With three months to the start of the 9th biennial Rolex Commodores' Cup on 29th June, team preparations are beginning to really heat up. Organisers, the Royal Ocean Racing Club, expect 14 or 15 three-boat teams to take to the water for this increasingly fiercely contested international competition and challenges are anticipated from Hong Kong, Ireland, France (winners in 2002 and 2006), The Netherlands, Spain and Great Britain (winners in 1996 and 2004), which includes a team representing Scotland. Other teams known to be close to forming are Germany (winners in 1998) and Russia (debutants in 2006).
While prospective French team-members were engaged in dodging wintery conditions and a fishing boat blockade at the Spi Ouest regatta in the Bay of Quiberon over Easter weekend, a number of their Irish and British counterparts were struggling with equally extreme weather conditions on The Solent at the Red Funnel Easter Challenge. Familiar names topped some of the Classes at the end of both events. Gery Trentesaux, who led the two successful French teams to the Rolex Commodores' Cup in 2002 and 2006, was the winner of IRC 1 at Spi Ouest. Eamon Rohan, who was part of the Irish contingent that led the 2006 event until being pipped at the post by the French, was winner of IRC 1 at the Easter Challenge. Both will be in Cowes come the end of June.
As has been the norm in recent events, the French, Irish and British will enter multiple team challenges. Elsewhere, the nation challenges will comprise single teams. But the work for these groups is no less intense and demanding. One such challenge is currently being finalized and will be formed out of Hong Kong, where Gerry Daughton a member of the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club is marshalling the preparations. Hong Kong's only other appearance at the Rolex Commodores' Cup was in 1992, five years before the transfer of sovereignty from the United Kingdom to China – 'The Handover' – in 1997. Now a Special Administrative Region of China, rather than a British colony this challenge is a significant moment for yachting in the region.
The initial idea to enter a Hong Kong challenge came about a year ago from a team of like-minded sailors. After gaining the early support of the Hong Kong Sailing Federation and Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club, this group has been working closely together on forming and preparing the challenge, particularly as the event gets closer. Daughton is looking forward to bringing a team to The Solent: "Hong Kong is a vibrant sailing centre and has just hosted the Rolex China Sea Race, one of the major events of the season. Entering the Rolex Commodores' Cup is seen as very important for Hong Kong, helping to put it back at the forefront of international yachting, especially in this year of the Beijing Olympics."
Daughton is confident that Hong Kong will be a force to be reckoned with: "We have gathered some of the best of Hong Kong's most experienced sailors, and have lined up some top professionals to fill the few available roles on the boat. It is clear the competition in Cowes is going to be fierce, but we are confident our team is going to be competitive. Put it this way, we are not intending to be there just to make up the numbers."
Two of the three boats required are already confirmed. The small boat will be a J/109; the former Jeronimo that used to belong to Jonathan and Lisa Goring and which did well for the GBR Red team in 2004. This will be skippered by Jamie McWilliam whose brother Tom is also part of the team. The middle boat is a new X-41, owned by Rick and Inge Strompf, and which will be helmed by Mark Thornburrow. The big boat is close to confirmation, but at this point the name could not be divulged.
For the RORC, the overall signs are wholly encouraging.The interest and activity is on a par with two years ago when 13 teams lined up and the event was not decided until the end of the final race of the weeklong series. David Aisher, RORC Commodore, expressed the feeling within the Club: "we have every reason to be confident that this year's event will be every bit as successful as previous years. If anything we expect heightened competition. Over recent Cups there has been a gradual, but distinct improvement in skill standards within the individual crews, the teams and their management. This year looks to be no exception in that trend."
The Rolex Commodores' Cup will be held off Cowes, Isle of Wight, from 29 June to 6 July 2008. Entries, which must be made by Member National Authorities, close on Monday 26th May