OCEAN LEOPARD has entered this year’s Round the Island Race – and skipper Lee Friend is confident of long-term success for big-boat racing in the Solent.
The 82ft boat, based in Gunwharf Quays, will be crewed by members of Portsmouth Sailing Club and Portsmouth Rugby Club as it attempts to triumph in a competition it has graced in the past.
Last year Friend skippered Ocean Leopard to second place line honours in Class, while it also won Portsmouth Sailing Club’s annual Parhelion Autumn Series Group 3.
The Round the Island Race, first held in 1931, consists of a full, 50-mile circumnavigation of the Isle Of Wight and is expected to attract thousands of spectators and competitors to the island.
The event is hosted by Island Sailing Club (ISC) and with over 900 entries already confirmed, there is expected to be strong competition when racing begins on Saturday, June 27.
Friend believes the race will provide a wonderful opportunity for his younger crew to gain great experience in a rare boat class.
He said: ‘I was looking for some very keen young crew members for the Round the Island Race and they volunteered through Portsmouth Sailing Club.
‘This is an opportunity for them to expand their focus beyond dinghies.
‘A lot of the guys are young and fit, which will really help.
‘We’re looking forward to this year as there are a lot of races to participate in and hopefully win.’
Skipper Friend is hopeful that Ocean Leopard’s involvement can again spark interest in big-boat racing, with the Southsea shoreline having once been a highly-popular place to view yacht racing.
With the America’s Cup World Series due to take place on the Solent in July, Friend believes the groundswell of interest in the sport can aid other racing classes and lead to a resurgence in big-boat sailing in the area.
‘It’ll bring a lot more boats to this end of the Solent as it’s a great viewing platform,’ he said.
‘We’d like to bring back regular boat racing off Southsea Common.
‘You’ve got the ramparts around the harbour entrance to stand on, so it’s quite a good spot.
‘We’re trying to promote more big-boat racing as it has lapsed in recent years.
‘The Americas Cup brings a lot of focus back on the region again, as it’s an ideal place to race.’
At 82ft long, Ocean Leopard is one of the larger boats to enter the Round the Island Race and Friend feels it is their size that makes these boats mesmerizing to watch.
He added: ‘The sheer size of the boats makes it a spectacular spectator sport and we hope to have a new, large classic fleet sailing in these waters.’
Standard entries for this year’s Round the Island Race close at midnight on Saturday, June 13.
More information on the event can be found by logging on to atroundthe island.org.uk