This weekend, 1779 boats have entered into the JP Morgan sponsored Round the Island Race in the UK. While the eXtreme 40’s will have crews of 5, some of the yachts will have many more. If you assume that the average crew is eight, then that puts the number of competitors in the race at a shade under 15,000. Apart from the London Marathon, there can’t be many UK sporting events that attract so many competitors on one day.
The parallels with the marathon don’t stop there. Traffic is stopped, multiple start lines are arranged and while this is a chance for the ‘celebrities’ to come out -sailing and otherwise, the race is a fantastic show of the strength of sailing as a competitive activity. Entries are down by about 100 on last year which is only 5%, but the PR people will be fighting hard to make their boat the one out of 1779 that stands out.
Last year’s PR race was won by Hugo Boss. Skipper Alex Thomson was joined by Ben Ainslie and F1 start Lewis Hamilton to take all the Sunday headlines. This year, the multihulls seem to be best placed to attract the most attention, although by the time most spectators wake up, they may be already finished.
Amongst the big names are Francis Joyon sailing his record breaking 100 ft trimaran IDEC. Several eXtreme 40s will be attempting the race, though the forecast is not for as much wind as last year, sailing one of these boats around the back of the Isle of Wight was not exactly what they were designed for. Ben Ainslie will be back, dropping the Troia Portugal Match Cup round of the World Match Racing Tour to join Mike Sanderson on the TEAMORIGIN cat. The two Oman Sail eXtreme 40s will be sailing as well as the man who invented the class Herbert Derksen.
Part of the allure of the X40 is that is can be competed in events outside of the iShares Cup. Given the huge number of competitors that will be on the water on Saturday, having a branded 40 foot boat flying a hull at marginal expense is a pretty good way to add value to your sponsorship campaign. No doubt the Open 60s that will be competing in the race have similar goals, as the race provides the perfect opportunity to let VIP guests and media come along for the ride.
But while ICAP, IDEC, JP Morgan, Artemis and others battle it out at the front, the real star of the show is sailing. 3558+ sails filling the solent (2 per boat) is a sight that is absolutely inspiring. If the wind is blowing right and they get their colorful spinakers up it is even more of a spectacle. Add to that the benefit on the local economy and you have an event that rivals any other sport on almost any measure. But will it make the news?