The Admiral's Cup remains the premier prize of international, big boat team yachting at a time when all the other events have struggled to retain their importance. It demands the best tacticians and boat handlers in short inshore races, and stamina, courage and guile offshore.
Britain have a good chance, but the champagne is more likely to be downed to the sound of a second consecutive rendering of 'La Marseillaise' by the defending champions, although the Italians are planning revenge after being pipped last time and Australia have a strong presence.
The Irish should keep everyone on their toes and the Japanese are proving to be a well-funded and gritty addition to yacht racing at the top level.
Cowes is hosting a who's who of yachting: Cayard, Dickson, Coutts, Pattisson, Gilmour, Bouet, Kolius, Baird, Cudmore and, for Britain, Warden Owen and Stuart Childerley. There is no New Zealand team, but some of their best performers are sailing for other countries. Likewise the United States, while some top Britons are sailing for foreign boats.
This year's event marks the end of an era. Tomorrow 23 yachts from eight countries leave the marina in Cowes for the first of six races to determine the 19th running of the cup. Come the 20th, in 1995, the personnel and race programme will be similar - but the style of yacht will be different.
The organising body, the Royal Ocean Racing Club, has turned to the International Measurement System and its reliance on computer predictions of boat performance. As a result there will be three boats. The smallest class, identical 36-footers, will not be allowed the design freedom of the two larger classes.
The British have won the cup nine times and have only once, 10 years ago, been further than half-way down. On this occasion, Graham Walker, the team captain, has been put in the impossible position of being damned if he could not put together a British team and damned if he did and the team fail to live up to expectation.
Walker's 50-footer, Indulgence, is being crewed by some experienced hands and yesterday Chris Law was brought in as helmsman with Eddie Warden Owen switching to skipper/tactician. However, it is only this week that the two-tonner, a Turkish yacht renamed Provezza Source, has been available to Childerley.
The one-tonner sailed for Britain as Port Pendennis in 1991 but is now called GBE International. The skipper, Glyn Charles, and the replacement tactician, Adrian Stead, have had the boat a little longer, but are still short of match practice.
The first serious offshore race in which any of the boats will take part with their present crews is the second race of the Admiral's Cup, the Channel race which starts on Friday.
Only the Netherlands have taken advantage of a cautious provision which allows teams of two instead of three boats. The organisers changed the rules for 1993 because they feared the effect of the recession on entries.
The French are strong on organisation and sponsorship from the Corum watch company that gives its name to all three boats. The Italians have money and, in contrast to the French, continue to import talent. The Australians, Irish and Japanese all mix home-grown and imported talent with the Japanese fielding two leading British yachtsmen: Chris Mason and Guy Barron. To this is added the computer skills of their navigator Mark Chisnell, while their one-tonner is led by the impressive John Cutler, a Manchester-born Kiwi.
In such a tight fleet the well- known dictum about keeping out of trouble may hold the key to what seems destined to be some frenetic action at the turning corners of the racetrack. That and some quick thinking in the long watches of the high-scoring 605-mile finale, the Fastnet Race.
Neither the British or Irish can hope to squeeze much out of home- water advantage, nor does the occasionally ferocious heritage of the Fastnet hold any fears for the visitors. The French won the event on a superb performance in the offshore classic last time. When the going gets tough, they and the Italians will get going.
THE ACTION AND THE SCORING
50-footer: Indulgence. Owner Graham Walker. Skipper/tactician Eddie Warden Owen. Helmsman Chris Law.
Two-tonner: Provezza Source. Owner Ergin Imre. Charterer Don Wood. Skipper/helmsman Stuart Childerley. Tactician Chris Dickson.
One-tonner: GBE International. Owner Bullent Attaby. Charterer Peter Morton. Skipper/helmsman Glyn Charles. Tactician Adrian Stead.
50-footer: Jameson 3. Charterer John Storey. Skipper Joe English. Helmsmen Dave Cummins/Graham Deegan. Tactician Jo Richards.
Two-tonner: Jameson 2. Owner John Storey. Skipper Gordon Maguire. Tactician Tom Dodson.
