Outside of professional events like the America's Cup, Volvo Ocean Race and Olympic Games, the competition rarely comes any higher than it does in the TP52. Owners take the racing extremely seriously, drawing on talent from all three of the sport's leading disciplines. Two of the top names from the America's Cup arena sailing this week are Florida resident and Alinghi helmsman Ed BAIRD (USA) racing on Thomas STARK's (USA) Rush, up against Gavin BRADY (NZL), sailing with a large antipodean contingent on board Karl KWOK's Hong Kong based Beau Geste. 'I think the racing will be very interesting because there are many different designs out on the race course. I am sure every boat will have their moments,' commented BRADY of how he sees this week's racing lining up.
BAIRD is not the only member of the Swiss America's Cup Defender taking part. On board Pegasus 52 are Alinghi's veteran trimmers Simon DAUBNEY (NZL) and Warwick FLEURY (NZL). They are just two members of an exceptional team Pegasus owner Philippe KAHN (USA) has assembled. The team includes several of America's most accomplished keelboat sailors such as former America's Cup helmsman Ken READ, fellow J/24 World Champion Chris LARSON, America's Cup sailor Morgan LARSON (not related) and Soling bronze medallist Jeff MADRIGALI. Top navigator Adrienne CAHALAN (AUS) joins the crew fresh from winning the Rolex Sydney Hobart triple on Wild Oats XI.
This week the south coast of the Great Britain has been all but emptied of pro sailors, who are making up the majority of crew on board Stuart ROBINSON's (GBR) Acura Key West Race Week class winner Stay Calm and Irishman Eamon CONNEELY's Patches. Running these two teams respectively are ex-colleagues from the now defunct British America's Cup campaign, GBR Challenge, Adrian STEAD (GBR) and his one time skipper Ian WALKER (GBR).
For the Rolex TP52 Global Championship, WALKER is hoping for better luck than Patches experienced in its last two races. In both of these it suffered keel problems. 'Hopefully we have put that to bed now, as we have got a new bulb on for this, so we are in a slightly different mode to how we were,' he said.
An eleventh hour recruit to the crew on Stay Calm is triple Olympic medallist Ben AINSLIE (GBR), lending weight to Stuart ROBINSON's (GBR) predominantly English team that also features former Volvo Ocean Race skipper Lisa MCDONALD (GBR).
Stay Calm could perhaps be tipped as the top boat, following their win at Acura Key West Race Week. 'Our boat handling probably won us that regatta,' admitted STEAD of their performance at Key West. 'The regatta was decided in one gybe. In race five all the boats were going down the run in 28-30 knots of wind and Rush broached, Sjambok didn't and that put us on top for the regatta.'
And this time there is also tougher competition. 'TP52 racing is really close. Looking at the entry list this time, one of six boats could win,' maintained STEAD. But Stay Calm's performance in Key West only gives so much indication to its prospects for the Rolex TP52 Global Championship as in the previous regatta all of the courses were windward-leeward, while off Miami they will include a 24 hour offshore race on 9-10 March and a coastal race on 11 March. As a result the boats have been altering their sail plans to suit the different format and, for example, will be bringing on board more reaching sails. 'We are looking forward to learning more about sailing the boat,' said STEAD. 'We only sailed the boat for a couple of days before Key West, so we are looking forward to sailing offshore a bit and seeing how the boat performs out in the ocean.' The crew will also be keeping an eye on the speedo. They hit 24 knots down a run off Key West, which they hope to surpass this week.
Another variation may also come down to the drivers. While there is no limitation to the amount of expertise they can bring on board, the TP52 class in the USA is 'owner-driver' similar to the Farr 40 Class Association. This means that either the owner must be on the helm or an ISAF Sailor Category 1 (i.e. technically an amateur) on for the majority of the time. While most owners are steering their boats, two notable exceptions to this are Patches where former Etchells World Champion Stuart CHILDERLEY (GBR) will be behind the wheel and Beau Geste, where accomplished New Zealand yachtsman Harry DODSON is helming.
Meanwhile the Rolex TP52 Global Championship social schedule kicks off tonight with a Rolex-sponsored skippers briefing and opening reception. The social side of the class, said Stay Calm owner ROBINSON, is one of the attractions of the class. 'It's a family. Exchanging emails with other owners, feeling like people want to help, deciding on where regattas are going to be, getting other new owners involved in the class to make it bigger and more fun.'