A COTSWOLD sailor will be flying the flag for Gloucestershire when he makes his J.P. Morgan Asset Management Round the Island Race debut this year.
John Stoker, of Bourton-on-the-Hill, will be among 16,000 sailors set to tackle the famous 50 nautical mile course around the Isle of Wight, on Saturday, June 21.
Now in its 83rd year, the race is organised by the Island Sailing Club and regularly attracts more than 1,700 boats.
Mr Stoker is hoping he and his five-strong crew aboard his yacht, Sidney II – or S2 for short - can beat their arch-rival boat, Sail Funk, skippered by old Gloucestershire friend, Neil Lawrence.
“The competition with Sail Funk will be fierce," he said. "We are very rude to each other, but we are all great friends really. Neil, or Captain Lawrence as we call him, now lives on the Isle of Wight, where he charters out Sail Funk, but the rivalry isn’t any less intense.
“We’ve got two cut-class crystal vases as prizes – one for first over the line and one for the winner on handicap - and the most important part, a 50p wager."
Enthusiastic amateurs racers will compete alongside big names from sailing, sport and entertainment, including Britain’s most successful Olympic sailor, Sir Ben Ainslie, who will again take part in this year’s race.
Mr Stoker first tried to get on to the race start line two years ago, but engine problems on the his boat’s journey up from her former home in Falmouth, Cornwall meant they had to pull out.
“We were bitterly disappointed not to have been able to race two years ago, but we couldn’t go into the race without a serviceable engine, if for whatever reason, we had to retire," he said. "That was on a previous boat though, and I hope S2 brings a change of race fortune.
"One of the great things about this race is for most competitors it is not really about the winning. We don’t do a lot of racing, but we are looking forward to this one very much.”
The race starts at 6.30am on the Royal Yacht Squadron line in Cowes.
The Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust is again the official race charity for 2014 and for every #raceforall tweet, J.P. Morgan will donate £1 to the Ellen MacArthur Cancer Trust.
John and his crewmates have all independently donated to the charity ahead of the race.
For more information about the race, visit roundtheisland.org.uk or follow @RoundTheIsland on Twitter.