By the end of the skipper's meeting held yesterday evening for the granddaddy of them all - Antigua Sailing Week - 211 boats in 16 classes were registered and preparing for the first start gun this morning off English Harbour.
Twenty-eight yachts 60 feet plus have gathered with the fastest monohull in the world, Mari Cha IV, leading the charge. Twenty-four countries are represented with Russia and Hungary entering for the first time. A total of 28 Swans are competing - a record for Antigua Sailing Week - and a king's ransom of international sailing talent that is hard to keep track of is scattered through the fleet.
In racing Big Boat I, Mari Cha IV, the superfast ocean greyhound which recently smashed the trans-Atlantic record is up against the two canting keel maxZ86 sleds Morning Glory and Pyewacket, Titan 12, the Reichel Pugh 75, Farr 70 Atalanta II, Bill ALCOTT'S Andrews 70 Equation, and Volvo 60s Venom and Spirit. While all eyes are on Mari Cha and the maxZ86s, Titan could sneak in under the wire. Titan's owner Tom HILL is joined by Alinghian Peter HOLMBERG as tactician this season. Holmberg recently added Alinghi team-mates Richard BOUZAID and Josh BELKSY to main trim and pit respectively. Titan recently gave Pyewacket a run for her money in the BVI Spring Regatta winning five of the seven races.
Racing Big Boat II pits the likes of Mike SLADE'S 90-foot Leopard of London against Peter HARRISON'S 115-foot ketch Sojana, All Smoke, a Southernwinds 78, Starr Trail, Liara, Spirit of Minerva and a gaggle of Swans - Paradis, Aspiration, Flying Dragon, Chippewa, and Kalevala.
All Smoke, launched in Cape Town in February 2004, has Alinghi's Jochen SCHUEMANN as helsman-tactician and other America's Cup sailors, some from Alinghi, onboard. Flying Dragon's (ex-Fast.net) new owner Erck RICKMERS will be sharing the helm with Bertrand PACE from Team New Zealand's 2003 America's Cup challenge. New Zealander Rod DAVIS, tactician for Prada's 2003 challenge, will be calling the shots. Brad BUTTERWORTH, tactician on the America's Cup winning Alinghi team is tactician on Aspiration, a Swan 86 under new ownership since its last foray onto Antigua's race courses in 1999. Two times Olympic gold medallist Steve BENJAMIN will be sharing the helm with Aspiration's new owner Dr Alex HOFFMANN.
Racing III pits last year's winner Frank SAVAGE and his Lolita crew against Ker 55 Aera, Transpac 52 Rosebud, Corby 50 Flirt, Regis GUILLEMOT and three other Swans - Zingala, Bandit and Hissar.
"Antigua Sailing Week has always been a tough battle and we've always been determined to win it and last year we did,
" said Savage on his chances this year. "We put the crew together, the boat was in perfect shape and the conditions were perfect for Lolita and I think we will have a repeat this year. I still have the great crew that I have, Lolita's in excellent shape, the conditions are perfect and we intend to win it all again. We love Antigua, it's a wonderful island. We're proud to be here and proud that we were able to do as well as we did last year."
The Caribbean class is Racing IV with Antigua boats Lost Horizon II and Caccia Alla Volpe battling the likes of Trinidad's Guardian Star and Legacy in the nine-boat class.
Swan 44 Crescendo which won its class in the BVI at the beginning of April and her class at last year's Swan American Regatta looks in good shape in Racer/Cruiser II but they may see a battle from Disco Inferno II. "We won Grenada Sailing Festival 2004 in class and overall and at [St Maarten's] Heineken we came second in class out of nineteen, against Affinity, Lady B, Northern Child, Vanish to name a few. So we are hoping to make the podium this year!"
said skipper Matt ABBISS.
Racer/Cruiser II with fifteen boats sees a good mix of Caribbean favourites - including Pipe Dream, Tango Mike and Huey Too - and visitors.
Division B is has its share of big boats too, led by 88-foot Opium. Donald TOFIAS' W-76 White Wings returns after a Caribbean racing sabbatical and X-612 World of Tui is back after her unceremonious dismasting last year.
Performance Cruising II is the largest class with twenty boats including two boats of girls for sail, a company set up "with the aim of introducing as many people as possible, particularly women, to the wonderful world of sailing".
"We wanted to continue with a cat theme for the girls, so this year we have two boats in performance cruiser and one in the bareboat class,"
said Antonia GRIPPER, skipper for the Minxes. "We have the Swan 36 and two 40.7s. One is a complete novice crew with myself as skipper - we are the minxes. The Jaguars have done some sailing before but not as a crew, as have the kittens."