Foster seeking fifth World Indoor Bowls Championships title at Potters

Bowls and boats may seem strange bedfellows, but Drake's ancient sport, it seems, has set sail for uncharted waters.

Strange but true – the World Indoor Championships, which get underway at Potters Leisure Resort Hopton-on-Sea later this week, are to be sponsored by Fred Olsen Cruise Lines.

The sport's flagship event, which will attract record audiences, and will be watched by viewers all over the world, is making its 14th appearance at the Norfolk resort, which has rightly acquired the tag of the Wembley or Wimbledon of Bowls.

Previously, Potters not only provided the venue but bankrolled the event – they are proud to have invested more than �3m in the sport since 1999.

With 14 indoor rinks, and more outdoors for summer use, Potters has specialised in hosting bowls holidays, and bowlers from all over the UK keep the place ticking over nicely during the winter months.

With their eyes always open for innovation, the Potters family have recently teamed up with Fred Olsen Cruise Lines to offer no-fly cruises.

A trip around the British Isles, with stops in key ports for a game of bowls, is likely to appeal to the more adventurous bowler, who many be seeking a holiday with a difference.

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So, while Drake famously dallied on Plymouth Hoe, keeping the Spaniards waiting while he finished his game of bowls, a new breed of bowler is actually getting on board with woods and jacks in mind.

Whoever comes out on top at the end of a hectic fortnight will pocket a first prize of �40,000, but the winner is certain to encounter choppy waters before lifting the trophy aloft.

Favourites for the title include Scotland's dynamic duo Paul Foster, the world number one and holder, who has already won the title four times, and his pal, five-times champion Alex Marshall.

The host country has an array of aspirants ready to meet the Scottish challenge, with Mervyn King, from the Gallow club in Fakenham, and Greg Harlow, from City of Ely, both strong contenders.

King, who won the title in 2006, faces Scotland's Wayne Hogg, from Markinch, in the first round, while 2010 champion Harlow comes up against the national outdoor champion, David Bolt, from Stanley.

Tim Stone, an academic book buyer from Norfolk, who plays his bowls for Acle and is pushing for a place in the World Bowls Tour top 16, plays world number three Darren Burnett, a Dundee policeman.

Apart from the 'open' singles, for which no women have qualified this year, the world pairs, the mixed pairs and the women's Matchplay singles are all up for grabs.

As usual, BBC TV cameras will be arriving during the second week to cover the final stages of all four competitions, but it is possible to follow the action online from Saturday.

Competitors from 11 countries have already begun to arrive at Potters, where preliminary rounds start on Thursday.

• Saturday sees the sport's equivalent of the Oscars, when the great and the good receive awards at a World Bowls Tour Gala Dinner and Awards Ceremony – tickets available from Potters Leisure Resort

The awards include Player of the Year (nominations Paul Foster, Alex Marshall, Ali Merrien), Young Player of the Year (Andrew Barker, Lee Rowland, Kerry Packwood), Best Qualifying Performance (Rob Paxton, Brett Arkley, Wayne Hogg), Performance of the Year (Ali Merrien, Paul Foster, Mervyn King), Fans' Player of the Year (Greg Harlow, Mervyn King, Andy Thomson) and Players' Player of the Year (Paul Foster, Mervyn King, Rob Paxton).