A FORMER NHS trust chairman is set to go head-to-head with four-time Olympic gold medallist Sir Ben Ainslie in a 50-mile yachting race.

Brigadier Johnny Wardle, of Ripon, and an eight-member crew including his son, James, will be among 16,000 sailors racing round the Isle of Wight, on Saturday, June 21.

The JP Morgan Asset Management Round the Island Race is the UK’s fourth largest participation sports event after the London Marathon and the Great North and South Runs.

The race is unique as enthusiastic amateurs race alongside big names from sailing, with entrants this year including Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first man to perform a single-handed non-stop circumnavigation of the world.

Lifelong sailing enthusiast Brig Wardle, who was taught to sail by his godfather, the 1948 London Olympic Swallow class sailing gold medallist, Stewart Morris, won the national Swallow Championships in 1968.

He then sailed Dragons, including with Lt Commander Graham Mann, formerly the Queen’s Sailing Master, who helmed Bluebottle - a 1948 wedding gift to The Queen and Prince Phillip - to bronze at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

He said: “I had some wonderful sailing tutors. Stewart was my father’s best friend and he never forgot a race.

“He had extraordinary foresight, was always one step ahead of the fleet and never allowed his crew to be surprised. It was the most incredible education.

“Graham was another wonderful yachtsman with incredible racing experience and knowledge. What I learned from him stood me in very good stead. Both James and Alex have taken that on now and are very competitive."

Brig Wardle, who completed his military service in 1995, has undertaken a number of senior roles within the NHS, including as chairman of the Friarage Hospital and Northallerton Health Services NHS Trust and NHS North Yorkshire and York Primary Care Trust, will compete in the yacht Aelana, which his family has restored.

He said: “When we bought Aelana she had been ashore five years and pretty well everything had seized up. But having restored her, we wasted no time in going racing.

“This year we’re adding Cowes Week, and next year is the Royal Yacht Squadron bi-centenary, which includes a number of high profile events and regattas.

"We loved our Round the Island Race last year and are looking forward to this.”