Stena Match Cup Sweden, the third event on the 2013 Alpari World Match Racing Tour, showed that interest in match racing in Scandinavia remains as high as ever with 30,000 spectators cramming the shore line around the natural amphitheatre of Marstrand harbour to witness the cut and thrust of Saturday’s Finals.
2013 Stena Match Cup Sweden
Coming fresh from a win in the Congressional Cup earlier this year, Italian wild card holder Simone Ferrarese set the tone on day one of Stena Match Cup Sweden with some giant killing. Among his four wins and just one loss in the opening salvos, the 25-year-old beat reigning World Champion Ian Williams and his GAC Pindar crew and followed this up claiming the scalps of Keith Swinton’s Black Swan Racing, Taylor Canfield’s USone and Adam Minoprio’s Team Alpari FX crew. However it was Williams who topped the leaderboard early on with five wins from six matches.
Approaching the end of Qualifying at the end of day two, Phil Robertson and his WAKA Racing topped the leaderboard on seven wins and one loss. The New Zealand skipper attributed this to three days of training in nearby Oslo prior to the regatta. 'That helped tidying up the on-board communication since the Korea Match Cup, making sure we're doing things as they should be done within each of the roles in the team. We’re keeping it simple,' Robertson explained.
A last-gasp thriller came in the match between Minoprio and Williams, when the Kiwi team, a penalty down, lashed out like a wounded animal at Williams’ GAC Pindar crew just metres from the line. They suddenly dropping their spinnaker to the deck, luffing the British boat, whose own spinnaker was still fully hoisted and flailing in the breeze. Minoprio got the penalty he wanted against Williams, cancelling his earlier infringement and this left his boat clear to sail across the line to take the point.
However when Qualifying finished on day three it was the wild card entry Simone Ferrarese who came out on top with a nine-two scoreline, one win up from second placed Robertson. More surprising was that the four at the bottom, up for eviction from the Stena Match Cup Sweden house post-Qualifying, included two Tour card holders - US Virgin Islander Taylor Canfield and the USone team and Pierre-Antoine Morvan’s Vannes Agglo Sailing Team - plus Korea Match Cup winner Mathieu Richard and his GEFCO Match Racing Team.
Canfield admitted: 'It’s definitely a tough, tough situation we're in, but we are still carrying two decent finishes on the Alpari World Match Racing Tour - a five and a two - so with one drop, we're not entirely out of it at this point. We're just going to have to keep performing like we have in the past.' From here they head with the Tour for Chicago, home waters for Canfield, where he is Sailing Director at Chicago Match Race Center. This is followed by the Argo Group Gold Cup in Bermuda and then the Monsoon Cup in Malaysia, both of which Canfield won in 2012. 'That’s three big events that we're really comfortable in and hopefully we can just perform in all three and bring home the title.'
Two further big guns were knocked out during the Quarter-Final stage. Defending Tour champion Ian Williams and his GAC Pindar crew, winners of Match Race Germany were trounced one-three by Keith Swinton’s Black Swan Racing. Similarly Adam Minoprio’s Team Alpari FX was dispatched by Bjorn Hansen’s eWork Sailing Team. With the exit of Richard and Canfield in Qualifying, suddenly none of the top four from the 2013 Alpari World Match Racing Tour leaderboard were in the competition any more.
'It was tricky – very light airs and he seemed to be able to get a bit more speed out of his boat than we could out of ours. We’re pretty disappointed,' commented Williams of his unexpected defeat at the hands of Swinton.
Local hero and Stena Match Cup Sweden defending champion Bjorn Hansen did particularly well to fight back from 0-2 down against Minoprio, the 2009 Tour winner. Hansen recovered to one-two, but seemed to have been roundly defeated in the pre-start of the fourth match. First he was penalised for failing to enter the starting area properly and then had to restart after he was over early at the gun. But fate smiled on the Swedes on the first downwind leg, when the wind filled in from behind and they were able to roll Minoprio’s Alpari FX team. Hansen continued his winning streak on to three-two, earning his berth in the Semi-Finals.
In the two other Quarter-Final matches New Zealand’s Phil Robertson and his WAKA Racing dispatched local hero Johnie Berntsson and his Stena Sailing Team, while Simone Ferrarese won against Finland’s Staffan Lindberg and his Alandia Sailing Team.
