And they're off

The 2002 European Olympic classes regatta circuit kicks off in Palma today reports Peter Bentley
A new challenge for Ben Ainslie In a change to the established order, The Princess Sophia Regatta in Palma looks set to become the major starting point of the European Olympic regatta circuit. Not only are entry numbers in all classes up on last year, but the quality of the competition is also looking strong. Hyeres, for so long the classic opening regatta of the season has been usurped. With so many boats in Palma, it is interesting to reflect on the increasing popularity of the regatta. The weather certainly has something to do with it, and though not totally reliable, the chances of mistral conditions blowing out days seem much less than at Hyeres a month later. The fact that the event is more a series of closely associated regattas rather then one big event helps too. Rather than having a thousand plus sailors all crammed in to one venue as is the case at the events later in the season, the Princess Sophia has the various classes distributed around some fifteen miles of coast from one side of Palma to the other. The Laser class for example currently has 138 entries, significantly more than most major regatta have attracted over the past year. Quantity of course is not the whole story and where in the past the top names tended to sail at Palma only if it fitted in with training, they now see it as a serious event. According Team GBR Laser Coach, Chris Gowers, the Princess Sophia, "is now becoming a quality regatta - it is turning into a must do rather than something to look at if it fits into the calendar." For the majority of Team GBR, Palma is both a serious regatta and something that fits into the programme. With the exception of Shirley Robertson and