When the International Catamaran Challenge Trophy (ICCT) was conceived in 1961, the organizers, a group of sailors from Sea Cliff Yacht Club on the north shore of Long Island, aimed to promote a friendly international match racing catamaran competition.
Tomorrow, when the 2004 ICCT gets underway at Southern Yacht Club (New Orleans, La.), the competitors can happily argue that they never let friendship get in the way of good competition.
The ICCT was revived last year after a hiatus of more than seven years. Like the classic match racing event it mimics and from which it long ago derived its nickname "The Little America's Cup," the 2003 ICCT had matured into a new class of boat--the dynamic F18HT. Reborn in Newport, Rhode Island, the 2003 ICCT came down to the final match in a best four-out-of-seven finals before the champagne was uncorked for winners Johnny LOVELL (New Orleans, La.) and Charlie OGLETREE (Houston, Texas). Following the example of the ICCT's namesake, the winners will now compete for the right to defend the Trophy for Southern Yacht Club, which will host the 24th running of this event through October 23.
Their win at the 2003 ICCT last year launched a banner year for Lovell and Ogletree. In February, they won the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in the Tornado class--the only catamaran ever sailed in the Olympic Games--for their third consecutive trip to the Olympics. Two months later, they were victorious in a fleet of 53 Tornados at the Princess Sofia Regatta. That event, sailed in Palma de Mallorca, was a warm-up for the Tornado World Championship where 62 teams from 24 nations competed in the final qualifying event for the Athens Olympic Regatta. Lovell and Ogletree won the Silver Medal at the Worlds with a performance that included winning two of nine races, before moving on to Hyeres, France, the following week where they collected yet another silver medal at Semaine Olympique Francaise.
Less than two months ago, 11 years of teamwork came together in Athens where Lovell and Ogletree saw their long-held Olympic dreams come true when they won the Silver Medal after an 11-race series.
Now planning to defend the ICCT, Lovell and Ogletree will first have to eliminate well-known catamaran racers Bob HODGES (Mandeville, La.) and W.F. Oliver (Virginia Beach, Va.). The winner of the first-to-four points Defender series will then face the winner of the first-to-four points Challenger series that will be contested by Mitch BOOTH and Herbert DERCKSEN, representing The Netherlands, and Enrique FIGUEROA and Jorge SANCHEZ, sailing for Puerto Rico. Both teams are also veterans of the Athens Olympic competition: Booth/Dercksen finished fifth, and Figueroa/Sanchez seventh.
"The ICCT offers a totally different format to any other cat race we do,"
said Booth, who won Olympic medals in 1992 and 1996 (bronze and silver, respectively). "It is an opportunity to match race, which is very exciting. And a big attraction is that the winner has the right to defend it at their home club. We'd like to take this event to Europe, because performance cat sailing is booming there and this event would add a new dimension to the sport."
While Lovell and Ogletree visited the White House today with the entire 2004 U.S. Olympic Team, their competitors engaged in a spirited practice session in a 15-20 knot southerly breeze. Coming off the water, Oliver exclaimed "Wow, what a blast; I hope it's like this all week!"
Competition for the 2004 ICCT begins Tuesday, October 19, with alternating starts for the Challenger and Defender series. With the breezy weather forecast for Lake Pontchartrain over the next few days, the competition will no doubt be fast and furious. For 2004, the competitors were invited to bring their own boats, another enhancement by the trustees which will help to push the envelope in the developmental F-18HT catamarans -- mutihulls that go three times the speed of monohulls.
Figueroa, currently ranked number 10 in the world in the Tornado class by the International Sailing Federation, acknowledges that he may be at a distinct disadvantage in New Orleans since this will be his first match racing competition. After he was "propositioned" by Lovell, he agreed to try something different, learn about match racing, and have a good time sailing with friends. Having listened to Booth's comments on the ICCT, Figueroa noted that he will now be on alert at the starting line. "This event has a lot of potential, and we would love to take it to Puerto Rico,"
The first race of the series is set for Noon, with each race expected to last between 30-45 minutes. Racing in the elimination series will continue Wednesday, October 20. After a lay day on Thursday, October 21, the winners of the respective Defender and Challenger eliminations will compete head-to-head in a first-to-four points series for the Trophy on Friday, October 22 and Saturday, October 23. Losers of the series will meet on the same days in a first-to-three points series to determine third place.
Additional information can be found on the event website via the link below.