After a chilly and relatively light start to the event the penultimate day saw a dramatic change of conditions with the onset of winds gusting at times to more than 25 knots accompanied by brilliant sunshine. The huge spectator turnout was treated to a dramatic day that for the sailors switched the emphasis on to boat handling and survival skills.
'It was massive, right on the limit, big seas as well, so great fun downwind,' summed up a beaming Phil Robertson’s whose WAKA Racing team took out Australian Keith Swinton and his Black Swan Racing three-zero. 'Tacking, hoists, drops, gybes - everything had to be slick.'
Swinton was unfortunate. In the third race he won the start and led around the course only for disaster to strike coming into the second top mark rounding. As he recounted: '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.' Robertson rolled them to take his third consecutive bullet.
The Hansen versus Ferrarese Semi-Final went to the maximum five races. The Swedish team came close to pulling it off on race four, only for disaster to strike in the big conditions as they tried to carry out a penalty turn on the finish line. As Hansen explained: 'We couldn’t get the spinnaker pole off – its end had broken and it was stuck there. We couldn’t get it down.' As a result Ferrarese scored the leveller, two all.
The most memorable image from 2013 Stena Match Race Sweden came in their last race when seconds after Hansen had won his third and decisive point, Ferrarese’s yacht broached and managed to hook one of the leeward gate marks with its spinnaker tackle towing the yellow buoy through the finish line and well beyond before his crew could disentangle it.
'We’d lost the Semi-Finals and we wanted to take something home!' quiped Ferrarese.
Hansen was into his third consecutive finals at Stena Match Cup Sweden, on this occasion lining up with Phil Robertson. Once again in this stage of the competition the Swedish team seemed intent on taking racing to the maximum duration, with races again going to the maximum five in the first to three format, along the way providing a roller coast ride for the 30,000 strong crowd lining Marstrand’s rocky shoreline for ‘Finals day’.
As was the case in the Semi-Finals, Hansen was firmly on the back foot, zero-two down against his young Kiwi opponent. 'They had a little bit of an edge in the manoeuvres, but I also managed to put us into a couple of bad situations taking some penalties and doing some bad starts,' recounted Hansen of the first two races.
However he was able to recoup the next two matches to level the scoreline. In the final decider, Robertson won the start and the two boats both headed out to the extreme left side of the race course before tacking back in towards the mark. En route Hansen twice luffed Robertson and, following the second, Robertson was penalised for not keeping clear. A cheer went up from the massive crowds lining the harbour as Hansen rounded the top mark ahead. However a dial down on the second beat (one of several) resulted in Robertson taking the lead only for him to lose it again just as they came into the top mark for the final time. Hansen led down to the line to take the decisive race and Stena Match Race Sweden honours for a third time.
Back at the dock there was huge emotion among Hansen and his crew of Gustav Tempelman, Phillip Kai Guhle, Sebastian Wedel and Mathias Bredin as champagne corks flew and the crews of both finalists took a plunge in Marstrand harbour.
'To win here is the most fantastic thing you can do as a Swedish sailor,' a delighted Hansen enthused. 'All the ingredients came together and coming back from being down two-zero - it was great.'
Despite losing Robertson and his crew very much enjoyed the final day’s conditions, which with the wind down to a more moderate 10-12 knots, allowed crews once again to indulge in some more tactical racing. 'The race course was perfect – the spectators were amazing,' said Robertson. 'None of them were cheering for us – but that was alright! I didn’t really appreciate the size of the crowd until the third race when the cheer went up as Bjorn crossed first!'
Hansen also paid tribute to the fans and the support from ashore. 'It is like having a sixth crewmember.'
With three victories in Marstrand, Hansen has now overtaken Dean Barker and Russell Coutts’ two win record at Stena Match Cup Sweden, but has some way to go to catch Peter Gilmour’s unprecedented seven wins.
James Pleasance, Executive Director of the Tour summed up the week’s racing: 'Stena Match Cup Sweden is one of the flagship events of the Alpari World Match Racing Tour and this year the event delivered some of the most dramatic match racing we have seen this year. The championship is wide open and the next event in Chicago will be crucial for the teams to finish well' The Alpari World Match Racing Tour resumes on the opposite side of the Atlantic on 6th August, with the Chicago Match Cup.
Finals at Stena Match Cup Sweden, Marstrand, Sweden. Alpari World Match Racing Tour. Photo: Brian Carlin/AWMRT