Round Britain fleet ready to start bid

Sam Davies. Picture: Vincent Curutchet/Dark Frame
Sam Davies. Picture: Vincent Curutchet/Dark Frame
Alex Alley, from Gosport.

Picture: Sarah Standing (151832-9304) PPP-151030-175051001

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There will still be more than 60 days before the Volvo Ocean Race fleet launches itself around the planet.

But this Sunday will allow the first real opportunity to assess the quality of the runners and riders, and who might start as favourite.

So far the new one-design Volvo 65 race boats have had few chances to go head-to-head in true offshore racing conditions.

On Sunday, in The Solent, that changes with the start of the Sevenstar Round Britain and Ireland Race which will see five of the six teams so far announced – another is believed to be waiting in the wings – take on the demanding course.

Local interest will be focused on two of the leading contenders, with the all-women Team SCA skippered by Portsmouth-born Sam Davies, and Warsash’s Ian Walker back for a second time at the helm of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing.

The Volvo Ocean Race contingent is completed by Spain’s Team Campos, China’s Dongfeng Race Team and the US entry Alvimedica.

‘I have never taken part in this race before, nor completed a lap of Britain,’ said Walker, one of Britain’s most experienced racers.

‘It is a great race course and a perfect test for our fleet of boats in the run up to the start of the Volvo.

‘You have to be ready for anything when sailing this course.

‘I don’t think we will get much sleep and the currents and numerous headlands will make for tough training.

‘I love the big starts in Cowes and I can’t wait to see what the top of Scotland is like. I hope it is kind to us,’ he added.

The Round Britain fleet will start from the Royal Yacht Squadron line at midday, heading east out of The Solent past Portsmouth, then around the south side of the Isle of Wight, before setting sights on the Bishop Rock south of the Isles of Scilly.

Leaving Ireland to starboard the yachts will round the Atlantic outcrop at St Kilda and then Muckle Flugga in the far north of the Shetlands, before heading south through the North Sea and back to The Solent.

‘The course is three times longer than the Rolex Fastnet Race and it takes the competitors through a myriad of different conditions,’ said Eddie Warden Owen, CEO of race organisers the Royal Ocean Racing Club.

‘Crews will have to cope with a huge number of elements and that is what makes this race so compelling.’

Also using the event as a warm-up for something longer is Southsea-based yachtsman Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, now 75, who will be racing his venerable Open 60 Grey Power two-handed in preparation for the Route du Rhum trans-Atlantic race in November.

‘There may be weather fronts and the coastal course is a navigational hazard to be avoided,’ said Sir Robin.

‘But I don’t get into deep analysis, I just get on with it,’

‘When things are going wrong, well it’s worse for the other people because I think they will like it less.

‘I am entering this race because I think it is a great race to do.

‘This will be my ninth race around the British Isles.’