OLYMPIC hero Sir Ben Ainslie has issued a ‘call to arms’ to seasoned sailors and landlubbers alike ahead of this year’s Round the Island Race.

Sir Ben, the world's greatest ever Olympic sailor, described the world renowned 50-mile sprint around the Isle of Wight as an “amazing experience” – and urged anyone who can to join the 16,000 competitors who will be racing this year.

The Lymington sailor also confirmed he will be among those on the start-line – although he won’t be sailing the high-tech 45ft catamaran in which he smashed the course record last year.

This year’s event, held on June 21, is the 83rd since it was first held in 1931 with a fleet of just 25 boats.

Well over a thousand boats are expected to take part this year turning the Solent into a spectacle of colour.

Four time gold medallist Sir Ben said: “I’ll be racing as always and I’m really looking forward to it. “It’s a unique event and every year the numbers just seem to go up and up – this year it’s looking like there will be 16,000 people taking part. “It’s a fantastic race which is guaranteed to always be different thanks to the weather.”

In 2013 Sir Ben and his small crew blitzed round the course, starting an finishing in Cowes, in a record two hours, 52 minutes and 15 seconds.

Afterwards Ainslie dedicated the record to his close friend and fellow Olympian Andrew Simpson who tragically died in a training accident for the America’s Cup in May 2013.

Sir Ben added: “Last year was an amazing race – to break the record and to do it in memory of Andrew was incredible. “It was very special for all of us. If this year can be anywhere close to that it’ll be a great day.

“The thing that makes the race so special is the inclusivity of it. “You’ve got hardened professionals racing against people who may never have been sailing before. “Thanks to the handicap system you can be out there on any size boat and stand a chance of winning. “It’s a lot of fun whether you’re a sailor or a non-sailor and it’s a real achievement to get around the course. “It’s something everyone should do once in their lives. “If you get an invitation you’ve got to take it up because it’s an amazing experience. “You never know if you might take to sailing if you don’t try it.”