Undeterred by the thick black clouds and pouring rain a total of 211 yachts in 16 classes are preparing for the start of Antigua Sailing this morning

Undeterred by the thick black clouds and pouring rain a total of 211 yachts in 16 classes are preparing for the start of Antigua Sailing this morning. The first race, which takes the fleets on a 28.5nm course from English Harbour round to Dickenson Bay, is the traditional regatta opener with its end-of-race beach bash later in the day.

In the 28-strong Big Boat I fleet 24 countries are represtented with Russia and Hungary here for the first time. Mari Cha IV, Robert Millar’s superyacht, which smashed the trans-Atlantic record, is up against the two canting keel maxZ86 sleds Morning Glory and Pyewacket, Titan 12, the Reichel Pugh 75, Farr 70 Atalanta II, Bill Alcott’s Andrews 70 Equation, and Volvo 60s Venom and Spirit. Despite her speed and size, Mari Char IV is not neccessily going to have it all her own way this week particularly with the likes of Peter Holmberg as tactician aboard Titan together with Alinghi team-mates Richard Bouzaid and Josh Belksy as main trimmer and pit respectively. Titan also recently gave Pyewacket a run for her money in the BVI Spring Regatta winning five of the seven races.

Racing Big Boat II pits the likes of Mike Slade’s 90ft Leopard of London against Peter Harrison’s 115-foot ketch Sojana, All Smoke, a Southernwinds 78, Starr Trail, Liara, Spirit of Minerva and a gaggle of Swans – Paradis, Aspiration, Flying Dragon, Chippewa, and Kalevala.

All Smoke, launched in Cape Town in February 2004, has Alinghi’s Jochen Schuemann as helsman-tactician and other America’s Cup sailors, some from Alinghi, onboard. Flying Dragon’s (ex-Fast.net) new owner Erck Rickmers will be sharing the helm with Bertrand Pace from Team New Zealand’s 2003 America’s Cup challenge. New Zealander Rod Davis, tactician for Prada’s 2003 challenge, will be calling the shots. Brad Butterworth, tactician on the America’s Cup winning Alinghi team is tactician on Aspiration, a Swan 86 under new ownership since its last foray onto Antigua’s race courses in 1999. Two times Olympic gold medallist Steve Benjamin will be sharing the helm with Aspiration’s new owner Dr Alex Hoffmann.

Racing III pits last year’s winner Frank Savage and his Lolita crew against Ker 55 Aera, Transpac 52 Rosebud, Corby 50 Flirt, Regis Guillemot and three other Swans – Zingala, Bandit and Hissar.

The Caribbean class is Racing IV with Antigua boats Lost Horizon II and Caccia Alla Volpe battling the likes of Trinidad’s Guardian Star and Legacy in the nine-boat class.

Swan 44 Crescendo which won its class in the BVI at the beginning of April and her class at last year’s Swan American Regatta looks in good shape in Racer/Cruiser II but they may see a battle from Disco Inferno II.

Racer/Cruiser II with 15 boats sees a good mix of Caribbean favourites – including Pipe Dream, Tango Mike and Huey Too – and visitors.

Division B is has its share of big boats too, led by 88ft Opium. Donald Tofias’ W-76 White Wings returns after a Caribbean racing sabbatical and X-612 World of Tui is back after her unceremonious dismasting last year.

Performance Cruising II is the largest class with 20 boats including two boats of girls for sail, a company set up “with the aim of introducing as many people as possible, particularly women, to the wonderful world of sailing.”

“We wanted to continue with a cat theme for the girls, so this year we have two boats in performance cruiser and one in the bareboat class,” said Antonia Gripper skipper for the Minxes. “We have the Swan 36 and two 40.7s. One is a complete novice crew with myself as skipper – we are the minxes. The Jaguars have done some sailing before but not as a crew, as have the kittens.”

Performance Cruising III and Cruising I see a good international mix of boats including Oyster Catcher XXI and Antiguan boats Trouble, Streaker and Augustine.

Eighty-six bareboat skippers are looking to knock Jan Soderberg, a 15-year veteran of Antigua Sailing Week who has won overall bareboat seven times, from his perch. But Jan has returned with his eye on the prizes. He won class and the overall prize last year but missed out on the Championship race introduced last year as an extra race for the top three boats in each class. “I have a totally different boat this year, so who knows,” he said. “We shall see if the boat can sail to its rating and if my crew can stand up to it – two of my guys get violently seasick so they may not even want to be on the boat tomorrow. But we just bring friends who want to come here and enjoy the social life.”

Racing continues tomorrow, Monday, with Division A yachts racing an Olympic courses off Dickenson Bay and Division B racing to Jolly Harbour. Tuesday is the Falmouth Harbour Race, which is followed by lay-day fun on Wednesday at Antigua Yacht Club.

Thursday, the yachts are back on the ocean with Division A racing windward/leeward courses and Division B sailing the South Coast Race. Friday marks the last official day of racing with the Ocean Race. Saturday, the prize giving is preceded with the Second Annual Bareboat Challenge Championship Race.

The Lord Nelson’s Ball and prizegiving wraps the event on Saturday evening.