Alex Thomson will be aiming to continue his excellent year when he takes part in his second Rolex Fastnet Race on Sunday.

Gosport-based Thomson finished second at the Vendee Globe in January, securing the 24-hour solo world distance record.

Now he is preparing to compete in the IMOCA 60 class having finished third in the 2013 Fastnet.

This year the race is part of the IMOCA Oceanmasters World Series and Alex, like other skippers, will be racing with an eye on competition and training.

The Fastnet, which starts in Cowes, is the world’s largest offshore sailing race with 400 boats and over 4,000 crew expected at this year’s start line.

Racing onboard his record breaking HUGO BOSS IMOCA 60, Thomson will be joined onboard by Irish sailor Nicholas O’Leary, for the 600-mile race around the Fastnet Rock, in Ireland.

The race takes the boats from the Solent out through the English Channel, around the Fastnet Rock and finishes just off Plymouth.

Notoriously testing, often in gale-force winds, it tests even the most experienced of offshore sailors.

“I always look forward to rounding the Fastnet Rock,” says Alex.

“I’m excited to be back racing in the Fastnet and it’s great to see a good turnout of IMOCA boats on the start line, with some new competitors on the circuit. It’s fantastic for the sport to see so many boats on the water.”

There is plenty of other local interest.

Hamble-based Sailing Logic, a ‘Sailing Centre of Excellence,’ have five Beneteau First 40 entries in the race: Lancelot II, Arthur, Rocket Dog II, Winston and Dusty P - each with a professional skipper, mate and crew.

Lymington yacht salesman Nigel Colley ‘s third Rolex Fastnet Race is about unfinished business. “In 2015 we made an error which took us into the Scilly Isles’ TSS (traffic separation scheme) on the return leg,” he explains.

“Everything about this race is a challenge.”

This year Nigel will be sailing onboard Sun Fast 3200RS, a new boat launched in March this year.

Hampshire-based Joe Henry will be skippering a Royal Navy crew on the Jolly Jack Tar. Following great results in the highly competitive Inter-Service competitions and having secured the J/109 Championship in 2016, they are hopeful of a fine result.

“The Fastnet represents one of the most challenging and varied races in the world, and is always a rewarding experience,” says Henry, a veteran of three Fastnets.

“Based on the racing we have seen this year, I’m expecting a close and competitive fleet, particularly among the J/109s. The key will be maintaining concentration and pushing ourselves and the boat to achieve the best result we can.”

It will be the last Fastnet for the Gosport-based Joint Services Adventurous Sail Training Centre’s fleet of Nicholson 55s which have also been used for training and expeditions for the last 40 years.

The JSASTC’s Dasher will be skippered by Gosport’s Ian Conchie and the crew includes Tony Stanley-Adams, of Romsey.

Hamble’s Miranda Merron will be joining forces with Halvard Mabire, of France, onboard their Class40, Campagne de France.

Former Southampton University students George Thompson and Toby Mumford will be racing Jonty Layfield’s Sleeper II, J/11 together.

George and Toby studied Ship Science together at Southampton. “We are excited for the challenge of sailing doublehand,” says George. “It’s a great way to learn each aspect of sailing.”

Lockerley’s Kirsteen Donaldson will be racing her X332, Pyxis with Judith Eastwood.

She has been racing the boat since 1997, focusing on shorthanded sailing.

During the last decade she has sailed around 7,000nm two-handed with Judith – including passages to Spain, Portugal and competing in the Round Ireland Race three times.

“Since Judith moved to the US in 2011 we’ve been limited to one major event a year – this year it’s the Rolex Fastnet Race”, says Kirsteen. “We’ve made it into the top 100 of the fleet and won a medallion in class so we’d like to improve on that this year.”

Two crews are competing in the Fastnet for charity. 

Farehams Dream or Two Sailing, owners of Fortissimo, are using their Class40 to raise money for the Andrew Simpson Sailing Foundation, during the 600-mile race from Cowes. 

They have also offered a scholarship to dinghy instructor Cat Hunt, 18, who will be on board. 

Southampton’s Bill Blain returns with his Comet 41S Batfish V to raise funds for Sail 4 Cancer and Wessex Heartbeat, having recently had a triple heart bypass operation. 

Experienced duo Bob Clitherow and Flic Gabbay, of Milford on Sea, will race their Elixir, Elan 380 as one of the few mixed crews.