IT is one of the most iconic images of the region – the brightly coloured sails of hundreds of yachts packing the Solent before squeezing out round The Needles.
Tomorrow sees the 77th edition of the world’s largest single yacht race, the J.P Morgan Asset Management Round the Island Race, take place off Hampshire’s shores.
Almost 1,500 yachts with about 13,000 sailors will descend for the world famous 50 nautical mile race around the Isle of Wight.
As ever, the historic 55-mile race has an early start – with the gun firing at 6.30am setting the first wave of competitors on their way from the Royal Yacht Squadron in Cowes.
The Solent will become a mass of sails as the racing yachts all squeeze through Hurst Race and out round the treacherous Needles.
The fleets will then round St Catherine's Point, Bembridge Ledge and pass Palmerston Forts to the finish line outside Cowes.
And you don't have to be out on the water to enjoy the spectacle of the race - a dedicated race village has been set up in Cowes to keep landlubbers entertained all day long.
Hundreds of Hampshire sailors will be taking part in the race, including some rockstars of the sailing world.
Topping the bill is four-time Olympic gold medallist Sir Ben Ainslie.
Sir Ben set the outright race record last year, going round the course in 2 hours 52 minutes 15 seconds on his AC45 catamaran.
Sir Ben shaved more than 16 minutes off Francis Joyon’s previous record time that was set in 2001.
But fellow Hampshire sailor Pete Cumming is hot favourite to set a new record on his GC32 foiling catamaran.
Cumming, a close friend of Ainslie’s, said: “Having won line honours five years ago on an Extreme 40, and with Sir Ben setting such an impressive record on his AC45 last year, the Foiling GC32 was the obvious choice to race this year.
“We have been training on the boat in Austria and the UK before the Round the Island Race, and we're hoping that conditions are favourable.”
Among other famous sailors participating is Dame Ellen McAthur and Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, as well as Rio Olympic hopefuls Luke Patience and Elliot Willis and Beijing gold medallist Pippa Wilson. “I love the race,” said Sir Ben. “It’s very inclusive. You see all types of boats and levels of sailors.
It’s just a fantastic day out, so whether we’ll break the record or not we’ll have a lot of fun.”
The boats cross the start line in Cowes in eleven separate groups, in staggered times. They head west towards Yarmouth before passing round the Needles Lighthouse. Competitorstravel along the south-west coast to St. Catherine’s Point and then up across Sandown Bay to round the Bembridge Ledge Buoy.
The fleet then makes its way either side of No Man’s Land Fort and across Osborne Bay to the finish line back at Cowes.
The first race was organised in 1931 with 25 boats taking part. It is now one of the largest yacht races in the world, among the UK’s biggest participation sporting events after the London Marathon and the Great North and South Runs.