Whoever is to win the Nautica 2002 Star Class World Championship Sunday through Friday will have to fight his way through a fleet of 114 boats from 26 countries.
The fleet will contain 11 former class champions, four Olympic gold medallists and several America's Cup and Volvo Ocean Race campaigners.
They will start on a divided starting line and sail twice-around courses stretching from 2 to 2.6 nautical miles, depending on wind conditions, perhaps with an occasional reaching leg and usually with upwind finishes. One race is scheduled each of the six days starting at 1 p.m. about a mile off the beach. Each boat may discard its worst result.
This is the 81st Star Worlds, held every year since 1922 except in 1968 in deference to the Olympic Games by edict of the International Yacht Racing Union, predecessor of the International Sailing Federation (ISAF). The California Yacht Club is the organizing authority in conjunction with the International Star Class Yacht Racing Association.
The defending champion is Fredrik Loof of Sweden, who would prefer stronger winds than are normally find on Santa Monica Bay. When he won at Medemblik, The Netherlands last year, his best races were on alternate days in double-digit breeze.
"I'm more of a heavy wind sailor, but it feels like we're sailing the boat better and better," said Loof, who has been training at the venue for a about a month with his new crew, Anders Ekstrom.
They finished 24th in last weekend's moderate-to-light 74-boat King of Spain Regatta tune-up. "The result doesn't look pretty, but I think we can get it together and be ready on Sunday," Loof said.
Two young Irishmen, 12th-ranked Maxwell Treacy and crew Anthony Shanks, finished 32nd in their first Worlds a year ago but became darkhorse favorites by winning the King of Spain. Later, Treacy revealed their secret.
"We were coached by two [double] world champions, [Germany's] Alex Hagen and Mark Reynolds," Treacy said. "Alex came to Dublin for 10 days, and Mark coached us in San Diego for three days. We hope to do reasonably well in the Worlds."
Also not to be overlooked is three-time world ('61, '70 and '85) and 1984 Olympic champion Bill Buchan of Seattle. Although 67 and not a regular class competitor anymore, Buchan and crew Mark Brink won a race and placed ninth in the King of Spain behind only one other former champion, Canada's Ross Macdonald ('94).
"We got lucky," Buchan said with typical modesty.
His boat is 10 years old (No. 7405), the same one his son Carl sailed when he won the '92 Star Worlds at San Francisco.
Other top contenders figure to be former champions Reynolds, '95 and 2000; Hagen, '81 and '97; Torben Grael, '90, and Alan Adler, '89, both from Brazil; Colin Beashel, Australia, '98; Paul Cayard, San Francisco, 88; Eric Doyle, San Diego, '99, and Joe Londrigan, Springfield, Ill., '93.
Looking at it another way, 18 of the 19 top-ranked Star sailors are competing. The lone exception is San Diego's Vince Brun ('86).
Brun took a break from the Team Dennis Conner America's Cup campaign to place 11th last weekend, then offered a clue to conditions. "San Diego is very similar to this," he said, "with chop and light air most of the time. The guys from San Diego should do just fine."
While practicing and waiting for the serious sailing to start, all competitors have been undergoing weigh-ins and drug tests and having their boats measured.
The class's new slimmer and trimmer weight limit will be in force. Each two-man crew must meet this formula: 220 pounds or100 kilos minus the skipper's weight, divide by two, add 220 or 100. Generally, that means crew who once could pass for defensive tackles in American football have had to lose about 30 pounds.
"A lot of Star crews have been on diets this year," said San Diego's 185-pound George Szabo, who with his average-size crew Austin Sperry is ranked No. 8 in the class. "It's funny seeing them at the salad bar these days. We've had to gain 5 to 8 pounds, so that's pretty good."
All the teams must be weighed in before sailing Sunday. Then five will be selected at random for repeat checks after each day's racing. The purpose is to make smaller people competitive, especially in strong winds, which have been known to bless these waters.
Drug testing, now routine for the Olympics and the Tour de France bike race, will be administered at random by ISAF representatives.
"I'm getting used to that," said Reynolds, who has represented the U.S. in the last four Olympics, winning two gold medals and a silver.
"Some of the research I did a couple of years ago [showed] that in [the former] East Germany they found that there was doping in every Olympic event except sailing," Reynolds said. "I don't know of anybody intentionally using steroids or something like that to perform better. In some sports when people do get caught it's some kind of cold medicine they were taking. You really have to be careful."
The first five countries---but not the sailors---represented in the standings will qualify for Olympic berths. The sailors will have to earn those berths back home.