In the pits at Cowes Yacht Haven the crews - a rollcall that would grace an America's Cup - were into the final countdown to the first two inshore races tomorrow. There was a distinct air of tension.
The Admiral's Cup has lost none of its edge or glamour for all that the glory years of the Seventies, when 19 teams competed, may never be seen again. It will be as hard to win this year as it has ever been.
None are more determined to do so than the Americans, who last won in 1969 and were successful only once before, in 1961. Sitting on the dock alongside his big boat, Blue Yankee, yesterday, Bob Towse, the owner and skipper, was in almost crusading mood. "Yachting feels very good in the United States right now," he said. "But this is the world championship to us.We know what it takes - good boats, good people, hard work."
Towse knows that the fleet is very competitive and feels the success will be spread around over the nine races. Germany, four-times winners and current holders, and Italy, who were in the lead going into the Fastnet last time only to see two of their three yachts dismasted will obviously be strong contenders.
The Italians have a powerful team with imported talent like Eddie Warden Owen, and their Mumm 36 was up with the pace in the recent world championships. Pasquale Landolfi's 40-foot Brava Q8, winner of the inaugural Isle Sea 40 world championship, has been a clear notch ahead of any of its rivals under the control of Francesco de Angelis and Paul Cayard.
Britain's 40-footer skipper Harry Cudmore has suggested the big boats could be decisive decide under the scoring system, which separates the three classes. "If that is true then I think we will be very happy," said the Italians' big-boat tactician, the much-travelled Rod Davis, who has won Olympic gold for his native United States, silver for his adopted New Zealand, and helmed oneAustralia in this year's America's Cup.
But Britain may also be hoping to pull a few surprises with its big boat. Despite the Royal Yachting Association saying, when they took back the job of team selection from the event's organisers, the Royal Ocean Racing Club, that it would be better for Britain to have no team at all than a mish-mash, preparations have not gone smoothly.
The small boat, the well-funded and well-prepared Mumm 36 Group 4, won its place in the British trials during the spring, only to find itself the only boat in the team. A group of RORC members then looked to Germany for a rescue. The older of two 40-foot boats was chartered and the big boat which did not make German selection, Rubin, was made available.
After a disappointing Mumm 36 world championships, Glyn Charles moved from helming to take over mainsail trimming and tactics, while David Bedford moved from steering the big boat to the 36. Cudmore's young turks on the 40 put in some good performances, but others less impressive in last weekend's warm-up regatta in Lymington.
In terms of preparation it would make the likes of Towse wince. He showed how quickly he could recover from a dismasting on Sunday by putting all the fittings on a spare on Monday and being out practising again yesterday.
But the British know they have an advantageous handicap on the big boat, which could pay off if the series attracts the fresh breezes which have been around the Solent for a week.
The Irish have some impressive names aboard, including their big-boat tactician, the America's Cup veteran, John Kolius. Their manager is Con Power, who was in upbeat mood yesterday. "We have planned long and hard for this campaign," he said. "As you might expect, we are going to give it the full wallop and if a few illustrious tails are tweaked along the away, so be it."
Last night the South Africans put in a surprise request to substitute the German boat Omen, bang up to date and fast, for their 40-footer, Sansui Express, which they said they had found no longer complied with the rules after being repaired when it was blown off its cradle last December. The jury decides today.Reuse content