2003 opened with the success of the Swiss America's Cup challengers, Alinghi, who made history in many ways when they won the XX XIst America's Cup Match and brought the oldest, and arguably most famous, trophy in sailing to Europe. This success marked the first time the America's Cup had been won by a European country, the first time a challenging syndicate had won the America's Cup on its first attempt, and Russell COUTTS made history as the most successful America's Cup skipper ever.
That is what began a year in sailing full of records broken, phenomenal achievements, bitter disappointments, adrenalin fuelled racing, epic voyages, and groundbreaking developments in the sport.
As the year started, the finalists in the Louis Vuitton Cup challenger series had already been decided in Auckland, New Zealand. The Louis Vuitton Cup final was to be fought out by two America's Cup veterans and countrymen, Chris DICKSON, and Russell COUTTS. Both from New Zealand, Dickson held the record for winning the most Louis Vuitton Cup races ever, and Coutts had already won the Cup twice, with Peter Blake and Team New Zealand in 1995 and 2000.
A close and hard fought Louis Vuitton final, which the 5-1 scoreline may not have reflected, saw the Swiss syndicate headed by business man Ernesto BERTARELLI, win the right to challenge Team New Zealand for the America's Cup.
Team New Zealand were an unknown quantity in this year's Cup. Young skipper Dean BARKER steered the final race in the last cup in 2000, and after the departure of Coutts, had taken the lead role permanently. Their training and design process had been shrouded in secrecy, whereas Alinghi had been out in the open throughout the whole Louis Vuitton challenger series.
Whilst many predicted that the old master, Coutts would once again triumph over his protégé Barker, no one could have predicted the disasters that were to befall Team New Zealand as they went down 5-0 to the rampant Alinghi Team in the XXXI America's Cup Match. Taking on water, a broken boom and catastrophic mast failure gifted the Challengers 2 races, in the remaining three. Alinghi won by the closest average delta, that of a mere 25 seconds, and on 2 March 2003, Coutts' place in America's Cup history was assured. Amazingly, the XXXI match almost made the record books for the longest ever. Its 16-day period is two days shy of the 1899 endurance contest between Lipton's first Shamrock and the American Columbia, co-owned by J. Pierpont Morgan and with Barr at the wheel.
However, the America's Cup was not the only thing happening in New Zealand at the beginning of the year, and using the fantastic facilities of the America's Cup Viaduct Basin, and smaller, perhaps more manoeuvrable boats, the 2003 ISAF Team Racing World Championship title was being contested.
Held every other year, the ISAF Team Racing World Championship was hosted by the New Zealand Team Racing Association in Auckland and the 2001 World Champions, were back to defend their title on home waters. The New Zealand team were not to be successful in their defence, and after a total of 339 races in 8 days, a victorious USA 2 team beat GBR 2 3-0 in the final.
Traditionally the early part of the year sees the annual round the world record attempts made, as crews seek to take advantage of the long southern ocean days, making it easier to see the icebergs. 2003 was no different and no fewer than three teams were set to attempt the record. Only two set off however, Ellen Macarthur's re-branded G-class Kingfisher 2 (formerly Orange), and Olivier de KERSAUSAON'S trimaran Geronimo, with Maiden remaining in dock.
Only one of these speed machines made it around the world, as a disastrous Southern Ocean dismasting scuppered the Kingfisher 2 team's chances 2000 miles east of Perth, western Australia, leaving the crew to sail under jury rig for 13 days before landfall in Fremantle, Australia.
Geronimo were looking good all the way though, that is until an uncharacteristic weather system on their return to the northern hemisphere placed a windless wall across the Atlantic and between them and the record. As the record time to beat passed, Geronimo was 680 miles short of the Ushant startline, and eventually finished in 68 days, 1 hour, 58 minutes and 2 seconds at sea, 4 days short of the record. The current record of 64 days still rests with Bruno PEYRON (FRA) and Orange. But, it remains to be seen what attempts are made over the coming few weeks, but it seems likely that Geronimo, and a couple of others, including Steve FOSSETT's Cheyenne (formerly Playstation 2) may set off this winter.
Aspiring to other records, on 24 February Playstation set a new world record from Cadiz (ESP) to San Salvador (BAH), known as the Discovery Route, of 9 days, 13 hours, 30 minutes and 18 seconds, shaving a day off the previous record.
Another offshore event, the Volvo Ocean Race announced their own challenge 'To find the most consummate all-round ocean racing team the world has ever seen' as they presented a brand new, state of the art, 70' monohull race-boat. The new Volvo Ocean 70 is set to be an easier boat to sail, with fewer sails to handle and better living conditions for the crew. The race rules will favour imagination, creativity and sailing skills, and not an environment where the biggest purse necessarily gives a bigger edge.
ISAF began 2003 with preparations for it's pinnacle event the ISAF World Championship well underway in Cadiz, Spain. For the sailing world this event was much anticipated as the first time all the Olympic classes would hold their World Championships together, and of course Olympic qualification for all the eleven Olympic events was up for grabs.
