America's Cup sailors Dean Barker and Francesco Bruni will be in the fleet of 16 in the 67th annual Argo Group Gold Cup match racing regatta starting Wednesday in Bermuda.
Barker, skipper of SoftBank Team Japan, is a past match-racing world champion. He and Bruni, a member of the afterguard for Artemis Racing, are familiar competitors at the Gold Cup. Bruni won the title in 2013 and Barker placed fourth in 2003.
The schedule is unchanged despite strong wind and heavy rain from Hurricane Joaquin, which passed to the northwest of the island on Sunday.
The first match pits a skipper on top of his game, world No. 1 Ian Williams of Great Britain, against one who's returning for the first time in three years, Bermudian ace Blythe Walker.
Barker and Bruni will be sailing in the America's Cup World Series regatta in Bermuda the following week. The 2017 America's Cup will be held in Bermuda.
The Gold Cup marks the return to the IOD, the 79-year-old design that's the featured boat. Displacing 7,100 pounds, the IOD is about twice as heavy as the nimble AC45 catamarans that Barker and Bruni have grown accustomed to sailing.
''Winning the Gold Cup was for sure a highlight of my career. It's a special trophy with so much history attached to it,'' said Bruni, a seven-time world champion across a variety of classes. ''We will be as competitive as we can be, but I haven't done a great deal of match racing in the past year. It's going to be hard getting back in the IOD and going against the tour sailors. But when you have the frame of mind of nothing to lose, it can be a great frame of mind to have. We have nothing to prove, nothing to lose.''
Barker began tuning up for the Gold Cup by winning the Bermuda National Match Racing Championship last Saturday, taking down Walker in the final. Barker said it was a ''bit of a wake-up call'' getting back in the IOD.
''The big thing that stands out is how much pre-planning you need to do,'' said Barker. ''It's not a boat that you can throw around and make a split-second decision. You have to think through the maneuvers and use your momentum. They don't accelerate well and are hard to slow down when they're up and running. The change in momentum is one of the challenges that makes match racing interesting, and these boats have it in spades.''
Barker had already gained entry to the Gold Cup via a wild card, so the spot allocated to the winner of the Bermuda National Championship went to Walker, an 11-time entrant in the Gold Cup.