World rivals are aiming to have wind in their sails on Belfast Lough
An international fleet from around the world is today assembling on Belfast Lough as Ballyholme Yacht Club prepare to host the 2016 Topper Class World Championships.
With competitors travelling from as far as China, Australia and Thailand, the prestigious competition starts today and continues until Friday. The last time the event took place in Northern Ireland was in 2000, when it was held in Cushendall.
The Topper Worlds comprises two World Championship series. The first is made up of competitors using the standard 5.3m2 sail, and has over 150 entrants. The second is comprised of approximately 50 boats using the smaller 4.2m2 sails.
Altogether, sailors from 10 countries across four continents have descended on Ballyholme.
China has sent a team of 32 sailors, the largest entry from outside Europe, and the third largest country group overall in the Championships.
The second largest entry is from Great Britain, while for the first time ever, the largest entry is from Ireland with a total of 84 sailors. Other countries represented are Turkey, Macau, Japan, South Africa, Australia, Thailand and France.
An impressive 200 sailors are expected to take part, who together with their coaches, family members and supporters will attract over 700 visitors to Northern Ireland.
Mark Mackey, the Commodore of Ballyholme Yacht Club, commented: "We are looking forward to extending a very warm welcome to all our visitors - whether competitors, coaches, family, friends, volunteers or those who have simply come along to watch.
"We have a very strong tradition of delivering fantastic sailing events both on and off the water. We are very grateful to the ITCA for awarding us the privilege of hosting the 2016 World Championships.
"It is fantastic to see so many entries from so many different countries and we especially welcome the large Chinese party. We wish all the competitors a great week of enjoyable and fair sailing and may the best Topper sailor win in both the standard and 4.2 fleet."
Royal Yacht Association NI Chief Operating Officer, Richard Honeyford, added: "It is very exciting to have an event of this scale hosted at Ballyholme Yacht Club. We are looking forward to welcoming teams and their supporters from all over the world.
"This is an excellent opportunity for us to showcase our beautiful Belfast Lough on the global stage to over 700 visitors, as well as highlighting the skill of our competitors and the warmth of our supporters.
"Toppers are a great way for young and not-so-young competitors to get involved. The youngest competitor will be seven-years-old while the oldest is 61, highlighting that sailing is a sport for life.
"At RYANI we wish all competitors the best of luck and look forward to a thrilling week of competition."
The competition is being supported by Ards and North Down Borough Council.