Two weeks to close of entries for the Rolex Commodores' Cup 2008 and a battle royal looks on the cards between the big guns of recent competitions - Ireland, France and Great Britain.
But the teams from Spain and Hong Kong will undoubtedly feel that they are in with a chance too, since you do not take part in this international regatta just to make up the numbers. And, whilst the sixth participating nation, The Netherlands, has never won the Rolex Commodores' Cup, the Dutch would happily point to their success in the Admiral's Cup in 1999 together with second overall at this event in 1998 and 2002 as proof that they will be no pushover when the event starts on 29 June.
The Hong Kong and Spanish challenges are one-team affairs. Both countries have been to the event before and whilst Hong Kong participated once in 1992, the Spanish have put together two previous assaults on this three-boat team challenge in 1998 (sixth out of nine) and 2002 (seventh out of 11).
Spanish team manager, Alvaro BASTERRA, took part in the 1998 event and recalls that although the team put in some very good performances in the strong winds towards the end of the competition, a slow start in the light conditions early on cost them dearly in the eventual overall standings. For this event, the team is entirely from the Bilbao region of northern Spain; the three boats and owners are:
Class 1 - Maitena - Corel 45 - D. Mikel EMALDI
Class 2 - Zazpiki L.R. - IMX 41 - D. Juan Ignacio GOMEZA
Class 3 - Uso Zuria - First 40.7 - D. Francisco ALDECOA
According to BASTERRA, the Spanish team is looking forward to returning to competition in The Solent after an extended absence, "It's always a pleasure sailing in the UK, and it's a long time now since our last regatta there. We understand The Solent is one of the cradles of sailing, and we love it. Our aim is to achieve a better result than the sixth we got in the 1998 edition. And, of course, to get a medal in each class!"
Rumour has it that Pachi Rivero (one half of Mutua Madrileña in the Barcelona World Race) may be on the team.
Great Britain - overall winners in 1996 and in 2004 - has revised its traditional selection process for the composition of its four-pronged challenge. Following the almost successful Irish model of 2006, two teams were pre-selected without the need for trials. The most experienced of these comprises three Cup stalwarts - John SHEPHERD with the Ker 46 Fair Do's VII (Class 1) competed in 2000, 2004 & 2006; Jerry OTTER with the Ker 39 Erivale (Class 2) was an overall winner in 2004, and the former RORC Commodore, Peter RUTTER with his brand new Corby 39 Quokka (Class 3), took part in 2000 and 2004.
The second declared team from the British stable is slated as representing the north of the country - Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Northwest of England. The runners and riders are:
Class 1 - Novus Arca - Beneteau First 50 - Kelly/Brammall (Scotland)
Class 2 - Sail4Cancer - Corby 37 - Nigel Biggs (NW England)
Class 3 - Exaltation - X35 - David McFarlane (N. Ireland)
The team is headed by Hamish Mackay, Vice-Chairman RYA Scotland (RYAS), who at the time of its launch said: "It is RYAS' view that this is the most competitive team [we have] put forward in a number of years. On all boats there are a number of people who have participated in the Rolex Commodores' Cup before and recognise it as the pinnacle of IRC racing in the UK...all teams are relishing the opportunity of participating in what is looking like it will be the best ever attended Rolex Commodores' Cup."
The six yachts required to make up the remaining two British teams have been selected, but the exact composition of the teams will be determined after the IRC Nationals in mid -June, as explained by Iain Macdonald-Smith, chairman of the RYA's Rolex Commodores' Cup Selection Committee: "We have nominated four events, including the RORC De Guingand Bowl offshore event, so that we can go on evaluating, coaching and training and generally work towards raising the performance of all our teams for the Rolex Commodores' Cup. This process will culminate at the RORC IRC Nationals. With the French and Irish also expected at the IRC Nationals, we will be able to get a much better handle on the strength of the opposition and we will all be trying to win the Nationals to get the upper hand going into the main event a fortnight later."
The Irish, who appeared to be dominating the 2006 event until everything unwound in the final offshore race of the series, came out of the starting blocks early for this year's event announcing two strong looking teams. Based broadly on combinations that came close last time around, the interesting twist for 2008 is that Ireland Green is made up of entirely Mills designed yachts and Ireland White, Ker designs:
Class 1 - Antix Eile - Ker 39 - Anthony O'LEARY
Class 2 - Jump Juice - Ker 37 - Conor and Denise PHELAN
Class 3 - Voodoo Chile - Ker 32 - Eamon CROSBIE
Class 1 - Tiamat - Mills 43 - Tim COSTELLO
Class 2 - Blondie 1V - Mills 40 (King 40) - Eamon ROHAN
Class 3 - No Naked Flames - Mills 37 (Slim 37) - Andrew ALLEN
Antix Eile is Colm BARRINGTON's Silk Glove and has been chartered for the event, whilst Jump Juice is a modified version of the yacht that competed in 2006. Voodoo Chile is a 2006 build, also recently modified. The Mills-designed yachts are all new to the event.
The French - winners in 2002 and 2006 - have some way to go in their selection process with 24 yachts vying for a potential 12 places spread over four teams. The French selectors are playing their cards close to their chests and are giving nothing away in advance of the final determinations. However, a quick look at the list of participating owners reveals some telltale signs that the eventual teams will be filled with experience and talent. Two-time winner and perennial competitor Géry TRENTESAUX is campaigning for a Class 1 slot, as are previous participants Alain FOULQUIER (2006), Gonzague DUBOIS (2004), Jean-Claude NICOLEAU (2004 and 2006) and Jacques PELLETIER (2004 and 2006). Stephane NÉVÈ and Cyrille LEGLOAHAC, winners alongside Trentesaux in 2006, are also in the trials although this time both are campaigning for a Class 2 berth.
The Dutch have put forward three teams comprising:
Class 1 - Holmatro ING - Swan 42
Class 2 - Roark - Grand Soleil 43
Class 3 - Rossetta from the Rocks - Dehler 36
Class 1 - Daikin Airco - Ker 11.3
Class 2 - Weega - IMX40
Class 3 - XX - Dehler 34
Class 1 - Checkmate - Swan 45
Class 2 - Connect Lesonal - Sinergia 40
Class 3 - Slainte - Salona 37
More details are awaited from the Dutch, but some of the boat names and owners are familiar combinations having competed at previous Rolex Commodores' Cups - Peter DE RIDDER and Checkmate in 2004; Frans VAN DER HEIJDEN and Daikin Airco along with Kees KAN and Roark in 2006; and, of course, the Holmatro team.
The Rolex Commodores' Cup will be held off Cowes, Isle of Wight, from 29 June to 6 July 2008. Entries, which must be made by Member National Authorities, close on Monday 26 May.
Further information about the Rolex Commodores' Cup may be found at: www.rorc.org