The Semi-Finals at Stena Match Cup Sweden were held in perfect conditions with 25 knot winds, big seas and blazing sunshine. There have been few days when match racing as a spectator sport has been shown off so well. Marstrand’s natural sailing amphitheatre was rammed with friends, family, well-wishers and corporate guests having to hang on to their hats as they were treated to a day of thrills, spills and high drama.
2013 Stena Match Cup Sweden
'That was awesome - I loved it out there,' commented a beaming Phil Robertson. 'It was massive, right on the limit, big seas as well, so great fun downwind. We were just having a ball.' His WAKA Racing team was the first to get its berth in tomorrow’s Final, going up 3-0 in its matches against Australia competitor Keith Swinton and his Black Swan Racing.
According to Robertson today it was all about crew work. 'Tacking, hoists, drops, gybes - everything had to be slick. In the end the tacking won us the first two matches, and then a hoist won us the last match.'
Keith Swinton was unfortunate. In the final race he got the better of the start and led around the course. Disaster struck coming into the second top mark rounding. Swinton recounts: 'We went to put the spinnaker pole on and part of the spinnaker came out and then it was in the water and half set off the boat. We cut the sheet and got around the mark, but by then the spinnaker was in a mess and we couldn’t get it setting.'
As the Aussie team struggled to control their kite, Robertson’s spinnaker set and subsequently gybes were immaculate. He rolled Swinton to take the scoreline to a definitive 3-0. 'It was a really disappointing day,' concluded Swinton. 'We let too many opportunities slide. We’ll have to regroup tomorrow and try and get third.'
The dramatic conditions off Marstrand brought more drama in the other Semi-Final between local hero Bjorn Hansen and his eWork Sailing Team and Italian Simone Ferrarese. This Sweden versus Italy match went the full distance with Hansen claiming the first two matches, only for Ferrarese to claw back levelling the score.
'It was fantastic sailing - I think that Marstrand days like this are unbeatable,' enthused Hansen. 'With the crowds on the cliffs, we were able to show how it works in these wind conditions.'
Hansen agreed with Robertson that today was all about boat handling rather than tactics, particularly on the runs as the DS37 yachts used at this event surfed downwind at high speed: 'You had to start preparing the spinnaker drop much, much earlier. From sailing two boatlengths in 20 seconds you do 20 boat lengths in 20 seconds.'
The Swedes came very close to scoring the final knock-out blow when he led around the course on race four, albeit with a penalty outstanding. He got suitably far ahead to knock off his penalty at the finish line only for disaster to strike. 'We couldn’t get the spinnaker pole off – its end had broken,' explained Hansen. 'It was stuck there. We couldn’t get it down. We were trying and trying and after five seconds you are 100m closer to the finish line and then everything got a bit late.' The boats crossed the finish line together with Ferrarese getting the point, Hansen having not completed his penalty because the head of the spinnaker hadn’t dropped below the boom gooseneck before he started to tack.
In the fifth and deciding race, Hansen provided a match racing masterclass in the pre-start, with repeated dial-ups. Ferrarese picked up a penalty in one of these, then in a separate incident there was contact between the two boats that the umpires were unable to see and so penalised both parties. Finally Ferrarese picked up a further penalty en route to the start line. With Hansen already in the better position off the start line, Ferrarese carried out a penalty turn immediately after the start and from then on was on the back foot.
The Italian team was unable to catch up and while Hansen picked up the vital deciding point and his place in the final, Ferrarese broached while passing the leeward gate and managed to hook the leeward mark, which, now airborne, they dragged down through the finish line and on. 'We’d lost the Semi-Finals and we wanted to take something home!' quipped the Italian skipper.
'It was very tough,' he continued of today’s racing. 'Bjorn [Hansen] is of course the master here. We had some amazing races, but we showed we can sail really well. We felt we were much faster than them in the downwind. I am unhappy to miss the spot in the final. We wanted to win this event.'
Hansen paid homage to his crew. 'The guys did a fantastic job. They were exhausted after the fourth race, but they managed to find some extra energy and it was amazing they managed to do that.'
The Swedish skipper getting through to the Final at Stena Match Race Sweden will be the third time in a row he has managed this. 'We are really looking forward to show some great form tomorrow. We have raced Phil a lot and we know that he and his team are really good. We have actually been a little bit surprised they haven’t had better results. I am not surprised we are racing them in the Finals.'
Robertson believes that the outcome tomorrow will depend on conditions. 'I am really confident if it is conditions like today. If it lighter and shiftier then it opens the game right up. We are confident.'