The 1990 Cadillac Columbus Cup takes over the Inner Harbor this week, as eight teams representing seven countries and the city of Baltimore bring a slice of world-class sailing to the Chesapeake Bay.
Up against that world-class field, which includes four skippers ranked among the best match-racing sailors in the world, is Kin Yellott, whose Team Baltimore is one of two American teams in the regatta.
Last year, Yellott finished seventh in the field of eight boats. This year, however, Yellott, who owns Haven Corporation, said he thinks there is a chance the outcome might be somewhat different.
"This time around, we are really geared up," Yellott said. "We have had a little more practice this year -- although I still can't say that we know exactly what is going on."
Given Yellott's sailing background -- from captain of the Yale sailing team in the early 1970s to the recent Prince of Wales Match Race Challenge Series in Detroit -- an improvement from Team Baltimore should be expected, and Yellott said a berth in Saturday's final four is not unthinkable.
This year, Yellott and a regular group of sailing friends have been going out on two boats frequently to practice tactics and boat handling. The boats they have sailed have ranged from small Lasers to J/44s, the boats that will be used in the Columbus Cup.
"You do the Lasers for the quickness and the 44s for discipline and crew work," Yellott said. "But mostly, the benefit of practice is getting to know the guys you are sailing with -- who can calm down whom in what situation."
Each day during the regatta, Yellott, as will each skipper entered, will have a core crew that will be supplemented by an owner's party and sailors from the area.
If he could, Yellott said, he would keep the entire crew with which he has been practicing. But given the skills of the sailors in the Baltimore-Annapolis area, Yellott said, he is certain that any of the people in the crew pool will be talented and welcome.
The competition this year, even without Australia's Peter Gilmour (last year's winner) and Gary Jobson of Annapolis (third last year), will be stiffer, Yellott said.
The second- and fourth-place skippers -- Russell Coutts of New Zealand and Makoto Namba of Japan -- are back.
"Everybody is going to go at it heavy," Yellott said. "Namba doesn't make mistakes anymore and Coutts doesn't get excited anymore. But until we learn otherwise, we're the cannon fodder so the big boys can play."
Yellott said the nature of match racing, in which speed and position are used to control an opponent, said might benefit Team Baltimore.
"You only have to make one mistake and you're behind," he said. "We hope not to make many mistakes, and we have the advantage of having had the opportunity to practice in the J/44s."
There is another side to the Columbus Cup, a facet that provides an explanation of why events such as this regatta benefit the city and its people.
"I think you have two components [in a regatta like this]," said Gregory Barnhill, a member of the Columbus Cup executive committee. "One is tangible, the other is abstract."
The tangible part of the regatta benefits are the proceeds made from the thousands of people who come to Baltimore and buy services at restaurants, hotels and other service establishments and retail outlets.
"Then you have the exposure on an international basis, which gets into the whole issue of economic development and our world positioning," Barnhill said. "You can't really put an immediate dollar figure on that because it is long lasting. The exposure of Baltimore will grow because of this regatta."
There also is the networking that takes place on the fringes of the regatta among diplomats and businessmen from the countries represented.
"It is much more involved than just the physical acts of the racing itself," Barnhill said.
Racing begins Wednesday off the mouth of the Patapsco River on Chesapeake Bay.
In addition to Coutts and Namba, Valdemar Bandolowski of Denmark and Antonio Gorostegui of Spain will sail again this year.
The remainder of the skippers are Larry Klein of California; Marcos Soares of Brazil; and Pelle Petterson of Sweden.
The Columbus Cup is a provisional member of the World Match Racing Conference circuit this year, and points earned in the regatta count toward WMRC standings.
The centers of regatta activity will be at the finger piers area of the Inner Harbor and the new HarborView Marina and Yacht Club.