Calling form on the Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup is hard, as for a team to be successful, all three of its boats must perform. This, plus the event's week-long duration and diverse race format, make the Royal Ocean Racing Club's biennial championship for Corinthian crews one of the pinnacle racing events internationally held under a rating rule.
If there is a favourite team for this 13th running of the Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup, it is France Blue. New in 2014, Eric De Turkheim's A13, Teasing Machine has proved a weapon offshore with one of the busiest programs in international yachting. She is supported by the Prietz's Ker 39 GOA, back for their fourth go having finished third in 2014, 2010 and 2008.
France Blue 'small boat' is Cifraline 4, a Jeanneau Sun Fast 3200 of Daniel Andrieu, the boat's designer and the lowest rated with an IRC TCC of just 1.001. For Andrieu, this will be his first time on the Solent since he won the 1989 Admiral's Cup with the British as designer of Graham Walker's One Tonner Indulgence, skippered by RORC CEO, Eddie Warden Owen.
"On paper Teasing Machine is a fantastic boat and GOA is very well sailed," says Andrieu, who is reluctant to acknowledge their form: "In the Solent, anything is possible."
Equally strong will be France White. Emmanuel le Men's First 40.7, Pen Koent, is back for third time. Noel Racine's JPK 1010 Foggy Dew is new to the event, but well proven in the RORC offshore series, having finished third overall in 2015. Also new to this event is Didier Gaudoux and his brand new JND 39, Lann Ael 2.
"I am here because I have a new boat and this is a competitive environment," says Gaudoux, who sails with his kids and their friends. "I enjoy the team aspect - we don't get too many opportunities to do that." Still on a steep learning curve with Lann Ael 2, Gaudoux hopes they won't let their team mates down.
France Red includes another JND 39, Stamina, campaigned by Seahorse editor Andrew Hurst, alongside Francois Blossier's A35, Realax, and Timeline, of Marc Alperovitch, competing here for the third time, albeit the first on his new JPK 1080. Why he's back? "The Commodores' Cup lasts seven days - there are not so many events where you get to spend so much time on the water. Secondly, the fleet is very competitive."
Among the top 'small boats' will be the A35, Dunkerque-Les Dunes De Flandre, skippered by Benoit D'halluin in the Flanders North Sea team, alongside the Goubau's First 47.7, Moana from Belgium and the Dutch First 40, Elke, of Frans Rodenburg.
Dunkerque competed two years ago, but has achieved most success in RORC offshores. Tactician Philippe Bourgeois, who rates France Blue to win, says that they like the mix of inshores and offshores and are likely to perform best in 15+ knots.
Another regional entry is the Celtic Team, led by sailor/adventurer Jock Wishart, comprising two Scottish boats, Wishart's JPK 10.80, Shaitan, and the Corby 37, Aurora, of Rod Stuart and Bill Ram and the French JPK 1010, Space Oddity, of St Malo-based owner, Gregory Bertrand.
"It is a top event, the top IRC event in Europe," says Space Oddity's mainsheet trimmer Pierre Boue of why they are competing. "It is a very good opportunity to race alongside the best and to learn fast. I expect to increase our level quickly."
Team Israel has three top UK IRC boats, all recently renamed - Andrew Williams Ker 40 Keronimo is now Dan, Israel, Peter Morton's JND 35 Salvo is now Daniel, Herzliya while David Franks' JPK 1010 Strait Dealer is now Carlton, Tel Aviv. Team leader, Omer Brand, sailing on Carlton, Tel Aviv says that they have been putting in a lot of training to try and integrate their Israeli dinghy sailors with the British big boat specialists. Helping with the coaching are tacticians Kevin Sproul, David Bedford and James Gair.
Team GBR is fielding two teams with RORC Admiral Andrew McIrvine leading GBR Red with his First 40, La Réponse, alongside Alice, a much refined Mumm 36 of Simon Henning, with J/35 Bengal Magic, as small boat.
While McIrvine and Henning are old hands, Bengal Magic is a Commodores' Cup newbie. Skipper James Chalmers explains: "It's a race we've always followed and we're very lucky to get the opportunity to do it." The boat is 20+ years old and this is Chalmers' fifth season campaigning her, having previously won class in the IRC Nationals and in the Round the Island Race.
Bengal Magic has been able to enter because of the rating band widening this year. Chalmers says he is most concerned about the team aspect: "Before we've only really ever sailed for ourselves, so if you go out and have a bad day, you just go the bar, have a beer and not worry it. But if you've got two other team members who've put a lot of energy, effort and expense into it, you have to do well for other people."
Finally there is GBR Blue, comprising the Blair family's King 40, Cobra, and two of the highest rated boats - Tom Kneen's JPK 10.80, Sunrise, in the 'small boat' class and James Neville's HH42 Ino XXX, the fastest boat in the event by some 28 points.
"We are very excited about the Brewin Dolphin Commodore's Cup because of the mix of inshore and offshores and the opportunity to race against a different group of boats," says Neville, who competed two years ago on his previous Corby 36, Ino. "Watching the Ker 40s last time was what drove me to get a bigger boat. Hopefully being the biggest boat this time, we'll have a better chance to get away."
Racing gets underway tomorrow with three inshore races scheduled, starting at 1030 BST.