The biggest yacht race in the world
Just a few of the 1,700 odd fleet from last year round The Needles
The 66th running of The Round the Island Race, the annual circumnavigation of the Isle of Wight - arguably the biggest yacht race in the world - is stacking up to be a classic.
The final entry list will be ratified this Friday but at the close of business on Monday, over 1636 yachts of varying shapes and sizes had registered with the organisers, the Island Sailing Club (ISC).
The last edition saw a double with the multihull and monohull records falling. British triple Olympic medallist Rodney Pattisson bettered his own race record by over an hour on the French trimaran Dexia Eure et Loir, completing the 50.1nm course in just three hours, eight minutes and 29 seconds. The same day, Mike Slade's 90ft super sloop Skandia Leopard cut an hour off the previous best time by a monohull yacht, completing the anti-clockwise trip in under four hours.
But both those times were later blown away by Steve Fossett's 125ft catamaran Playstation, which sped round in a remarkable two hours, 33 minutes and 55 seconds last October.
This year the two most likely contenders for line honours are Tracy Edwards' Maiden II maxi-catamaran recently returned to the UK after a transatlantic crossing during which she broke Fossett's outright 24 hour world record. Will Maiden do the same to PlayStation's round the island record? Another contender will be the French 60ft trimaran (formerly Primagaz) of the Bourgnon brothers. Now renamed Rexona Men (the French brand name for 'Sure' deodorant!) she will be carrying corporate guests from Deutsche Bank. If conditions are light the nimble tri could beat the giant cat.
The Island Sailing Club have their fingers crossed for another windy weekend so more records can tumble. "We're looking at the forecast everyday and it could be a southerly breeze which could be record breaking," Bob Milner of the ISC told madfor sailing. On the day, Milner will assist David Atkinson, who will be the Chief Race Officer for the eighth consecutive year.
"We've got this high pressure system coming over, but whether it's going to establish itself or be a passing phase like every other one is unknown at present. We'll have a better picture by Wednesday."
At the same time, if the breeze doesn't materialise, the organisers are making contingency plans for shortening the world famous course as the final start will be later than usual this year. "We wanted to run the race on July 6th which had the best tides, but it is too near to Ford Cork Week so we've had to come back into June," continues Milner. "The last start will be at 10am so if it's light airs we may well be shortening the race at Bembridge Ledge and we're gearing up to do that."
There are a few other minor amendments to take note of. Milner continues: "We have waiting areas that are slightly safer than last year so yachts don't go anywhere near the start line and we've transferred one of the finishes to the other line so balance it out. All the sportsboats will finish on the southern line to get a better spread."
"There are no radical changes as everything seems to work after 66 years."
Sadly, no one company has stumped up the cash for title sponsorship, but the ISC have pulled in four race partners in Red Funnel, Marina Developments, Champagne Mumm and Ocean World.
Sponsorship or not, next to line honours and records, the big prize of the day remains to be the Gold Roman Bowl for the fastest corrected time for an IRC rated yacht, which was won by Peter Morton's Mandrake last year. Morton is intent on holding onto the trophy in 2002 and has assembled an all-star cast to crew his Mills 50 design, including Adam Gosling, David Howlett and Volvo Ocean Race bowman Damian "Shredda" Duke from News Corp.
Morton has now won the race three times but like everybody will wait until the big day before making his final judgement on whether it will be victory number four this Saturday. "It all depends on the breaks in the breeze. Coming up the Solent if the wind changes and the little boats beat and we reach then we're in with a chance," he said.
Morton is quick to acknowledge that without the breaks, it is as easy to come 101st, 102nd or 103rd, as it is first, second or third in such a large and diverse fleet.
Irrespective of the breeze, when Robin Aisher, Admiral of the ISC, fires the start cannon for the first time from the Royal Yacht Squadron line at 8am, another page in yachting history will be written.
madfor sailing will have correspondents on yachts at the very front and the absolute back of the fleet and will be bring you the complete story of this sailing marathon.