Round the Island is cause for celebration

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When the 1,368 entrants line up off Cowes this morning for the 60th annual Round the Island (of Wight) Race it will be a celebration of the growing popularity of recreational maritime competition and a further unhappy contrast with how the top end of big- boat racing is being managed.

The 50-mile circumnavigation-cum-jamboree has a new sponsor, the Hoya optical lens maker. They are happy to back a settled product, as are Skandia Life for Cowes Week and the Hackett clothing company for the International Etchells.

However, talk of the Admiral's or America's Cup and Britain struggles to raise a team, find a sponsor, or be confident enough to put its cards on the table.

The Round the Island will be raced under the Cruising Handicap System, which has worked remarkably well for a long time. The grand-prix end has been led down the International Measurement System route, which is close to imploding.

But while the professionals debate the disarray at the top, the main huddles have been about what today's weather will bring. The forecast is for fresh north-westerlies, ideal for a fast getaway west out of the Solent and around the Needles.

Mike Slade - whose monohull record of five hours, 35min 18sec was set on the 80-foot Ocean Leopard in 1991- returns with a newer maxi, Hoya Longabarda.