In the past two years, the Cadillac Columbus Cup has set sail for a week each October from the Finger Piers in the Inner Harbor to race in the Chesapeake Bay with limited spectator fleets and moderate fanfare.
This year, race organizers believe, changes of venue and racing format will produce a better Columbus Cup for the competitors, the spectators and the sponsors of the event.
"Our purpose in having this event has been from the beginning to promote the city of Baltimore and the state of Maryland," said Susan Taylor, executive director of the regatta. "And also to have great sailing.
"Absolutely, we are achieving our goals in that we are bringing a lot more people down to the event to watch it and to experience Baltimore and Maryland."
Racing courses for the Cup have been moved inside the Key Bridge, where spectators along the waterfront and at Fort McHenry will be able to follow the action closely and spectator boats will have to make a shorter run on race days.
In the first two Columbus Cups, racing was held outside the Key Bridge at the mouth of the Patapsco River, where winds often were unpredictable. Inside the bridge, there almost always seemed to be a breeze.
Racing operations and shoreside activities will be based at the HarborView Marina and Yacht Club on Key Highway rather than at the Finger Piers.
With more space in which to hold events, the tall ship Gazella, the J-Boat Shamrock V and the governor's yacht will be on hand all week. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Child Abuse Prevention Center of Maryland have been added as beneficiaries of shoreside fund-raisers.
But in the process of making the regatta more user friendly, the field of racers has been changed somewhat -- and the format of racing has been altered as well.
In past years, for example, world class match racers such as Russell Coutts of New Zealand, Peter Gilmour of Australia, Makoto Namba of Japan and Gary Jobson of the United States have competed.
This year, the top names are Buddy Melges, John Kostecki and Jim Brady, all Americans. The top-ranked match racer in the field of skippers is Marc Bouet of France (13th).
Chris Law (22) and J.J. Isler (29) are the only others in the field who are ranked in the top 50 match racing skippers.
Taylor said that this year the Columbus Cup organizers had to make some tough decisions about which skippers to invite because of scheduling conflicts with America's Cup campaigns, Olympic development programs and other match racing events.
"There were 15 people who sent in resumes and were anxious to sail here, and some of those people we have had here in the past," Taylor said. "But we decided we would rather have Buddy Melges and John Kostecki, who are top America's Cup and Olympic campaigners, rather than trying to just get somebody from a foreign country."
The Japanese offered to send a team, Taylor said, but the skipper would not be Namba. Pelle Peterson of Sweden and Valdemar Bandolowski of Denmark were willing to return, and Paul Cayard and a group from Italy were in the running until it pulled out two weeks ago.
Race organizers, Taylor said, felt that Melges and Kostecki would be better competitors, and Paul Thomson of Canada was added to replace the Italians.
Isler, the first woman skipper to sail in the Columbus Cup, was guaranteed a berth is this regatta because she won the Santa Maria Cup here in the spring.
"Unfortunately, we conflict closely with Omega Gold Cup, the World Championships in Bermuda and the Nippon Cup," Taylor said, "and basically what has happened is that none [of the top match racing skippers in the world] have a choice in which regattas they sail.
"They are being told where to go by the people that are running their America's Cup campaigns."
There also is the matter of money to be considered.
"We don't offer prize money, and the Omega Gold Cup does," Taylor said, "and that took Peter Gilmour and Russell Coutts, even though they have been very supportive of us in the past.
"But when it comes down to it, if they have a chance to win $50,000 or whatever, they are going to go to the Gold Cup before us."
Cash prizes have been considered for the Columbus Cup, Taylor said, but the idea was tabled because the regatta uses 44-foot sloops on loan from private owners.
"Money makes the competition a little bit different," Taylor said. "When there is a mark rounding situation and you know it might be the difference between $50,000 and nothing, it makes it a little rougher, a little more competitive. People aren't going to be as careful about the boats they are in. They are going to take more chances."
The changes in racing format for this year reflect changes that will be used in the Olympics for the Soling class.
Two days of fleet racing, competition among all eight J/44s, will determine the seedings for match racing later in the week. In match racing, two boats sail only against each other.
Skippers at a glance