Stena Match Cup Sweden, the second stage of the 2014 Alpari World Match Racing Tour, celebrates its 20th birthday next week at the idyllic island of Marstrand on the West coast of Sweden. Joining the Alpari Tour Card Holders in this anniversary regatta will be two titans of the match racing community: Sweden’s Magnus Holmberg and American Ed Baird.
Baird, the former 32nd America’s Cup winning helmsman for Alinghi and three time ISAF Match Racing World Champion (1995, 2003, 2004), has a powerful crew of former America’s Cup sailors competing with him. Local hero Magnus Holmberg, after retiring from professional sailing three years ago, is making a brief return to the Tour and to Sweden for this special birthday of the regatta he originally helped conceive.
Having previously sailed on the Tour, Holmberg approached the Royal Swedish Yacht Club (KSSS) in the early 1990s to see if they would be interested in staging event. He ended up being the then Swedish Match Cup’s Event Manager. 'It is good to see the event is still going strong,' he says.
Coming into Stena Match Cup Sweden, Holmberg acknowledges he will be a little rusty. Since retiring from sailing to become a consultant in ‘leadership management’ three years ago, the former Victory Challenge America’s Cup helmsman has raced just twice, on both occasions in a Laser acting as sparring partner for his son. Otherwise he has been focussed on his new business. However in preparation for racing in Marstrand this year he has taken part in two local events in the DS37 yachts used at Stena Match Cup Sweden, and has sailing with him three quarters of his original team, including Stefan Rahm and the Björndal brothers, Mikael and Daniel.
None of his team are professional sailors anymore and to date this season they have only managed to compete in light winds, Holmberg admits. 'The hard part will be when the wind picks up and it gets more physical and things get quicker and you have to react via your backbone.'
Despite his four year absence from the Tour, Holmberg is familiar with almost the entire line-up next week, with the exception of the young defending Alpari World Match Racing Tour champion, Taylor Canfield.
However one man to watch in Marstrand will be the event’s defending champion and Swedish grand master, Bjorn Hansen. Last year was Hansen’s third Stena Match Cup Sweden victory. He has fond memories of his first, when he won the 2007 final against Holmberg. 'It was fantastic - the top wind strength was 42 knots and we were still sailing with the spinnakers up! It was raining, but there were still thousands of people on the cliffs watching as we were luffing each other up almost on to the rocks. It was crazy racing, but such fun. I will never forget that.'
Stena Match Cup Sweden, or the Swedish Match Cup as it was, has had a powerful influence on Hansen’s career. He sailed the first event as a lowly trimmer for a Finnish team. 'They put on such a show - that is when I decided that match racing was going to be my thing,' he recalls of that event. 'Both Ed Baird and Magnus [Holmberg] were there at that regatta - Ed was in the final, Magnus in the semi-finals. So we know that they are two very strong competitors, and Marstrand is definitely their favourite regatta.
'Magnus has done a few regattas and he has his old team. They’re really experienced and they’ve done quite a lot of sailing with Johnie [Berntsson]. I think that he will be back in good shape coming to Marstrand. It is going to be tough to proceed to the quarterfinals this year for sure. We are going to have to prepare well to have a good result.'
Hansen is warming up this week, training with Luna Rossa’s Francesco Bruni in Denmark.
Also in the hunt among the 2014 Tour Card holders will be Australian Keith Swinton and his Team Alpari FX, who has his northern hemisphere base in nearby Gothenberg. His record at the Swedish stopover of the Alpari World Match Racing Tour has been on the rise having finished fifth and fourth in the last two years.
Swinton is impressed by the event’s set-up, the fjord where the racing takes place, the cliffs where spectators can watch and the level of public interest in the sailing there. 'It is a really good event all around. Obviously it is great to have so many people watching the sailing. A lot of Swedes have a good understanding of the event and of sailing and they appreciate the good racing. It is always good for sailors when there is interest in what you are doing. You are well looked after there.'
As to the competition, Swinton says he’s never raced Ed Baird, but he comes to the event with top credentials as does Magnus Holmberg. However he believes the old guard will struggle. 'I think it is going to be hard for them to compete against us because we have all the practice under our belts and I think things have changed a little bit now. Some of the young guys are sailing really well. But good luck to them.' Stage 2 Stena Match Cup Sweden, Alpari World Match Racing Tour
Ian Williams (GBR) GAC Pindar GBR
Keith Swinton (AUS) Team Alpari FX
Mathieu Richard (FRA) LunaJets
Phil Robertson (NZL) Waka Racing
Björn Hansen (SWE) Hansen Sailing Team
David Gilmour (ASU) Team Gilmour
Taylor Canfield (ISV) USone
Francesco Bruni (ITA) Luna Rossa
Joachim Aschenbrenner (DEN) Team Trifork
Viktor Ogeman (SWE) Team Accure
Nicolai Sehested (DEN) Trefor Match Racing
Johnie Berntsson (SWE) Stena Sailing Team
Magnus Hoimberg (SWE) Team Magnus Holmberg
Ed Baird (USA) Quantum Racing