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Mano A Mano

by Mark Stevens, Sail-World Canada on 3 Mar 2011
Budget Marine Match Racing Cup at the Heineken Regatta 2011 Heineken Regatta
Match-racing, at its best, is Mano a Mano – hand-to-hand combat. Match-racing here, in the Budget Marine Match-Racing Cup, run-up to the Heineken Regatta, takes that sort of intensity up a few notches. Some of the top racers in the world. No Wednesday night yacht club race, this.

Races are on six Jeanneau Sunfast 20’s. Eight skippers. Each skipper races every other skipper. Each skipper races each of the six boats.

The course is straightforward: start, windward leg, downwind, upwind, downwind, set in the waters of Simpson Bay Lagoon – surrounded by emerald mountains and multi-million-dollar boats. Both make for a great backdrop but unpredictable winds. And that’s where straightforward ends.

Think psychological warfare.

'This is the purest form of racing,' says Peter Holmberg, the favourite. They started this race up three years ago – sort of a Heineken amuse-bouche – and Holmberg won both other times. But that’s hardly the only item on his resume. For starters, he’s an Olympics silver medalist.

And he savours this event.

'It’s like a boxing match,' Holmberg says, watching the action on the water like a major league scout as he waits for the next race. 'A crash course in every aspect of racing: speed, crew work. It is the single fastest way to improve your sailing.'
Here at the Budget Marine Cup it’s also a story in a story.

Erik Van Poelgeest is the youngest skipper here and he starts out going head-to-head with Holmberg. 'But I wasn’t nervous,' he says.

Think David and Goliath – or Bush and Saddam – because you’re also talking nautical geopolitics. Great Britain’s here; New Zealand, Holland, Antigua, USVI, BVI, two Russian teams.

Or think civil war – like the throat-slashing race between two Russian teams – one of the most intense battles of the day.
But it still never surpassed the finals. Last year Holmberg beat out Gavin Brady, two-time Mumm 36 world champion. This year it was right down to the wire, with Brady getting the nod.

Holmberg may not have won but it’s kind of like the Stanley Cup finals. How good do you have to be to even get this far?
Spectators won, that’s for sure.

No surprise those schoolyard fights were always surrounded by a crowd.

Mano a Mano is the ultimate spectator sport.
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