One-tonner: Jameson 1. Charterer John Storey. Skipper/helmsman Harold Cudmore. Tactician Hugh Welbourne.
50-footer: Ragamuffin. Owner. Syd Fischer. Skipper/helmsman Peter Gilmour. Tactician Michael Coxon.
Two-tonner: Great News II. Owner/skipper John Calvert-Jones. Helmsman Colin Beashel. Tactician Grant Simmer/Rodney Pattisson.
One-tonner: Ninja. Owner/skipper Peter Kurts. Helmsman Glenn Bourke. Tactician David Howlett.
50-footer: Corum Saphir. Skipper/helmsman Pierre Mas. Tactician Bertrand Pace.
Two-tonner: Corum Rubis. Skipper Michel Kermerac. Helmsman Luc Pillot. Tactician Laurent Delage.
One-tonner: Corum Diamant. Skipper Luc Gellusseau. Helmsman Marc Bouet. Tactician Marcel van Triest.
50-footer: Container. Owner/skipper Udo Schutz. Helmsman Karol Jablonski. Tactician Jens Christensen/Peter Lester.
Two-tonner: Rubin. Owner/skipper Hans- Otto Schumann. Helmsman Thomas Jungblut. Tactician Henrik Soederlund.
One-tonner: Pinta. Owner/skipper Willi Illbruck. Helmsman Jorg Diesch. Tactician Russell Coutts.
50-footer: Mandrake. Owner Giorgio Carrero, co-skippers Kurt and Jane Oetking. Helmsman Franceso de Angelis. Tactician Torben Grael.
Two-tonner: Larouge. Owner Giuseppe Degenarro. Skipper Lorenzo Bortolloti. Helmsman Roberto Ferrarese. Tactician John Bertrand/Derek Clark.
One-tonner: Brava Q8. Owner Pasquale Landolfi. Skipper/helmsman Paul Cayard. Tactician Stevie Erikson/Rod Davis.
50-footer: Champosa. Owner/skipper Mark Morita. Helmsman Makoto Namba. Tactician John Kolius.
Two-tonner: Swing. Owner Shigeyuti Suzuki. Skipper/helmsman Robert Fry. Tactician Ed Baird.
One-tonner: Nippon. Owner T Yamasaki. Skipper/helmsman. John Cutler. Tactician Andrew Hurst.
50-footer: Pro-Motion. Owner/skipper Bert Dalk. Helmsman Bouwe Bekking. Tactician Kevin Brady.
One-tonner: Ace. Owner/skipper/tactician Martijn de Lange. Helmsman Frans van der Wel.
RACE 1: Tomorrow: RYS Trophy, Solent inshore race. 24-30 miles. Start: near Cowes, 11.30am.
RACE 2: Friday: 150 to 200 miles offshore in English Channel. Start: Cowes 2pm. Finish: Gilkicker (off Portsmouth).
RACE 3: Monday 2 August: Corum Trophy Race, inshore 28 miles windward leeward, Hayling Bay. Start: 11.30am.
RACE 4: Tuesday 3 August: Champagne Mumm Trophy Race, 28 miles windward leward inshore, Hayling Bay. Start: 11.30am.
RACE 5: Thursday 5 August: Kenwood Trophy Races, two windward leeward races of 12 miles in Hayling Bay. Start: 11am.
RACE 6: Saturday 7 August: Fastnet Race. Start 1.30pm on Squadron line, Cowes, finish Plymouth, 605 miles round Fastnet Rock off southern Ireland.
The yachts will be awarded points on the basis of their finishing position, except in the 50-footers, where there is an element of handicapping.
The first yacht will receive eight points, plus a bonus of 0.25 of a point for winning in the inshore races. The second boat home will receive seven, third six and so on.
The Channel Race (race 2) will count 1.5 times the points, including the bonus for first place, and the Fastnet Race (race 6) will count 2.5 times points, including the bonus for first.
Each team will count their best two out of three scores in any one race. The team with the most points from the six races wins.
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