Ben Ainslie among those competing in the Round the Island Race

Nearly 1,500 yachts have entered the race around the Isle of Wight

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The Independent Online

Sunshine and a fast race track are being promised for the nearly 1,500 yachts entered for Saturday’s J. P. Morgan Round the Island (of Wight) Race, including the sponsor’s favourite son, Ben Ainslie.

The recently knighted quadruple gold plus silver Olympic medallist has brought his Ben Ainslie Racing AC45, the 45-foot version of the 72-foot America’s Cup wing-powered catamaran, to Cowes but needed to keep a very careful eye on the weather.

Too much wind would have made any attempt at the race and the multihull record of 3hrs 8mins 29secs too risky for him and his crew New Zealander Andrew McLean, America’s Cup veteran Matt Cornwell, and fellow Finn singlehanders Andrew Mills and Mark Andrews. Defending Extreme Series champion Mark Bulkeley, nursing broken bones in his right hand, coaches,

They were all due to attend the memorial service on Friday for Andrew ‘Bart’ Simpson, himself a former Finn sailor, a double medallist in the Star with Iain Percy, and killed while training on an AC72 recently on San Francisco Bay.

The forecast of 10 to 15 knots from the north-west and north should speed the fleet down the Solent as it begins its 50-mile anti-clockwise course around the island and it could even be sunny as the day progresses. But the first starters at 05.00 will need protection against the chill. Ainslie and co., due to start at 05.10, will be back for breakfast.

Not quite so quick but hoping to set a personal best is Alex Thomson, third this year in the Vendée Globe round the world singlehander. His Open 60 Hugo Boss has been through a complete refit, tweaked to inshore racing mode, and is going on to contest the Rolex Fastnet in August, doublehanded with Guillermo Altadil.

Having Jenson Button on board was looking increasingly unlikely but, then, when Lewis Hamilton was on board for the 2008 race there was a start-line shunt. What was in his sights was a personal best. The ATR works team had a first objective of beating his time of 4hr 20min set in 2004.

“I’m looking forward to racing with so many thousands of other people, but you have to keep your wits about you,” said Thomson. “Stay out of trouble has been my mission for the last few years, but this is the London Marathon of sailing and we will enjoy that.” 

Largest, and the current monohull record holder, is Mike Slade’s 100-foot Leopard and attracting special interest is the 30-foot Collective Spirit, made from contributions of wood from over 1,200 people, including a sliver from a Jimi Hendrix guitar.

Also conceived as a work of art for the 2012 Olympics, the man who built her, Mark Covell also hopes that the RTI will signal a busy future afloat. “It will be the start of her life as a charter boat, giving people the chance to enjoy the exciting experience of sailing her at the same time as appreciating her as a working piece of art.”

Covell will not be back for breakfast, and there will be many who will still be finishing their race well after lunch.