What conditions will the eight boats and thousands of spectators turning up for the start of the Volvo Ocean Race have to contend with

It is certain that the start of this year’s globe-girdling grand prix – formerly the Whitbread, now the Volvo Ocean Race – will not begin with the gloriously sunny, southerly-powered reach west down the Solent that got the last Whitbread off to such a stunning start.

It will still be a downwind start with northeast/easterly breezes but the sun looks like being a stranger all day and, looking at the synoptics, the Met Office forecast Force 4-5 seems a little alarmist. The distribution of isobars would tend to suggest something along the lines of a Force 3, building to perhaps Force 4 later this afternoon.

The slight increase will be due to a high pressure system off Norway moving south during the day, nudging a fast moving northeasterly-bound low pressure over France. Isobars will move together near their confluence will squeeze to the east and fill the occluded low over the Baltic. The overcast, showery conditions offer very little chance of a sea breeze for the 1500 start.

Predicted high water at Portsmouth is 1624, so the eight-boat fleet should start with the tide more or less slack, leaving the local experts to hunt out the favourable streams in the cleared racing channel and gain an early advantage. A west-going tide will sweep them west and out of the Needles, reducing the apparent wind as it builds.

If you’re going out on the water – be extremely careful. Keep your eyes peeled and take all the recommended safety measures. The erratic motion of the armada of spectators, shepherded by the official marshalls, kicks up a hideous chop. At the previous Whitbread start, there were several collisions – most notably between the Chris Dickson-helmed Toshiba and a spectator boat. It looks like being quite chilly so take a flask of something warm and grab some waterproofs.

There are plenty of excellent vantage points on the mainland and island shores. Hurst Narrows is the best on the mainland, as the fleet squeezes together and the earliest indications of race positions emerge. Egypt Point, West Cowes is the best position for watching the start.

Take care and enjoy the start of this, the world’s most prestigious crewed ocean racing event.