Defying an unpromising forecast of little wind, the organisers of Sopot Match Race, the third event on the 2014 Alpari World Match Racing Tour, were able to stay on schedule, completing the final 12 flights of Qualifying.
A very unlucky day for Bjorn Hansen and his team
With the easterly onshore wind on Gdansk Bay, conditions were more stable than yesterday’s offshore westerly. The race committee was able to set up a course, the entirety of which could be seen easily by the thousands of spectators packing Sopot’s famous Molo Pier. Through the afternoon a short chop built up requiring crews to time their tacks carefully.
Star of Qualifying was defending Alpari World Match Racing Tour champion Taylor Canfield, whose USone team suffered just one loss, to Swede Bjorn Hansen.
'The guys are getting the boat around the course well and I think we have got a pretty good grip on the boats here in Poland,' said Canfield of the Diamond 3000 IOR-type 34 footers used here. 'Some boats suit some people and this one seems to suit us. It is definitely a handful at times getting the runners on, but we have got our system locked in and its working.'
In the race Canfield lost to Hansen he admitted that they had been pushing the Swedish skipper and ended up being late to the line at the unflavoured end. Hansen then just extended away.
As winner of Qualifying Canfield now fast tracks to the Semi Finals, sitting out the ‘shortened’ Quarter Finals, raced by six (rather than eight) teams.
As usual, tension built over today’s final flights as it became clear which skippers would make it through to the Semis. With Poland’s Przemys?aw Tarnacki, Swede Johnie Berntsson, Finland’s Staffan Lindberg and Australian Tour Card holder David Gilmour definitely on the bus home, Stena Match Cup Sweden winner Bjorn Hansen would have a ‘live or die’ match with Ian Williams and his GAC Pindar team. However if Hansen lost and Team Alpari FX skipper Keith Swinton won his match against LunaJets skipper Mathieu Richard, then Swinton would progress through.
With Swinton comfortably leading his match against Richard, all eyes were on Hansen-Williams. This did not start well for the British skipper who picked up a pre-start penalty for failing to keep clear while sailing backwards after a dial-up. As he recounts: 'Then we stuffed up the start and he had a big lead and was a penalty up. So we had a bit on there! But the guys did great in getting the boat set up fast and we were able to come into him up the beat.'
Approaching the top mark Hansen picked up a penalty in a port-starboard incident, cancelling out Williams’ penalty and in the same impressive move Williams also gained the lead. 'It was a bit unlucky for him,' admitted Williams. 'He hit some big chop as we were on starboard with a piece of him. It became a pretty clear port-starboard. It was a nice move and it worked out well.'
The GAC Pindar crew went on to gain the point over Hansen, causing Swinton to gain his Quarter-Final berth.
With Hansen and Gilmour now out of the competition, a non-Tour Card holders who has made it through is Nicolai Sehested. The young Dane finished Qualifying on six wins and five losses, along with Mathieu Richard and Karol Jablonski.
'Today was good, after we had a few issues yesterday,' said Sehested. 'We regrouped last night: We felt quick yesterday, but we had some terrible boat handling with some hard drops and hoists and manoeuvres. We had to sort out who was doing what and keep it clean and that worked well for us.'
It clearly did, with Sehested beating Ian Williams, Keith Swinton and Bjorn Hansen today. 'The breeze was more stable today, so it was more about the prestart and get off the line in a strong condition and just be fast and hold them,' Sehested continued.
While local Polish hopes in the competition are being kept alive by match racing legend Karol Jablonski, out is Przemyslaw Tarnacki, both a competitor here and race organiser. Tarnacki came good today winning three matches in row, including one against Jablonski.
'Racing Karol is always spectacular,' he said. 'We had some action in the pre-start, so we just squeezed on the line and he couldn’t hook us and he was nearly tight on the pin. It was really nice as Karol is one of the best guys in the world when it comes to pre-starts. He is always aggressive.'
Wearing his race organiser hat Tarnacki commented: 'So far, so good. We have good weather. We haven’t had too many problems with the boats and we are very satisfied. For me it is a big honour to have the Alpari World Match racing Tour here in Poland. When I founded the event 11 years ago that was always a dream, but now it has come true.'
Unlike any other regatta, Sopot Match Race is renowned for its giant parties which begin in earnest tonight. Tarnacki explains: 'Sopot is the ‘place to be’ in Poland. It is the Polish St Tropez. We have luxury premium brand sponsors, like Samsung, Ferrari, Albert Riele and LVMH, who are doing B to B here and inviting their clients. It is popular with the top guys in this country plus the top film stars. That adds some spice to the event…'
Racing starts again at 1000 with the first to three point Quarter Finals. Who sails who and in which boats will be decided at the skippers briefing at 0900. With an improving weather forecast promising an easterly wind of 10 knots and clear skies it should be another great day in Sopot.
Stage 3 Sopot Match Race, Alpari World Match Racing Tour
Final Results of Qualifying
Taylor Canfield (ISV) USone 10-1
Ian Williams (GBR) GAC Pindar 8-3
Phil Robertson (NZL) Waka Racing 7-4
Karol Jab?o?ski (POL) Jablonski Sailing Team 6-5
Mathieu Richard (FRA) LunaJets 6-5
Nicolai Sehested (DEN) Trefor Match Racing 6-5
Keith Swinton (AUS) Team Alpari FX 5-6
Björn Hansen (SWE) Hansen Sailing Team 5-6
Przemys?aw Tarnacki (POL) Tarnacki Yacht Racing 5-6
Johnie Berntsson (SWE) Stena Sailing Team 4-7
David Gilmour (ASU) Team Gilmour 3-8
Staffan Lindberg (FIN) Alandia Sailing Team 1-10