World Match Racing Tour. ALPARI

ISAF Special Event


Posted: 19.11.2014 - 15:56:22 (GMT)
Category: Headlines
Johnie Berntsson winning Stage 6, the Argo Group Gold Cup © Photo by Charles Anderson / AGGC

Johnie Berntsson winning Stage 6, the Argo Group Gold Cup © Photo by Charles Anderson / AGGC

London, UK (18th Nov 2014): With Bermuda having been struck by not one but two hurricanes within the course of the preceding week, there were tense moments leading up to the Argo Group Gold Cup over whether this, the sixth stage of the 2014 Alpari World Match Racing Tour, would take place. In the end thanks to the mid-Atlantic island’s clean-up team and a replacement being found after one of their International One Design (IOD) yachts was washed ashore and damaged, the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club was able to give the event the green light, albeit delaying the start by 24 hours.

When the first crews arrived, aside from some uprooted palm trees and a few boats that had broken their moorings, there was precious little other evidence of the 100+ knot winds of Cat 3 Hurricane Gonzalo had swept through only a day and a half earlier.

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Carnage caused by Hurricane Gonzalo © James Boyd / AWMRT

As Bermuda's Premier Michael Dunkley put it: “The fact that this excellent event is taking place within days of Tropical Storm Fay and Hurricane Gonzalo is testament to Bermuda's tremendous resilience. A lot of pieces quickly came together to keep The Argo Group Gold Cup on track, and I want to commend all participants for making it happen.”

Once again the Argo Group Gold Cup featured a giant line-up of 20 teams. In addition to the eight Tour Card Holders, a second America’s Cup challenger was competing with London 2012 49er gold medallist Nathan Outteridge helming a crew from Artemis Racing. 2008 winner Johnie Berntsson was back with his Stena Sailing Team, while Switzerland’s Eric Monnin was competing for an 10th time. Local teams included that of Royal Bermuda Yacht Club Commodore Somers Kempe, winner of the National Championship.

Despite the substantial line-up of teams – 20, representing 13 nations, including crews from the America’s Cup challengers Artemis Racing and Luna Rossa – the race committee managed to rip through the format. Qualifying was split into two groups of ten, and despite a light to moderate and very patchy southerly breeze blowing across Hamilton Harbour, the first day saw five flights completed.

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Ian Williams, GAC Pindar leading Francesco Bruni, Luna Rossa © Charles Anderson / AGGC

The stand-out performance of Qualifying was unquestionably Ian Williams, who went all the way through to the Semi Finals without his GAC Pindar team dropping a match. However there were several surprises along the way. Given the world-class field, on the opening day it was not a Tour Card Holder or a Cup team, but an amateur crew from Poland, that topped the leaderboard (although unbeaten, Williams had been docked a 0.5 point following a collision). Marek Stanczyk and his Henri Lloyd Rainmaker Racing crew, including a full time lawyer and computer programmer, compete on the active Polish match racing circuit.

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Mathieu Richard mastering the brisk conditions during qualifying © Charles Anderson / AGGC

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Tour Card holders Mathieu Richard and Phil Robertson got off to a slow start finishing the first day on 1-3 and 0-4 respectively, while defending champion Francesco Bruni came off the water frustrated, on just 1.5 points, after dropping a half point after a collision with Williams.

A change in the weather for day two brought good breeze in the morning, followed by rain and a subsequent drop in pressure. However the wind had veered blowing from a more stable direction, down Hamilton Harbour enabling the Race Committee to compete another full day, leaving two and three flights of Qualifying to go respectively in the two groups.

At the close of play both of the main contenders - Ian Williams and Taylor Canfield had claimed their Quarter Final berths. The strong wind in the morning saw several teams struggling to hang on to their IODs as they barrelled downwind. In one match, one of Marek Stanczyk’s crewman was struck during a penalty turn. With a deep cut in his forehead, he was taken to hospital but subsequently discharged.

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Taylor Canfield and his US One on collision with Nathan Outteridge of Artemis Racing © Charles Anderson / AGGC

There was other drama in the Artemis/Nathan Outteridge v Canfield match, when neck and neck on the run Canfield’s boat was struck by a big gust at the same time as Outteridge was attempting to luff. The result was the two IOD rigs locking together momentarily, fortunately without damage.

Meanwhile Mathieu Richard had turned around his performance winning all his matches to get back into the top half of the leaderboard on 4-3. Stena Match Cup Sweden winner Bjorn Hansen – sailing with stand-in tactician and old Tour hand Rasmus Køstner - was also unbeaten, achieving a 6-1 scoreline elevating him to second place in Group 1 behind Williams.

Glorious conditions returned for the third day of racing with sunshine and a breeze that in the afternoon was gusting into the mid-teens. This enabled Qualifying to be concluded and the top four from each of the two groups to gain their Quarter Final berths. Surprisingly among these were just three of the eight Tour cards holders - Williams, Canfield and Hansen – with neither America’s Cup team making the grade either.

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Polish match racer Stancyzk mastered the conditions during the qualifying round © Charles Anderson / AGGC

On Hamilton Harbour there were some heated moments as competitors fought to go through, especially in the Monnin v Poole and Gilmour v Stanczyk Group 2 matches, where whoever won would go through, while the loser would go home. Ultimately it was Monnin and Stanczyk that prevailed. Richard was unfortunate, put out of the running after he was docked 0.5 points following a collision in his match with Taylor Canfield. Another collision sealed the fate of Keith Swinton’s Team Alpari FX crew after colliding with Bruni coming into the dial up in their pre-start and being penalised 0.5 points for causing damage.

