Like Phil Robertson, Swede Björn Hansen has been hovering around the podium for the last couple of seasons on the Alpari World Match Racing Tour, finishing second in 2012 and fourth last year. He reigned supreme on home waters, winning his third Stena Match Cup Sweden last year and followed this up with a third at Chicago Match Cup, but before this had failed to make the top eight in Korea. A shade more consistency through the season and Hansen stands every chance of taking the elusive big prize this season.
Hansen and his team finished third at the 2013 Chicago Match Cup
One of the main aspects for a team to remain consistent is its crew and for 2014 Hansen will be racing with the same line-up as he has had for the last couple of seasons. This comprises well known Swedish fighter pilot tactician/mainsail trimmer Gustav Tempelman, Danish headsail trimmer Phillip Kai Guhle, pitman Sebastian Wedel and the longest member of Hansens’ team, bowman Mathias Bredin, who has been sailing regularly with him for ten years now and helps Hansen run the project.
As Hansen explains: 'We sat down after last season and discussed whether to continue or not and we all agreed if we were going to do it, we’d only do it with the same five of us. We really think we have a good shot at the World Championship title if we are doing it together and if each one of us tries to improve a little bit. So everyone signed up for that and hopefully we will go all the way this year.'
So why does Hansen repeatedly keep coming back to the World Tour? 'It’s because I think match racing is a fantastic type of sailing - you really need to be good on the rules, preferably better than the umpires! I get very frustrated when I go back to fleet racing, when you don’t have the umpires on the water and you know that people around you don’t know the rules as well as you. When they break a rule, they don’t even know they break a rule and if you want to protest, you know you’ll be in the protest room for hours...'
In addition to this, Hansen points out that match racing on the World Tour is also the fairest type of sailing because everyone uses the same equipment. 'You cannot put in €300,000 extra and get an extra 0.2 knots - that is impossible in match racing. The only way to become better is to keep on practising and having good people around you, having good crew members. That really attracts me.'
Day two at Match Race Germany.
This year the Alpari World Match Racing Tour features three new Tour Card holders. On the line-up for 2014, Hansen says: 'I feel and I say this every year, but I think it is true that the Alpari World Match Racing Tour is getting better and better each year, and with Richard and Bruni coming back, it is a really strong lineup. Young Mr Gilmour is going to upset quite a few people in the regattas. I think he will be on a steep learning curve, but by the end of the season, we will definitely see him on the podium at a few regattas. Maybe he won’t win the World Championship title this year, but, I would say all of the other seven crews can if they have a good year. That’s good for the tour, good for media and it’s pretty much good for everyone.'
Like Australia and New Zealand, Denmark and Sweden have a lengthy tradition in match racing, which Hansen and his crew are continuing. However Hansen advises that there is likely to be a transition coming soon.
'We have been struggling a bit in Stockholm for the last five or so years to get young sailors to commit to match racing. The problem is that we have had several quite strong Swedish teams recently, with Magnus Holmberg, Johnie Berntsson, Mattias Rahm and ourselves, and we’ve all been fighting for the spots at the Stena Match Cup Sweden and it has been impossible for anyone else to get in. But now Magnus has stopped, and I don’t think Johnie or I will be doing this for too many more years, I think it will be an opportunity for a few young crews to come in. There are some doing really well in Gothenburg at the moment.'
In the meantime, Hansen would like to nail the World Championship title finally. 'We try to make our practice very good quality, we plan our practice well in advance - really pinpoint our weaknesses and our individual weaknesses, so we all have a few areas that we can work on for this year. If everyone raises their level a little bit, we can go all the way.'
As to the Alpari World Match Racing Tour venues this year, Hansen is one of the few on the World Tour who has previously raced in the Sopot, Poland, where there is a new event this season. 'It’s a fantastic venue, I think that will be a really nice event. They will put on a great show. They have one of these piers like in the south of England - it’s a holiday place for Polish people.'
Hansen is now 47, making him the oldest skipper on the Alpari World Match Racing Tour, although he is keen to point out that his crew is younger. 'Maybe I am a little bit childish, which is why we work well together! It feels like we have a good set-up. The guy I started racing keelboats with always said ‘a happy boat is a fast boat’ and it was always great fun sailing with him, so I am trying to keep it that way on our boat. We are doing this because we think it is extremely fun and when we don’t think it is fun anymore we should do something else.'