Sailing: Shockwave and Enigma to meet in battle of the giants

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The new wave is coming here this year. The regatta week which begins today sees the second biggest entry of yachts, more than 950, in its history - there was an exceptional, 1,000-topping roll-call in the America's Cup jubilee year of 2001. Among them are the New Zealander Neville Crichton's 90-footer, Shockwave, racing against the super-sled Enigma of Carphone Warehouse boss Charlie Duntone for both the Britannia Cup and the New York Yacht Club Trophy.

At the other end of the scale, the new breed of sports boats continues to grow in popularity, with Ben Ainslie and Shirley Robertson, Olympic gold medal winners in Sydney, in the SB3 class while Glenn Bourke, the organiser of the sailing at those games - a former Laser world champion but now chief executive of the Volvo Ocean Race - will be at the helm of his recent national championship-winning 1720.

As the Solent has already seen the new style of canting keel racing yacht with twin rudders being raced by the 60-foot Australian yacht Wild Oats when winning the Admiral's Cup last month, there is every sign that sailboat racing at club level in the UK is in good heart. When no one is talking about the economy, cost is not an issue.

Cowes Week is meant to be diverse, with ancient classes of yacht nearly 100 years old and paying £90 for a week's entry fees playing happily alongside the modern greyhounds, who pay about £1,000 for their eight races after a levy for carrying advertising is taken into account. New sails and crew costs may be 100 times that.

It is the focal point of a year's work for race director Stuart Quarrie, but it is also a disruption for another piece of work he is doing which will have an effect on all of the 8,000-plus competitors who will be crowding the bars and packing the boarding houses of a town at full stretch.

Quarrie is part of a six-man team wrestling with the problem of finding a way to measure yacht performance so that they can all race against each other on level terms. He says they are determined not to be like 10 people with colour charts, all with different preferences, and then choosing magnolia not because anyone wanted it, but because they could agree on it.

He has a difficult task if the committee is to report in September, but an international success would have a profound effect. Stability at the grand prix-end of the sport would engender a confidence which would trickle all the way down, even to people who will never take part in grand prix racing.

The British attempt at measuring performance, IRM, has bloomed only fitfully but enough to persuade Quarrie and colleagues to lay on racing for them over the first three days. Success for Quarrie in another area could spell doom for IRM. Next year's Skandia week could be its last.

The week is in a new livery, too, as the savings group gives its backing up to the 2005 regatta and shows no sign of wanting to relinquish its option to continue after what will then have been 11 years. It is gradually switching all its sponsorships worldwide to sailing.

Joining the fray from Formula One is Hugo Boss, who will have the McLaren team they back represented by David Coulthard when he takes the helm of a Formula One 65-footer on Friday. Among a host of much smaller companies, there are 45 chartered yachts from the Sunsail holiday fleet with their own hospitality marquee, while the local Island Yacht Charters has another 35 yachts for people who combine a good thrash afloat and ashore.

They may have to wait until tomorrow for a fully cooperative weather system. A disappointingly small fleet of 38 yachts set off last night for a Channel Race which could be a damp and slow affair, and today's Solent forecast is for very light winds. But while the national forecasters are calling a heat wave for the start for the week, local gurus like Chris Tibbs say there is every chance of a good racing breeze in the Solent, making course-setters, including the redoubtable Ian Lallow, and competitors much happier.

Life in the singlehanded Figaro series was proving tough for Britain's Sam Davies, but not as tough as for the Vendée Globe winner and twice former winner, Michel Desjoyeaux. He was lying 34th out of 42 starters on the first, 449-mile leg from Les Sables d'Olonne to Bilbao, giving no explanation for his poor showing. Davies was 28th and struggling with winds varying between zero and four knots. She was 21 miles behind the leader, Marc Thiercelin, who was 198 miles from the finish, but only seven miles behind second-placed Marc Envig.

In Split, Croatia, Paul Goodison suffered a setback on the penultimate day of the Laser European Championship, slipping from second to fourth. Up to three races on the final day may allow him to fight back.

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