The 20th edition of the cup starts today with competition expected to be fierce

The 42 maxi yachts, assembled in Porto Cervo, Italy for the 20th Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup, range from 18 to 45.5 metres and represent 14 nations – CAN, CAY, FRA, GBR, GER, HKG, IRL, ITA, MLT, MON, NZL, POL, SUI, USA.

The fleet has been split into five divisions: Cruising/Spirit of Tradition, Mini Maxi Racing, Mini Maxi Racing/Cruising, Racing/Cruising and Wally – each division having a separate start, and possibly being assigned a different course.

The schedule foresees windward-leeward or coastal races for today and Tuesday, while a longer Islands Race is scheduled for Wednesday. Thursday will be a lay day and racing will continue on Friday and conclude on Saturday 12 September.

Competition, however, is expected to be particularly fierce in the Mini Maxi Racing division. Niklas Zennstrom’s Ràn (GBR) (2009 Rolex Fastnet overall winner); Roger Sturgeon’s Rosebud (USA) (2007 Rolex Sydney Hobart overall winner) and Andy Soriano’s Alegre (GBR) (line honours winner – 2008 Rolex Middle Sea Race; 2009 Giraglia Rolex Cup) will be up against Hap Fauth’s Bella Mente (USA), current leader of the 2009 IMA Mediterranean Circuit; Alfa Romeo 3 the latest steed of Neville Crichton who has won here twice before; Patrizio Bertelli’s Luna Rossa (ITA) with Torben Grael and Robert Scheidt on the crew list; former Admiral’s Cup winner Udo Schutz with Container (GER), and Sir Peter Ogden’s jet-black Jethou (GBR).

Stead, who is fresh from victory in the Rolex Fastnet aboard Zenstrom’s 22-metre Judel -Vrolijk designed sloop, is looking forward to an exciting week: “I think we’re going to see some absolutely fantastic racing. The forecast is good, moderate to fresh northeasterly breezes, at least for the first part of the week. An excellent fleet has assembled here and it’s the first time all eight of the Mini Maxi racers will sail together so there is a lot of interest and expectations are high for this week. I’m looking forward to seeing how the new Alfa Romeo performs.”

As regards the boat to beat in his division, Stead was cautious. “All of the boats are strong in certain conditions, there are no weak boats in the Mini Maxi fleet and they are all well sailed.”

Other names of note include America’s Cup winner Jochen Schueman (Alinghi, 2003 and 2007) aboard Thomas Bscher’s WallyOpen Seasonand Karol Jablonsky (2002 world match racing champion), aboard Albert Buell’s 45 metreSaudade.

17-18 knots of northeasterly wind is forecast today.

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