Round the Island Race - Sun shines on Cowes, excitement rises

JP Morgan Asset Management Round The Island Race, 2012. Part of the fleet under spinnaker near Ventnor
On the eve of this year's Round the Island Race, the competitors are unanimous in their excitement as they look forward to tomorrow's rounding of the Isle of Wight in the iconic event.

At today's packed pre-Race press conference at the Island Sailing Club in Cowes, there was a mix of guests interviewed on stage by MC Tracey 'TC' Clarke, ranging from Dame Ellen MacArthur to 90-year old competitor Ray Moxley and Emily Sarsfield, Britain's Ski Cross Champion who is sailing for the first time! Here's an overview with some of the highlights.

One of the more distinctive boats entered this year is Collective Spirit, a 30ft sportsboat built as an arts project for last year's Cultural Olympiad out of hundreds of wooden objects donated by the public.

'This is the first race Collective Spirit has entered,' says Gregg Whelan of Lone Twin, creator of the project. 'We're really excited that she is doing the race - parts of more than 140 different boats were incorporated in her construction, including the Mary Rose, Victory and Ark Royal, as well as former Prime Minister Ted Heath's Morning Cloud lll, which won the race three times.'

Actual, the French Multi 50 Trimaran, bears off for maximum speed around the Needles, eventually taking line honours in today’s J.P. Morgan Asset Management Round the Island Race 2012

The Round the Island Race has always attracted sailors from different backgrounds and from across the generations - hence the 'Race for All' tag line and Twitter hashtag #raceforall. Ray Moxleywill be racing RA, a new 40ft catamaran of his own design. 'This is a really exciting occasion,' he says, 'the people you meet are a wonderful crowd and you make friends wherever you go. It's a breeding ground for friendship, sharing and being nice to everyone.'

The formal press conference at lunchtime was sadly overshadowed by the funeral of Olympic and America's Cup sailor Andrew 'Bart' Simpson, a good friend and colleague of many of the professional sailors that will be racing tomorrow. Tracey led a tribute, during which the Island Sailing Club's ensign also flew at half-mast.

Over the event's eight years of sponsorship by J.P. Morgan Asset Management, more than £500,000 has been raised for charity. This year, J.P. Morgan's ninth year of sponsorship, the official charity is once again the Ellen MacArthur CancerTrust.'This is a very special race and it's extraordinary to be part of it,' says founder and Patron Dame Ellen MacArthur.

'It's a great adventure and from the Trust's perspective, for the young people to come back to us and sail around the Isle of Wight is a great experience that brings a huge amount to them. They are the most inspirational people you'll ever meet.'

Olympic gold medallist Ben Ainslie at the helm of the 162ft schooner, Eleonora, rounding The Needles, J.P. Morgan Asset Management Round the Island Race 2012

'We absolutely love the race' adds Jasper Berens, Head of UK at J.P. Morgan Asset Management. 'It's an amazing race to do, yet it's achievable for anyone who's never raced before. We will have 300 staff and clients racing on Beneteau 40.7s - they all want to win as much as Ben [Ainslie] or Alex [Thomson].'

As well as the many thousands of amateur sailors, the race is also one that attracts the top professionals in the sport. Alex Thomson took third place earlier this year in the gruelling Vendée Globe non-stop single-handed round the world race, will be skippering his Open 60 Hugo Boss.

'The Round the Island is a bit like the London Marathon,' Thompson says, 'It allows amateurs to compete in exactly the same race as professional sailors. I'm feeling at least as nervous as before the start of the Vendée Globe Race. It's really tough with 1,000 boats on the start line - my biggest goal is not to hit any other boats!'

While the forecast winds look too light for ICAP Leopard to break the record she set five years ago, it looks more promising for Sir Ben, the most successful Olympic sailor ever, who will be racing his 45ft wingsail America's Cup catamaran JP Morgan BAR. We will know more at 0545 tomorrow morning - that's the time at which Ainslie needs to reach the Needles to match the initial speed of the current record holder, Francis Joyon's Dexia Eure et Loire
in 2001. There's all to play for.

Round the Island Race website

A great turn out of media & guests for today's pre-race Press Conference - 2013 Round the Island Race
Patrick Eden