Some 56 teams are lining up for the classic two-handed Round Britain & Ireland race

Next weekend sees the start of one of the great classics of offshore racing: the Shetland-sponsored Round Britain and Ireland Race.

There’s a great line-up of ambitious solo sailors, 56 teams of mainly amateur sailor but with some well-known professionals or semi-professionals spicing up the mix. In particular there’s a good fleet of Class 40s which, in themselves, should have a very tight race on this difficult course.

Of the better known exponents, Alex Bennett and Malcolm Dickenson on Fujifilm (pictured above) will be up against Dutch sailor Nico Budel and Jules Banffer on Hayai, former OSTAR sailor Marco Nannini and Paul Peggs on Sungard Front Arena, and one of Steve Fossett’s PlayStation crew, Nick Leggatt with Philippa Hutton-Squire on Phesya Racing.

Among the other entries, I’m keeping a close eye on Pip Hare. She did the OSTAR last year in her Lightwave 395 The Shed under her married name Hildesley and sent us excellent blogs.

I’ll also be interested to see how Mary Falk does in her custom designed QII. Mary, a solicitor from Lymington, is in remission from cancer and in the last few years has raised tens of thousands of pounds for a cancer charity through her solo sailing. She is a hero of mine.

And I’m looking forward to seeing how my old friend – or rather longtime friend – Chris Tibbs fares with co-skipper Kim Vasey in Chris’s new J/105 Taika. Chris says the boat represents his “mid-life crisis”. Some crisis.

Chris is an excellent sailor, not to mention a professional meteorologist and top navigator (also ex-PlayStation’s round the world record crew) and I’ll be closely watching how they get on.

Incidentally, when I saw Chris recently he said he’d been looking at the historical weather data from the last races and records round the British Isles in summer. And he’d come to the conclusion that the fleet could get anything, from storms to flat calms, upwind all the way or downwind.

At least that’s beginning to come into focus, with possible light easterlies at the start before the wind comes ahead for the traditional upwind leg to the first 48-hour stop and refreshment stop at Kinsale, near Cork.

More details on the fleet from the Royal Western YC website. I will be reporting on some of the crews taking part later in the week.

In the meantime, I’m off to sail a restored classic in Antibes. Someone’s gotta do it. More on that shortly…