There's just one week to go until Round 3 of the iShares Cup Sailing Series, and the UK leg of the Extreme 40 circuit is shaping up to be truly spectacular.
Racing takes place from August 2-4 as part of Skandia Cowes Week, the world's largest and longest-running sailing regatta, which runs from August 2-9. The Extreme 40s will join over 900 yachts and keelboats sailing out of Cowes on the Isle of Wight.
An awesome line up of 11 top-class entries will be on the startline for the iShares Cup races, featuring some of the world's very best sailors. They include Round 1 winner, double Olympic gold medallist Shirley Robertson, helming JPMorgan Asset Management; current series leader and British America's Cup challengers TEAMORIGIN skippered by Rob Greenhalgh; and Round 2 winners and America's Cup defenders Alinghi, with Ed Baird.
For the iShares Cup at Skandia Cowes Week these top teams will be joined by two new boats, both from America's Cup challengers BMW ORACLE Racing, with a squad that includes the America's Cup and Olympic gold medal winning Russell Coutts, offshore multihull champion Franck Cammas, top match racer James Spithill, and the hugely experienced round the world sailor John Kostecki.
With the next America's Cup due to be sailed in multihulls between Defenders Alinghi and Challengers BMW ORACLE Racing, this will be the first time the two have sailed against each other since last year's America's Cup - and the first time the Defender and Challenger have raced each other from Cowes since the very first America's Cup began by racing around the Isle of Wight back in 1851.
It will also be a first for James Spithill, one of the two BMW ORACLE Racing skippers. 'Funny enough, I've never raced at Cowes, so it'll be good to finally get there. It should be quite a bit of fun.
'The Extreme 40s are pretty exciting, and we've sailed them in quite a bit of breeze as well so we've enjoyed it, and I'm sure Cowes will provide some pretty interesting conditions.'
Ed Baird, skipper of Alinghi, was also looking forward to the third iShares Cup venue. 'It's been a long time since I raced in the Solent and I'm really looking forward to coming back there and remembering all the idiosyncrasies of the area,' he said. 'It can be windy, it can be light, there's always some current, it can be shifty or steady - every day's different. We know that we're going to have a difficult battle with a lot of great teams again, and we're really excited about the opportunity.'
But the rest of the fleet have already sailed dozens of Extreme 40 races in the fast and furious 2008 iShares Cup, and will give the newcomers plenty of competition. Round 1 winner Shirley Robertson, is hoping for another big performance for JPMorgan Asset Management, sailing out of her home town of Cowes. 'This event is a special one for us as we will be sailing on home territory, so I hope that we can pull out some good races and stay on the podium.
'This time last year I was preparing for my first ever Extreme 40 event, it is amazing how quickly the last 12 months have flown by! I feel like we have learnt so much as a team and I am excited to be lining up against the likes of Russell Coutts and the other America's Cup crews. I am sure that the AC teams will mean we will all be raising the bar on the water and it will keep us all on our toes.'
The third America's Cup team competing in the iShares Cup is the British TEAMORIGIN, skippered by 2007 iShares Cup champion Rob Greenhalgh, who'll be fighting hard to extend their overall lead on the home leg. There are also more British Olympians on board iShares, skippered by Hugh Styles; Oman Sail, helmed by 49er bronze medallist Chris Draper; and BT, with former Star sailor Steve Mitchell on the bow. Meanwhile Volvo Ocean Race, skippered by the creator of the class Herbert Dercksen, also had a fantastic regatta in Hyères and will be looking to continue their improving form in Cowes, or Round 3 could be the turn of Holmatro and Team Aqua to shine.
The skippers will first race on the tricky Solent waters, with their strong tides, rocks and sandbanks, on a media day on Friday 1 August when the 11 Extreme 40s will start with cannon fire from the famous Royal Yacht Squadron at 14.30. The real action kicks off on Saturday August 2 - the first day of Skandia Cowes Week - when the iShares Cup races will take place over short, sharp courses, set off Lepe Beach every afternoon from 14.00-17.00.
BT trimmer Ed Barney said their team are looking forward to the new challenges of racing at Cowes. 'Everyone is mega-keen to get back onboard under the watchful eye of skipper Nick Moloney, and push hard for another podium finish. We're keen to move forward on our overall position of 4th, and a tidal venue with some different sea states will undoubtedly add a different element to the racing.
'The team has a week's training in Cowes lined up before the iShares Cup and then Skandia Cowes Week to follow,' added Ed, 'Bring it on..!'
Then from Tuesday 5 August to Friday 8 August the Extreme 40s can join in the Skandia Cowes Week racing, with their own start at 09.45 each morning from the Royal Yacht Squadron - so get down to the Parade or Cowes Green for a fantastic view of these speed machines. Famous sailors taking part will include Dame Ellen MacArthur who'll join the team on the BT Extreme 40. iShares Cup at Skandia Cowes Week entries:
1. Alinghi (Ed Baird)
2. BT (Nick Moloney)
3. BMW ORACLE Racing (Franck Cammas)
4. BMW ORACLE Racing (James Spithill)
5. Holmatro (Andreas Hagara)
6. iShares (Hugh Styles)
7. JPMorgan Asset Management (Shirley Robertson)
8. Oman Sail (Pete Cumming)
9. Team Aqua (Cameron Appleton)
10. TEAMORIGIN (Rob Greenhalgh)
11. Volvo Ocean Race (Herbert Dercksen)