Think of it as the battle of the clones.
That's basically what's happening this weekend when 12 identical sailboats engage in three days of racing for the Hobie 33 North American Championship.
Scheduled at North Cape Yacht Club today through Sunday the races will be held on windward-leeward courses set east of the club on Lake Erie.
As in any one-design regatta, all the boats have been built to the same specifications and measurements. And each is as similar as possible to any other in sailing characteristics.
"Every boat in the fleet is very competitive and any boat could win," said race chairman Steve Attard, whose Viva Las Vegas is one of the competitors.
But even cloned boats don't always turn out the same in performance. So, if you remove design, construction and handicaps from the winning equation, what gives a particular boat the edge?
"To win a national one-design championship, it all boils down to three things," Attard said. "Teamwork, boat handling and the ability to sail the boat.
"Whoever has the best of all those qualities will win."
The concept of a 33-foot, one-design racing sailboat was dreamed up by Californian Hobie Alter, who also designed the iconic Hobie beach cats.
Using the same construction method that was used to build his signature catamarans, Alter came up with a a slim, ultralight displacement monohull inspired by the Santa Cruz 27. He gave it a retractable keel and a deck-stepped mast to make it easy to trailer.
"Actually, it's a very simple boat and it's laid out to be easy to sail," Attard said.
"When Hobie Alter designed it, there weren't any rules requiring boat flotation, so it has an eight-foot beam. When the boat first came out, people called it the 'Polynesian War Canoe' and 'Six-Man Coffin' because it was so narrow."
Since 1982, 189 Hobie 33s have been built and raced all over the country.
Hull No. 1's history adds a special dimension to the 2006 nationals for its original owners, Tom Andrews and Clif Vaughan of North Cape. The boat, which they named Holy Toledo, won the 2001 Hobie 33 North American championship at the Detroit National Offshore One-design (NOOD) Regatta. It also swept the overall honors three times in the Fort Lauderdale to Key West race.
Later Andrews and Vaughan teamed with Alan Newell to buy the present Holy Toledo (hull No. 130) and went on to capture the overall division and class honors at the 2002 Chicago Mackinac. They also won the St. Petersburg NOODs back-to-back in 2003, 2004.
The North Cape skippers sold Hull No. 1 to Terry Hitchings. Hitchings has chartered her to world-class sailor Juan Mauri to race in this year's championship.
Mauri, a native of Peru who moved to the U.S. in 1999, has won more than 15 national titles in IMS, J-24 and Lasers. He also won the 2005 Hobie 33 national championship held at Cedar Mills Yacht Club in Taxoma, Texas.
"The important thing to us is Hull No. 1," Andrews said. " It would be embarrassing if Mauri beats us.
"We're trying our best," he said, " but our crew hasn't been practicing like everyone else and we haven't raced as a crew for the entire season.
"The reason is that Alan and [crew member] Ed Taylor are sailing in the Bermuda Race with Steve Boice."
Newell won't be back in time for the nationals, but Ernie Dieball, along with Andrews and his son Tim, Vaughan, Tom Spinks, and Taylor will take his place.
Another boat to watch, Andrews says, is Fish With Legs, skippered by clubmate Al "Chip" Gossman.
"Chip won the one-design class in the Mills and he's been going really fast," Andrews said.
Attard also likes Gossman's chances.
"Chip has made his crew commit to practice," he said. "He won the Mills and he wants to see how he stacks up at the national levels."
Another hot boat is Rich Potcova's Short Bus, from Toledo Ice Yacht Club.
"Potcova won the Commodore Perry Race [PHRF division] and he's been practicing for the nationals all summer," Attard said. "He has Mike Deye and most of the Menace crew and he could do it."
Attard also singled out Al Michaud's Pink Panther, of Monroe Boat Club. Its crew includes North Cape commodore and 1998 PHRF-Lake Erie boat of the year skipper Jeff Mackay.
Except for experimenting with jib sets and flying a spinnaker without a pole, Attard hasn't much time to prepare Viva Las Vegas for the Hobie 33 nationals.
"The rest of the time I've been trying to get Gary Arnold's and Rich Pethoud's boats in the water," he said.
Pethoud, from North Cape, recently bought Hobie 33 Hull No. 7 and named it 007.
Arnold, a member of Monroe Boat Club. has been crewing on Viva, but he will be racing his own boat, Night Moves, in the championships.
Out-of-town competitors include Jim Blakewell's Barbarella, from Oklahoma City; Thunderbolt, from Pigeon, Mich.; Mirage, from Virginia Beach, Va., and Rich Brew's Kaos, the Hobie 33 class winner in the 2006 Fort Lauderdale to Key West Race, from Jacksonville, Fla.
The races will start at 9:30 each morning.
"Depending on the wind,"Attard said, "I'd like to have 4 or 5 races on Friday and Saturday and 2 or 3 on Sunday."
Contact Shirley Levy at: