Bertrand brings a touch of thoroughbred class to the party

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The 1 000th entry was confirmed on Friday, Steve Redgrave will be in town on Monday and the entry list is bristling with impressively large hardware limbering up for the America's Cup Jubilee regatta that is due to start here in two weeks.

It is already vintage Skandia Life Cowes Week stuff, kicked off each day by the Thames Barge fleet that lumbers its way off the startline with staysails, topsails and watersails bristling from every spare spar.

In many ways it is the usual fare here in Cowes: more than 20 classes, classic Solent racing into robust south westerlies and the prospect of a finish under spinnaker against the tide along the Cowes Green in the late afternoon. But there is an undercurrent of change that sees the usual eclectic mix of vintage dayboats, the Sunsail corporate charter fleet and a myriad handicap boats augmented by classes like the Farr 40 one design where deadly serious crews are using Skandia Life Cowes Week racing windward-leeward to prepare for their world championship in the UK in September.

And at the top end of the scale there will be J-Class racing, the huge 130-foot boats that arguably made the America's Cup the large-scale event that it is today.

In keeping with the strong America's Cup flavour, yesterday the star of the show was Australia II, the 12-Metre whose crew and keel shaped the course of modern sailing. John Bertrand was reunited with his boat and his team for the first time since that historic moment in 1983 when the Alan Bond's team took the America's Cup off America for the first time in 132 years. The boat, now the charge of the maritime museum in Perth, has been carefully rebuilt to race in the Jubilee with Bertrand and his team gingerly reloading the boat and rig in the westerly breezes of Cowes' debut day.

But if the J-class Australia II and many other like them provide the visual backdrop to what is a classic sailing festival, then the regatta is lent an air of grand prix by the top international talent that is scattered around the fleets. Finn Gold medallist Iain Percy is at the wheel of Mike Slade's 90-foot maxi Skandia Life Leopart; Shirley Robertson is leading an all-women crew in the lightweight 1720 class. And each evening the GBR Challenge British America's Cup team will flex its muscles with live Sailing-Channel televised match racing off the Cowes Green.

Yesterday's big race was the Queen's Cup, the hardware racing for the trophy the cream of Britain's offshore racing fleet. Class 0 and Class 1 – populated by the likes of Skandia Life Leopard, Australia II and other 12 metres, a clutch of Farr 52s, Corel 45s and Farr 40s – combined to number 62 boats, just eight fewer than the most numerous class here, the X-Boat class. As the results were coming in On A High, owned by Michael White, was declared the provisional winner.

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