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ICAP Leopard Rambler rematch Antigua Sailing Week

by Herb McCormick on 26 Mar 2008
ICAP Leopard trails Rambler heading into Fastnet Rock. ICAP Leopard went on to take almost nine hours off the race record. © Rolex / Carlo Borlenghi http://www.carloborlenghi.net
In the highly competitive world of Grand Prix yacht racing, they are currently two of the best-sailed, highest profile offshore maxis in the game. In the last year alone, they have earned headlines around the world with top-notch performances in such classic events as the Rolex Fastnet Race, the Rolex Middle Sea Race, and the Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race. In fact, their epic duel in last summer’s Fastnet was a match for the ages, as the two giants were separated by a mere three seconds as they rounded the famous landmark known as Fastnet Rock.

Now, Mike Slade’s 100-foot ICAP Leopard, and George David’s 90-foot Rambler, the former Shockwave-Alfa Romeo are preparing for a rematch in the fresh tradewinds of the Caribbean. For the two state-of-the-art race boats are among the early entrants for the upcoming 41st edition of Stanford Antigua Sailing Week, scheduled from April 27-May 3.

Seventy-two boats have already registered for the 2008 running of Sailing Week, but none are larger or more impressive than ICAP Leopard, which was built Down Under at Australia’s McConaghy Boats in June 2007, and almost immediately made a mark on the sailing world. The canting keel, 40-ton ICAP Leopard may have trailed Rambler by seconds at the halfway mark of the heavy-weather 2007 Fastnet, but the 100-footer staged an impressive comeback by overtaking her rival and, in the process, smashing the race record by eight hours to take line honors after a blistering voyage of 1d, 20h, 18m, 53s. Rambler finished some 45 minutes in arrears but exacted some revenge by winning the prestigious IRC Super Zero Class on corrected time.

For the Bruce Farr-designed ICAP Leopard, the next stage of her world tour was the Rolex Sydney-Hobart Race, where she finished a close second on line honors to the celebrated Australian maxi, Wild Oats XI. But owner Mike Slade couldn’t be more pleased about ICAP Leopard’s strong inaugural season of racing.

“The boat’s like a Volvo 70, stretched out to 100-feet,” said Slade. “It’s just like race horses that are good on the flat. Some prefer soft ground, (while) some are better on hard ground. We’re better in the upwind, breezier conditions.” Clearly, Slade is hoping that the strong winds for which Stanford Antigua Sailing Week is known are switched on for his steed’s Caribbean debut.


In the mean time, the Reichel/Pugh-designed Rambler moved forward from the Fastnet Race to record a series of strong performances in its first year under George David’s stewardship. With U.S. skipper Ken Read commanding an all-star crew of sailors who will also form the nucleus of Read’s PUMA Racing team for the upcoming Volvo Ocean Race, Rambler registered a rare set of “trebles”—a record-setting time, line honors, and corrected time victory—in last fall’s Rolex Middle Sea Race in the Mediterranean, and the Offshore Race Rolex Buenos Aires-Rio de Janeiro Race in the South Atlantic last February.

In the Middle Sea contest, Rambler covered the 606-nautical mile course in 47h, 55m, 3s, and in the Buenos Aires-Rio event, the water-ballasted 90-footer sailed the 1,123-nautical mile voyage in 4d, 9h, 55m, 45s.

Rambler was originally built in 2002 for Aussie sailor Neville Crichton, who called the boat Shockwave. David had been contemplating the commission of a brand-new maxi, but he knew that would be a process that would take years; he wanted to sail in 2007. When he saw Shockwave in a marina on the south coast of France, he realized it was a vessel aboard which he could realize his aspirations.

“It just happened to be available,” said David. “Crichton built it in 2002 as the fastest monohull in the world. Then, literally coincident with its launch, along came the canting keels. Neville wanted to step up to a 100-foot canting-keel boat so he only raced Shockwave for a couple of years. When I first stepped aboard I thought, ‘This is pretty big.’ But half an hour later, I said to myself, ‘It’s just a big 50-footer.’ It’s funny how your perspective changes.”

Shockwave was built tough, for the grueling Sydney-Hobart Race and other Tasman Sea adventures, but David understood that there was more speed to be squeezed from the existing platform. So the boat went directly from France into the shed at New England Boatworks in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, and with guidance from the original design team of Reichel Pugh, the newly renamed Rambler underwent an extensive refit that included the addition of a 9.5-ton bulb to its reconfigured 16-foot draft, and a 10-foot bowsprit to allow plenty more sail to be pressed on.

Now, having sailed off on separate tacks, literally and figuratively, after their shared Fastnet adventures, ICAP Leopard and Rambler are on a course heading directly for Stanford Antigua Sailing Week, where they’ll renew their rivalry on the water. It will surely be a Clash of the Titans.

For more information, registration forms, an updated entry list and more, visit the Stanford Antigua Sailing Week website at www.sailingweek.com

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