Preparing for Marstrand
Twelve teams are getting ready to compete at Stena Match Cup Sweden, which is expected to attract more than 100,000 spectators to the island of Marstrand off Sweden's west coast. The picturesque island is a midsummer’s vacation paradise for spectators, and the race area is a natural amphitheatre for some of the most brutal match racing battles on the Alpari Match Racing World Tour.
Last year Bjorn Hansen responded to the roar of his home crowd to won Stena Match Cup Sweden by beating Peter Gilmour 3-0 in the final. No one knows these waters or the DS37 keelboats better than the local hero, who is one of just three sailors to have conquered Marstrand twice in his career, alongside Russell Coutts and Dean Barker. Peter Gilmour is the only person to have won it more, with a phenomenal seven victories between 1994 and 2009. Could this be Hansen's year for the hat-trick? It would certainly delight the home crowd cheering from the island’s rocky shore.
Then again, Hansen and his eWork Sailing Team were hotly tipped to win the Korea Match Cup a month ago, and the Swedes couldn’t get past Qualifying into the final eight. It was a disastrous exit for one of the most respected teams on the Tour, and it highlights the strength throughout this group of elite sailors.
“We know that we need to perform at our best to be able to get a good result," Hansen explains. "With our poor start to the Tour this year it is now important to get some points on the scoreboard. But still, we do not feel any pressure and will make sure that we enjoy the week in Marstrand and just have fun out there. This is our favourite event with thousands of fans on the cliffs, if the weather permits. With the steep cliffs on both sides of the narrow bay it’s like sailing in a football arena where you can hear the people cheering. The crowd loves match racing and understands the game like nowhere else in the world.”
Fellow Swede, Johnie Berntsson and his Stena Sailing Team, are also looking for home crowd support. “This is our home event, all our friends are here and our home club, Royal Gothenburg Yacht Club, is organising the regatta," says Berntsson. "We have high expectations and we have spent time preparing more than ever before.”
Mathieu Richard and his GEFCO Match Racing Team showed what can be achieved with a wild card entry in Korea, overcoming reigning Tour champion Ian Williams and GAC Pindar in the semi-final and Taylor Canfield's USone in the final. Richard has another wild card entry at Marstrand, one of his favourite battlegrounds: “This is one of the best match racing venues in the world. Racing so close to the shore with so many people watching - we love it!”
The other wild card has gone to 25-year-old Simone Ferrarese from Italy, who has already opened his 2013 season with a stunning victory at the Congressional Cup in the USA, where he beat Williams in the semi-finals and another ISAF Match Racing World Champion and America’s Cup winning helmsman Ed Baird.
Taylor Canfield and the USone team have yet to experience the Marstrand arena. “I am excited to be in Sweden for the first time,” said Canfield. “It will be nice to get back on the tiller in the DS37 rather than the wheel at the last two events.”
Executive Director of the Alpari World Match Racing Tour, James Pleasance, said: “With in excess of 100,000 spectators, Stena Match Cup Sweden gives the sailors a unique experience. Hearing the roar of the crowd in such a spectacular setting, it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. There’s a prize fund of USD140,000 to be fought over, not that these sailors need much extra motivation. Stena Match Cup Sweden is one of the highlights of the Tour and we’re going to see some fierce but friendly competition.”
Qualifying begins on Monday, with the knock-out stages due to commence on Thursday.