Unhappy with this decision, Swinton resorted to the jury, but couldn’t get the umpire decision overturned. “We had a feeling that potentially the damage had been caused previously to that boat, but the boat guy said we had caused some damage, so unfortunately we lost half a point and that made all the difference. It was unfortunate.” This allowed France’s Pierre Antoine Morvan and his Vannes Agglo Sailing Team to go through.

Completing the whole range of sailing conditions, the fourth day of racing took place in light winds and a grey sky, the wind eventually petering out, fortunately not before the Quarter Final matches were completed.

In the light and patchy conditions it was Swiss lake racing specialist Eric Monnin who provided the day’s masterclass, neatly dispatching Pierre-Antoine Morvan 3-0, finishing his final two matches almost half a leg ahead.

Ian Williams continued his winning streak also going through 3-0 against plucky Pole Marek Stanczyk, although these matches were far closer, with Stanczyk typically on the back foot off the start and then fighting back into contention.

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Marek Stanczyk trails Ian Williams in the Quarter Finals © Charles Anderson

Canfield dispatched Finland’s Staffan Lindberg and his Alandia Sailing Team 3-1 with the most heated matches being the inter-Swede derby between Björn Hansen and Johnie Berntsson. This went the distance and demonstrated that even in the lightest conditions match racing can still provide edge of the seat sport: Initially 0-2 down, Hansen fought back to level score and was leading the final race until he was finally rolled by Berntsson coming down with new breeze on the last run. Berntsson hung on to claim the deciding match point.

The last two rounds of the Argo Group Gold Cup were saved until the final Sunday, attracting a large spectator fleet out on the water. The Semi Finals took place with a light northerly blowing through the built-up water front buildings of downtown Hamilton, making for shifty conditions on the course. This contributed to the applecart being upset.

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Event Chairman Brian Billings with the final four skippers © James Boyd / AWMRT

Williams had picked the lake-specialist Monnin to race, leaving Canfield to line up against Berntsson. While Williams claimed the first point, Monnin went on to take the next three, his light airs skills clearly paying in the tricky conditions. Berntsson v Canfield went the full distance and even then was only decided on the final run when, in a repeat of his final Quarter Final match with Hansen, Berntsson successfully rolled Canfield during a gybe.

For the Finals between Berntsson and Monnin the wind had built to 11 knots from the northwest and the morning’s cloud cover had given way to glorious sunshine.

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Eric Monnin and Johnie Berntsson in the Finals of Argo Group Gold Cup © Charles Anderson / AGGC

The opening two races were close featuring lead changes despite big splits between the competitors. In the first Berntsson sneaked ahead of Monnin coming into the initial weather mark rounding and led from there, to go 1-0 up. In the second Berntsson was ahead of Monnin down the run, then sailed the Swiss team well beyond the leeward gate before gybing back with the advantage and continuing on to claim the second point.

At match point for Berntsson, in race three Monnin narrowly won a tacking duel going into the top mark to sneak inside the Swede. ‘Sailing his own race’ Monnin bravely split on the next two legs and had extended his lead which he carried to the finish.

The fourth race saw the most lead changes with Berntsson ahead out of the start, but with Monnin pulling in front by the top mark, only for Berntsson to roll the Swiss on the run…. However the decisive moment came towards the end of the second beat when Monnin picked up a penalty for tacking too close. The race was Berntsson’s.

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Johnie Berntsson repeated his success back in 2008 by winning the 2014 Argo Group Gold Cup © Charles Anderson / AGGC

Winning the Argo Group Gold Cup 3-1, Berntsson with his crew of tactician Robert Skarp, Bjorn Lundgren, Oscar Angervall, picked up the winner’s King Edward VII Gold Cup as well as the US$50,000 prize for first place.

“This is so extraordinary,” commented a jubilant Berntsson of his victory. “We have done it once, we never thought we could do it twice. Thanks to Robert, Bjorn and Oscar, who drove the boat fast and picked the right shifts allowing us to come back when we were behind. That was really crucial to winning.”

Monnin praised Berntsson. “Congratulations to Johnie and his team – they did an excellent job. We just tried to find somewhere to squeeze in, which we could sometimes, but in the end they were stronger than us.”

In winning the Argo Group Gold Cup for a second time, the 42-year-old Berntsson joins some of the world's sailing elite such as Russell Coutts, Peter Gilmour, Ben Ainslie and Chris Dickson.

In terms of the Alpari World Match Racing Tour’s overall scoreboard, the Argo Group Gold Cup made no difference to the positions of Williams and Canfield, however by finishing fifth, Bjorn Hansen has moved to within seven points of third placed Mathieu Richard.

2014 Leaderboard Standings
1 Ian Williams (GBR) GAC Pindar 94pts
2 Taylor Canfield (ISV) US One 88pts
3 Mathieu Richard (FRA) LunaJets 76pts
4 Bjorn Hansen (SWE) Hansen Sailing 63pts
5 Keith Swinton (AUS) Team Alpari FX 58pts
6 Phil Robertson (NZL) WAKA Racing 56pts
7 David Gilmour (AUS) Team Gilmour 39pts
8 Francesco Bruni (ITA) Luna Rossa 20pts

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