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When great X-pectations are surpassed

by Mark Jardine 21 Aug 2023 12:00 PDT

The X-Yachts Gold Cup is something special: In an era where the reporting at many top events includes words such as pinnacle, performance and elite repeatedly, what I heard from the competitors in Aarhus, Denmark, was all about community, fun, laughter, and camaraderie.

It's not that the racing wasn't hard, or contested fiercely, as it surely was with many champions in the fleet. It was the atmosphere that sailors arrived to, and the spirit which was maintained throughout the event. The X-Yachts Gold Cup was a celebration of everything that is good about yacht racing.

Aarhus is known as the city of smiles, which makes it the perfect place to host the X-Yachts Gold Cup. The dock area has been redeveloped massively over the past couple of decades and, combined with the stunning coastline, makes for a jaw-dropping backdrop to the racing.

The courses are varied, with the Sports class enjoying windward-leeward racing on the first day and coastal racing on the second. The Family class had coastal racing on both days, with each race divided into two scores for the first and second half of the course. Even the names of these races are fun, with The Castle Experience on day one and The Light Tower Voyage on day two.

The area was new to me, the format was something I hadn't done before, but it was easy to relax into the event from the off. Coming together as a crew on a charter X4.3 mk II, we had an Englishman, an Australian, a Kiwi, a Dane, a Dutchman and a Spaniard. We were truly multinational but gelled straight away as a team, surprising ourselves with our performance. It was an unforgettable regatta for us all. Yes, we concentrated hard on the tactics and trim, trying to get everything we could out of the yacht, but we also took the time to soak up the atmosphere and sights, chat and laugh, relax and smile. I've got all the aches and pains I usually associate with completing a hard regatta, but this time feel very mellow at the end of it.

Ben and Catherine Solly travelled over from Australia to compete, as the centrepiece of a wider European vacation, as Ben explained:

"Kevin Wallis, the Australian X-Yachts Dealer, introduced us to the event, and knowing we'd be sailing with other passionate X-Yacht owners, there were was no question that we had to be here."

Catherine spoke of the atmosphere at the event:

"I can think of Antigua Race Week being a similar communal event, but I've really enjoyed meeting the Danish people and their support and friendship has been wonderful. I love this spirit of great sailing, and the fact that no-one protested, and to win the regatta trophy overall, the category winners were drawn out of the cup!"

Ben identified straight away what made the X-Yachts Gold Cup a success:

"I think the key to anything in life is about the people. To be here and experience the event was special. X-Yachts is more than a brand; in life we buy items such a stove, an iron, and other things to help our life go well, but they're not emotional; something we buy for our leisure, pleasure and enjoyment is a different thing, and that's what our X-Yacht has done for us."

Sailing has many terms already, and sailing on multinational teams reveals a couple of new terms for familiar concepts, as Catherine described:

"We learned about the butterfly, which is what we know as goose-winging the headsail. We think the butterfly is a far more elegant term! Also 'let it fly' which means 'ease it out' - it all makes sense.

"The courses were really good for providing conversation periods. If you're doing windward/leeward returns it's full-on the whole time, but on the coastal course we could chat about different things such as our family and countries, so it was really nice, while taking in the coastline as well."

X-Yachts already has a reputation which is second to none for the quality of their yachts, but know that to differentiate themselves they need to offer a lifestyle. The X-Yachts Gold Cup is a part of that, and it was striking how many of the owners were on their second or third X-Yacht. None though can surpass Søren Jensen, who is on his sixth:

"I started sailing X-Yachts in 1981 with a X-79. The boats, the friendship, and the service from X-Yachts is what keeps bringing me back. We keep our yacht in winter storage with X-Yachts, and when we come back in the Spring they meet us as friends, not as customers. Here we had a little problem with the boat, and when we arrived in the harbour Steen at X-Yachts was ready to help us straight away.

"Our current yacht (an X4.0) sails very well, is great to live on, so my wife and I spend a lot of hours on the boat. It's cosy on the inside, but we are outside most of the time, where the sailing is perfect. When we meet other X-Yachts in a harbour it's always like meeting up with friends.

"We have one new crew on our team, who is fifteen years old, but I also sail with my best friend John, who I have sailed with since I was ten years old! We have been sailing X-Yachts together now for 42 years."

Sailing Aarhus is run by a team of four. The management of major events of course takes far more than this, and an incredible community of volunteers steps up every time the Aarhus International Sailing Centre holds a regatta.

At any one time Sailing Aarhus runs multiple events, and was a hive of activity during the Gold Cup as there was Sailing League racing happening in J/70s, 29ers and RS Fevas out training, and many other sailors training. The team are well versed in managing this as Jon Koch Hansen, CEO of Sailing Aarhus, explained:

"These events are important for us. We are a non-profit organisation and a joint venture of five sailing clubs. It all started around twenty years ago, but when we had the World Sailing Championships in 2018 we got the five clubs to bring it all together, with up to eight courses on some days. We contact the clubs who have a regatta council and divide the tasks up. It's a big job, but the co-ordination is working well.

"The X-Yachts Gold Cup is great for us as it's big boats, a great crowd and a lot of parties - a lot happening during a weekend like this. We have a strategy to have one or two big events during the year, such as last year when we had the 49er, 49er FX and Nacra 17 Europeans, and this year we hosted The Ocean Race together with the City of Aarhus, and next year we're hosting three world championships, so we do everything from small, local events for the youth up to the X-Yachts Gold Cup with our great partners, and the big championships."

Running multiple events at the same time has the added bonus of exposing sailors to other parts of the sport, and introducing opportunities that they might otherwise not find.

Jon was full of praise for the army of volunteers, as were all the competitors at the event:

"We are truly thankful. We wouldn't exist without them. Obviously we couldn't do what we do without them. On a weekend like this we have around two hundred volunteers, so we have a volunteer co-ordinator who has a huge scheme to divide up who's serving breakfast, who's on the water, and so on. They are our life-blood."

The event was capped off with a prize-giving dinner, followed by a superb Bruce Springsteen tribute band, where the sailors danced and partied the night away.

It was a privilege to experience the X-Yachts Gold Cup and see first-hand the ethos behind the X-Yachts brand. This is what makes great sailing memories and without a doubt has seen all the competitors going away from the event wanting more. It's exactly what sailing needs.

Mark Jardine
Sail-World.com and YachtsandYachting.com Managing Editor

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