Although the 2009 European sailing calendar is drawing to a close, the action on the Mediterranean Sea will be heated over the coming weeks during the inaugural Louis Vuitton Trophy Nice Côte d'Azur, slated to begin Saturday, 7 November.
The eight teams entered in the match race regatta have been practicing this week while tents and scaffolding were being erected in the race village at the Port of Nice. A giant TV screen is in place so that spectators can watch the waterborne action from the shoreside.
While some of the teams will be familiar to race fans the sailors will be even more familiar. World and Olympic champions such as Ben Ainslie (TeamOrigin), Dean Barker (Emirates Team New Zealand), Paul Cayard (Artemis), Tommaso Chieffi (Azzurra), Russell Coutts (BMW ORACLE Racing), Karol Jablonski (Synergy), Bertrand Pacé (French Spirit) and Jochen Schümann (ALL4ONE) are skipper and/or helmsman of their respective teams.
Suffice to say they're among the best of the best. Barker, Cayard, Chieffi, Coutts and Schümann are all past winners of the Louis Vuitton Cup, the trophy awarded to the winner of the Challenger Selection Series for the America's Cup.
“Artemis is looking forward to competing against the best teams in sailing in Nice over the next two weeks,” said Artemis skipper Cayard, who won the Louis Vuitton Cup in 1992 and was a finalist in 2000. “We are a new team but we are keen competitors. We'll see.”
Inaugural event of the WSTA
The Louis Vuitton Trophy Nice Côte d'Azur is the inaugural event of the World Sailing Teams Association. Founded in September, the WSTA is a group of professional sailing teams that have banded together in an effort to create consistent exposure.
“Basically it has been an achievement to organise such an event in such a short time frame,” said Stephane Kandler, head of the ALL4ONE syndicate (née K-Challenge), a founding member of the WSTA and the host team for the regatta.
“The venue looks very good, very international,” Kandler continued. “We're hoping for good weather conditions. Everything is very positive despite the fact it was completed in a short time frame. It will be a great event.”
Joining ALL4ONE are Artemis (SWE), Azzurra (ITA), BMW ORACLE Racing (USA), Emirates Team New Zealand (NZL), Synergy Russian Sailing Team (RUS), Team French Spirit (FRA) and TeamOrigin (GBR).
Four yachts in play
The WSTA event is designed to be a cost-effective format for the teams. They do not bring their boats to the event. Rather, the four boats being used in Nice are on loan from three teams: ALL4ONE (FRA-93), Mascalzone Latino (ITA-90, ITA-99) and TeamOrigin (GBR-75). The boats have been equalised as much as possible to create a level playing field that will test the sailors' skill more than their boat's speed.
“We've mainly had to re-cut the mainsails and headsails,” said Laurent Esquier, chief executive of the WSTA for the event in Nice and a past manager of multiple America's Cup syndicates. “We're concerned each pair is as even as possible.”
In a move harkening to the Louis Vuitton Acts of 2005, the boats sit in their cradles without skirts shrouding the keels. Spectators quickly notice the lack of wings on the ballast bulbs. The wings add efficiency to the yacht's performance, but have been discarded for the racing.
“The mainsails have been cut down so we don't need the wings,” said Esquier. “It makes the yachts more affordable to maintain and less prone to damage.”
Two rounds robin are planned beginning Saturday before the fleet is split into groups for the semifinal and consolation racing. The final is scheduled 21-22 November.