Sailing had been threatened with a reduction in events from 2008 onwards, with the Olympic Programme Commission targeting the keelboat event, but successful lobbying from ISAF ensured that in February 2003 the IOC confirmed the status quo of eleven events and 400 athletes through until 2008, with a review by the IOC set for 2012.
Looking ahead to future Olympic Games, ISAF invited manufacturers to put forward new design concepts for boards to be used at the 2008 Olympic Regatta which would provide a new and exciting step forward in the evolution of Olympic Windsurfing. A two stage approach was announced with a preliminary Presentation Event in September 2003, followed by an Evaluation Event in May 2004.
Once again, the Racing Rules of Sailing were high on everyone's agenda and as a result, ISAF organised a Rule 42 and Judges seminar as part of the ongoing development of the racing rules at the ISAF Secretariat in Southampton, Great Britain. An important part of the sport, the seminar attended by 60 delegates from 43 countries highlighted and educated worldwide rules officials to a standard interpretation of Rule 42, as desired by sailors and officials alike. Each official returned to their own
Member National Authority (MNA) to host a series of one-day seminars for all national umpires and judges, to ensure worldwide application of the interpretations.
The ISAF website in general began a facelift over the early part of the year and ISAF launched new microsites for the Cruising and the Medical areas of the sport on www.sailing.org, as well as a new and improved Race Officials section. The Race Officials area also included the availability of Race Management Clinic Packages in English, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Spanish and Mandarin, with a promise of more to follow.
Hosted as part of the ISAF Sailor services, a Women's Forum was launched, with initial topics ranging from Ice Sailing, the participation of women within sport, and ways to increase participation at all levels - including, Olympic, offshore, match racing. Support continues to grow with many topics covered during the year. Meanwhile, in Brazil, Laser Supremo Robert SCHEIDT was adding to the increase in participation by women in the sport, passing on his knowledge in a series of coaching clinics for women.
Responding to demand, in January ISAF introduced 'Short Tacks' to complement the weekly ISAF newsletter, Making Waves, as a twice-weekly direct email news digest, bringing readers the round-up of the past few days news.
The road to Athens became shorter for some as it was announced that 40% of those athletes who applied for scholarship funding from Olympic Solidarity had been approved. The Athens 2004 scholarship provides funding for athletes to put together a full time campaign with the objective being to be participate at the 2004 Olympic Games. Many are sailors who would be appearing at the top of their discipline over the following few months and a full list can be seen here.
Staying on funding, in February ISAF announced the continuation of its Athlete Participation Programme with funding to be provided for sailors from developing sailing nations to participate at the 2003 Volvo Youth Sailing ISAF World Championship, together with coaching support.
The opening ISAF Graded event of 2003, Sail Melbourne, as well as including the Grade 1 Olympic classes events, International Class World Championships and National Championships, also included this year the first ever Commonwealth Sailing Championship. Held with the endorsement of the Commonwealth Games organisation, and with the objective that sailing will be on the sports programme at a future Commonwealth Games, the inaugural Sailing Championship was a great success, and will support ISAF's lobby to include sailing on the sports programme at the 2010 Games.
No fewer than nine World Champions were crowned in the first three months of the year. Chris CLAYTON and Craig MARTIN (IRL) were crowned Mirror World Champions, in the same year that the world said goodbye to the boat's creator Barry BUCKNELL, who sadly died in February, whilst Jeremy Koo Wui KEN (MAS) took the title in the Byte. Karol JABLONSKI (POL), better known as the world's number 1 ranked Match Race skipper, successfully recovered the Ice Sailing World Championship title from 2002 champion Ron SHERRY (USA).
Kenya hosted their first ever World Championship with the Fireballsheading to Kilifi for an epic event. It was the dominant Chips HOWARTH and Vyv TOWNEND (GBR) who walked away from Africa with the title, but to use a cliché, the sport of sailing was the winner, with the organisers putting on a fantastic Championship in a fantastic setting.
The new Hobie Tiger World Champions were Cat supremos Mitch BOOTH & Taylor BOOTH, whilst the B14 World Championships, a biennial event and held as part of Sail Melbourne, saw the trophy retained by a British pair, this time Tim FELLS and Dave CUNNINGHAM. Dragon sailors were treated to a spectacle in January with Dieter SCHOEN, Vincent HOESCH & Andreas HUBER (GER) coming out on top at the Dragon World Championship in Tasmania, Australia.
The Olympic classes had a busy start to this pre-Olympic year that would see the fleet not only compete in the second test event for sailing at the Agios Kosmas sailing Centre in Athens, otherwise known as the Athens Regatta 2003, but also in Cadiz in September for the ISAF World Championship, where all Olympic Class World Champions would be decided over a two-week period.
The year started with two ISAF Grade 1 events, opening with Sail Melbourne before moving onto Rolex Miami OCR. A number of other graded events made up the first ranking release of the year, and on 6 February, following Rolex Miami OCR, sailors could once again see how they sat on the World Stage at the start of 2003. Full rankings are available here.