Sunday sees the start of racing at the Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup, where eight teams will be competing in this the 13th edition of the Royal Ocean Racing Club's biennial championship for three boat teams with Corinthian crews.
This year the most sizeable entries are from Britain and France, the latter fielding three teams while Britain has two. In addition to this there are two 'regional' teams - the Celts, with two boats from Scotland and one from France and 'Flanders North Sea', comprising a boat from the Netherlands, Belgium and northeast France.
One nation is making its Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup debut this year. Strong in Olympic sailing, Israel has few big boat sailors, but competing at the Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup is a first step towards rectifying this. They have three top UK boats, crewed by a mix of locals and Israelis.
While the event is for Corinthian crews, limited pro-sailors can compete. This time each team is allowed six World Sailing Group 3 'pros' and can allocate them across their three boats as required.
Among the pros taking part is tactician on Eric De Turkheim's A13 Teasing Machine (France Blue), Laurent Pages, winner of the Volvo Ocean Race with Groupama.
"It is great," says Pages of the Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup. "National team racing is different, it has a different spirit. I think a lot of people miss the Admiral's Cup - and this reminds them of that, with the mix of pros and amateurs. I think that's why we are here."
For the French teams there is also the opportunity to face their old rival...the English, something they have done with great success recently, winning the last two Rolex Fastnet Races. "That is always good, but we prefer to beat everyone!" jokes Pages. "The competition will be very interesting. Right now it is very hard to say who is favourite. We're just focussing on ourselves. We'll sail the best we can, and see how we're going after the first few days..."
One of the most well-known British pros competing is sailmaker Kevin Sproul, on Andy Williams' Ker 40, Dan, Israel (Keronimo) for Team Israel. Sproul has one of the best track records in the event: competed three times, won it twice with Team GBR - in 2008 on John Shepherd's Fair Do's VII and then on Jonathan Goring's Ker 40 Keronimo (the same boat he's racing this year, but with a new owner).
Of their prospects, Sproul says: "We have got a good team - all three boats are good. It's working out really well with the Israeli sailors - they are very keen and have got the right attitude. We will be competitive, but it is a tough, long regatta with a lot of racing. It's a war of attrition and we don't know how we are going to deal with that yet."
While there may be pre-event favourites, this has previously proven to mean little. For example the powerful Irish teams were favourites, but denied victory, in 2006 and 2008. "You look at a team and think 'they are going to be hard to beat' then half way through they have just faded completely, while we've managed to push through and keep the pressure on," says Sproul. "But that's what I enjoy about it."
This year's race format has been tweaked. As usual there is an overnight offshore race over Monday-Tuesday and Friday's race around the Isle of Wight, with points weightings of 2.5 and 1.5 respectively, while the final race on Saturday is also double points. However the inshore races have been increased from six to ten, to maximise the sailing teams get in.
The Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup is raced under IRC and the RORC constantly attempts to find the best combination of boats. This year each team must field a 'small boat' with an IRC TCC of 1.000-1.049, ie a SunFast 3200 like Daniel Andrieu's Cifraline 4 (in France Blue) to JPK 1080s, like Jock Wishart's Shaitan (Celtic) at the upper limit. The other two boats must have a TCC of 1.000 to 1.230, the rating of James Neville's HH42 Ino XXX (GBR Blue).
This year the 'small boats' have their own start, allowing them to stay in clear air, out of traffic. Generally teams have their lowest rated boat as the 'small boat'. The exceptions are the Celts and France Red, where their 'medium boats' (rating-wise) - Marc Alpérovitch's Timeline and Jock Wishart's Shaitan, both JPK 1080s - have been nominated as the 'small boat'.
Racing Manager of the RORC, Nick Elliott commented: "After all the hard work and preparation for the regatta, it is great to see the boats arriving and you can feel the excitement building. The racing programme for the week is tough; 10 inshore races and a couple of challenging offshore races, the regatta will certainly reward consistency."