested years being 1964 and 1965 when the Atalantas, on their rating, which is very high for its sail area compared with other boats, succeeded, on corrected time, in beating all comers. These results go to show that an Atalanta can perform with the best. It is also interesting to note that Atalantas have, for the third year running, won the Sail and Power Race round the Isle of Wight organised by the Royal Lymington Yacht Club.”
Reports in the Annual Bulletin for 1958/9 and succeeding years, encouraged other owners to take part in the Round the Island Race, and as many as 22 entered in 1970. After that year the numbers declined and participation ceased in the seventies. The reason for this is not clear. It may have been that the fortunes of the AOA took a dip about that time or it may have been that the friendly and tolerant rivalry in the event, enjoyed by the Atalantas in the sixties and early seventies, had largely disappeared. Today the race attracts over 1200 boats of many modern classes, including multi-hulls with speeds reaching more than 20 knots and completing the course of some 60 miles in 4 to 5 hours. Perhaps the prospect of taking over twice as long is a deterrent.