A Royal visitor will welcome up to 20 Sail Training vessels crewed by 200 youngsters as they arrive in Portland tomorrow.

The Countess of Wessex will be at the Sailing academy to see the fleet, which is part of the London to Portland Small Ships Race.

Their arrival marks the start of an exciting weekend, which includes a visit from Her Royal Highness to the moored boats at Portland Marina, and racing close to Nothe Fort and Weymouth Beach, as well as a visit and prizegiving at the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy on Saturday.

The London to Portland Small Ships Race gives young people between the ages of 12 and 25 an opportunity to work as a team to tackle the challenges that the everyday operation of a large Sail Training vessel entails, including sailing, cooking and keeping a lookout.

The fleet will comprise up to 20 small ships, which are up to 90 feet long, and will include Gipsy Moth IV, Pegasus and Pelican of London. John Tweed, chief executive of the academy said: “June is already a hugely busy month at the academy and we’re lucky to have such a diverse mix of sailors at our venue.

“The London to Portland Small Ships Race is a fantastic way to connect the 2012 sailing venue to London itself this summer.

“We feel this race is particularly important for us as it provides a wonderful opportunity for a range of young people to experience the delights of sailing aboard boats that are more traditional in origin and take on an important role within the crew.”

After they complete their voyage from London, the boats will then race on Saturday in Weymouth Bay.

The race will be started by HM Lord-Lieutenant of Dorset, Mrs Anthony Pitt-Rivers, at 11am by firing cannons from the ramparts of Nothe Fort.

Residents and visitors to the borough are being encouraged to turn out and watch the spectacle as these ‘extraordinary vessels’ race around Weymouth Bay.

The race is expected to last around four hours, and some ideal viewing areas for the public are from the Nothe Gardens and Weymouth Beach.

The event will be followed by a prizegiving at WPNSA at 6pm.

The fleet will disperse the following day.

For more information, and to download the race guide which can be used to identify the participating vessels, visit the website at smallshipsrace