A STRAPPING Christchurch youngster is set to sail against Olympic champion Ben Ainslie as he prepares to compete in one of the world’s major regattas.

Fourteen-year-old Jack Arnell from Christ-church Sailing Club junior squad, will be attracting as much attention as the big names when he competes as the youngest ever sailor to try his hand in this month’s Finn Gold Cup at Falmouth.

The next youngest competing junior will be five years his senior.

Jack, who is already 6ft 2in and weighs in at 14 stones 11 pounds, is the ideal height and build to cope with the demands of the challenging racing dinghy.

A pupil at Bournemouth’s Tregonwell Academy, Jack has admitted to feeling ‘pretty nervous’ but added: “I’m going there to have fun and see how I compare against all the others.

“I’m looking forward to it.”

And he will not be short of home support as four other Finn helms from his club have also qualified for the Gold event, making this the biggest entry from any one club in the UK.

They include 72-year-old Tony Lock, the oldest but one of all 90 sailors expected to compete, Andy Denison, chairman of the British Finn Association, Rory Barnes, the association’s secretary and Simon Percival.

Despite his tender years Jack is no newcomer to the water.

His racing career started in Christchurch harbour at the age of four, and by the end of his first season he was going solo in his own Topper and experiencing his first capsize.

He fell in love with the Finn while watching the sailing at the Beijing Olympics and when Lymington sailor Ben Ainslie gained his third medal in China, Jack leaned heavily on his dad, Jon to acquire his own boat.

Former Olympic coach and Christchurch sailor Andy Rushworth, who has taken him under his wing, said: “It is exceptional for someone his age to sail a boat so well.”