Skippers prepare for Round the Island battle

Thousands of boats, of all sizes and formats, will compete in the popular Round the Island Race around the Isle of Wight tomorrow Picture: Thierry Martinez
Thousands of boats, of all sizes and formats, will compete in the popular Round the Island Race around the Isle of Wight tomorrow Picture: Thierry Martinez
Leigh McMillan announced as Helmsman onboard Land Rover BAR Academy. Picture: Alex Palmer

Leading sailor back at Land Rover BAR

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The enduring appeal of the JP Morgan Asset Management Round the Island Race is to be found in the huge diversity of yachts taking part.

Since the first race around the Isle of Wight in 1931, with a modest 25 competitors on the start line, the event has grown beyond the wildest expectations of its Island Sailing Club creators.

No fewer than 1,459 yachts will tomorrow start the 50-mile race off Cowes – and even that armada is down on the record 2008 entry of 1,875, – representing every form of wind-powered vessel about.

At one end of the spectrum is the professionally-crewed 100-foot ICAP Leopard, owned by race regular Mike Slade and the current monohull record holder in a time of 3hr 53min 5sec.

At the other are the folk boats and small family cruisers. For many, this is their one and only racing venture of the year.

Uniquely, of course, this is a race where David can regularly vanquish Goliath, with the handicap system often awarding the top prize to the smaller yachts in the fleet.

In fact, the Contessa 26 Rosina of Beaulieu is the only boat in the history of the race to take the Gold Roman Bowl three times.

One skipper hoping to capitalise on that is former offshore powerboat racer Chris Charlesworth, who has previously raced round the island in under 40 minutes at an average of 80 knots.

He’s exchanged his high-performance powerboat for the slowest boat on handicap entered in this year’s race, Sundowner – another Contessa 26 which won the Gold Roman Bowl in 2011 and last year’s Silver Roman Bowl for second place.

Now painstakingly restored and renamed Meow, the veteran yacht could be in with a chance.

‘She now looks stunning and is a true modern classic and should hopefully be good for another 40 years,’ said Charlesworth.

Another former powerboater, Andy Wigley, says he’s ‘moved to the dark side’ – from motor to sail – and will be sailing his first Round the Island Race on the Hanse 385 Blue Hoolie with ‘a bunch of old salts who couldn’t get a ride anywhere else’ – all fellow members of Port Solent Yacht Club.

Other race newbies include the all-Russian entry Knyaz, an Archambault A40.

Crew Iskander Rakhimov said: ‘All our friends who did the race previously come back saying ‘‘you must go there’’.

‘We think it’s really exciting and demanding to measure ourselves against some of the best British and world.’

An adventure for all, but most eyes will be on Sir Ben Ainslie, who is back racing in British waters for the first time since winning his historic fourth Olympic gold in Weymouth last year.

He will be racing – weather permitting – his JP Morgan BAR AC45 catamaran, which is more usually seen in the America’s Cup World Series.

‘This is a fantastic opportunity to bring the BAR AC45 to the UK and show the British public how dynamic and exciting these boats are,’ he said.

In the right conditions, the multihull race record could be under threat.

It is currently held by offshore legend Francis Joyon who completed the course in 2001 in just over 188 minutes.