Nicolai Sehested (DEN), Trefor Matchracing, and Taylor Canfield (USVI), US One, have set the early pace at the World Match Racing Tour Copenhagen, both skippers winning three of their four fleet race qualifying heats today.
Some of the newcomers to the Tour have also showed flashes of brilliance in today’s light conditions, three-time Danish Olympian Michael Hestbaek (DEN), Team Hydra, winning two of his heats against an experienced group that included reigning Tour World Champion Ian Williams (GBR), GAC Pindar. The 49er Olympic gold medallist and Volvo Ocean Race skipper Iker Martinez (ESP), Team Espana, won one of his heats easily, although finished 4th in the next. Consistency is very difficult in these short-course races lasting little more than 10 minutes, and that’s the difference between the talented Tour rookies and the more seasoned M32 sailors like Canfield.
There wasn’t a cloud in the sky all day in sunny Copenhagen, the most beautiful conditions you could wish for. Except that the wind took a while to materialise this morning, making the early session for the first group a challenge of sniffing out the strongest of what few gusts could be found on the race course close to shore. Canfield was slow out of the blocks. “We were coming in a bit late and were telling the Magenta girls to get moving,” said the US One skipper. “We were both late accelerating and we got left behind.” But Canfield waited his turn and managed to grind his way back to 3rd, almost to 2nd by the finish. There were no further mistakes by the US Virgin Islander after that early error, as he won his next three heats.
Barkow (USA), Team Magenta 32, was delighted to have trimmer Annie Lush back on board after the British sailor had been out of action for four months from a dislocated elbow, a rare and painful injury that in Lush’s case was the result of landing badly on the M32 trampoline while training in Lanzarote at the beginning of the year. “We have been sailing with a substitute for a few months,” said Barkow, “but the timing’s better on board when we’ve got all girls sailing. The boys like to do it faster, with grunt, but we find we can get the same thing done with better timing.”
Team Magenta 32 is the only all-female crew of the 20 international teams gathered in Copenhagen, and lies in 3rd equal with Steven Thomas (AUS), Royal Perth Yacht Club, after today’s racing. The aim of the first two days of fleet race qualifying is to finish in the top three of your five-boat group to ensure a smooth path towards the knock-out match racing stages.
It has been a mixed bag of fortunes for the Swedish crews here. Mattias Rahm (SWE), Rahm Racing, leads his group with solid scores of 1,2,2 ahead of Iker Martinez. But the last group of the day, Group 4, produced the closest competition. Ian Williams won the last heat to just about top the group by a single point from Johnie Berntsson (SWE), Flux Team, good work by the Swede who has just bought his own M32. But the runner-up in Fremantle just two months ago – Hans Wallén (SWE), Wallén Racing, – lies in 4th with Bjorn Hansen (SWE), Nautiska Racing, in 5th place. Not a great start for the experienced match racer although the points remain very close in this group and tomorrow offers plenty of opportunity for redemption.
For first-timers like Michael Hestbaek, for all his experience in Olympic and America’s Cup competition, today’s racing was a big eye-opener. “It was intense, I mean, really intense,” said the Dane. “You’re waiting to go racing, then you get on the boat and literally a minute later, you’re in the starting sequence! There’s no time to think, the blood starts pumping and you are in this intense experience where you barely have to think. In fact I could barely speak, my mouth was so dry from, I don’t know what, adrenalin maybe? I was making calls to the crew but I could barely get my words out.” With finishes of 1,5,1,4, Hestbaek has seen both ends of the fleet. “I can tell you that wasn’t my plan, but it was very clear why we won when we won, and why we lost when we lost. It is very exciting racing, the M32 is so responsive on the tiller, and I can’t wait to get back into it tomorrow.”
Tuesday concludes the fleet racing phase, and is a crucial day for the lower-placed teams to fight their way up the rankings and do their best to avoid the Play-Offs.
Live coverage will be shown at www.wmrt.com from 1400 local Danish time