Sailing: US takes wind out of Admiral's Cup

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The Independent Online

The snowbirds are flocking to Florida to escape the northern hemisphere winter, not just from the northern United States and Canada, but from Europe. They include enthusiastic yachtsmen, choosing to race in one of the biggest gatherings of its kind in North America. Key West Race Week is nowhere near as big as Cowes Week, but its resilience has been amply demonstrated in a year when, after the paralysing trauma of 11 September, it almost collapsed.

Not only are its 324 entries just two short of a record, the inclusion of the Melges 24 World Championship, which had been put on ice, has shown the way in which events can help each other. And, as the Royal Ocean Race Club tries to find a way forward for its ailing Admiral's Cup, almost by accident the seeds of a rival international team competition have been sown by the race director, Peter Craig.

Almost without asking the competitors, he put together 11 three-boat teams, three representing the United States, two Australia, and one each from Canada, Europe, Germany, Britain, Japan and Scandinavia.

The RORC proposals for two-boat teams entered by clubs not countries for an event in Dublin next year, after the 2001 event in Cowes was cancelled because potential competitors voted with their feet, have been received with less than warm applause. "Give the new formula a chance. Don't knock it," says one of those who helped to put the new formula together, Dobbs Davis of Annapolis, Maryland.

The RORC has had years and years, however, to improve and refine a property which gave it world pre-eminence. Instead, it has been uncomfortable in bringing the vision and professional management needed to succeed in a task which required it to split its role between providing club racing for its members and grand prix event management. The result has not only been a solution which has led to senior resignations but a call for an extraordinary general meeting, called by long-time British Admiral's Cup campaigner Peter Morton, to find a new direction.

Key West Race Week has a ready-made platform, with a regatta which is well established, at the right time of year for the Europeans, in a very attractive climate and at an affordable venue. There is, apparently, some appetite left for an Admiral's Cup-style grand prix event – that is for professional sailors representing their countries – and a vacuum in the calendar.

The week started with little wind, three classes unable to race, and the rest having to claw their way round short courses in flukey breezes. The same was expected for yesterday, but the rest of the week should see the wind strengthen and competition tighten. The best hope for British success in the Melges 24 lies with Jamie Lea while an experienced team is giving a debut run in the Farr 40 class to Robin Paterson's Katanga.

Two top helmsmen join the crew rosters as the eight yachts in the Volvo Ocean Race make final preparations in Auckland for the fourth leg to Rio de Janeiro, starting next Sunday. Roberto "Chuny" Bermudez de Castro rejoins Assa Abloy, winner of the third leg from Sydney and skippered by Britain's Neal McDonald. He replaces Chris Larson, who had prior commitments to race in the United States, but will be back for the fifth leg from Rio to Miami.

Team SEB has brought in the French solo and multihull expert Pascal Bidegorry, who sailed with navigator Marcel van Triest on Groupama in the European trimaran circuit.

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