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Nations Cup in Middelfart Promises to go off with a Bang

After an opening ceremony at Hindsgavl Castle tonight (Tuesday, August 6) overlooking the beautiful field of play on Fænøsund, canons will sound the start of the ISAF Nations Cup Grand Final match racing on Wednesday morning at 1000hrs (CET). Follow the racing live. The final is on Saturday, August 10. Images for each competing team are available here.

The 85 sailors in 17 teams from 11 countries have arrived for what promise to be closely fought Open and Women’s competitions. The bi-annual Nations Cup is the showcase event for emerging match racing talent and former winners include Ed Baird, the 2007 America’s Cup winning helmsman.

With a 6-10 knot onshore northeasterly wind forecast, racing should go ahead on schedule. It will certainly be calmer than the thunderstorm that thrashed Middelfart in early hours of Tuesday morning, with winds of up to 65 knots twisting the tented village on the pontoons but mercifully leaving the competition boats undamaged. An ultra professional cleanup has meant that there will be no delay to the program.

In an Open competition packed with quality, local favourite, Nicolai Sehested and his talented 4-man crew, will start as the front-runner. Sehested has the highest ISAF match-racing ranking in the competition at 12th. “I’ve raced most of these guys and I would say Nicolai is the top, there’s a reason he’s top 15 in the world,” Peter Wickwire, the Canada skipper, said. “I raced him last year in the Knickerbocker Cup in New York and he was very strong and I suppose these are his home boats.”

Sehested does not quite see it like that. “There’s a lot of good teams here, so I wouldn’t say we’re the favourites, but hopefully we’ll be in the top 4 or top 5,” he said. “I think the other Danish team is strong. There are two Australian teams who are going to be really strong as well and the American too.”

Despite growing up ten minutes away in Kolding, Sehested claimed local advantage would not count for as much as his rivals have been telling him. “It’s been a few years since we raced here last time, so I wouldn’t consider ourselves as being locals,” he said. “But for sure there is going to some local things out there, with a lot of current and shifty breeze from the islands. We’ve been here a few times and we know the conditions. I know we’re going to be cast as the locals, everyone has already told us that and asked what’s going on out there, so I’ve said: ‘Yeah, always just go to the left.’ Hopefully they’ll buy it and just go to the left.”

All the crews will have to adapt quickly to the conditions in this part of the Triangle Region. The Fænøsund out of Middelfart Marina, with its narrow waters, different and strong currents and localised winds, make it unique and exciting for the match race crews and overlooking spectators. The water is unusually deep by the marina allowing boats to race extremely close.

There is a large chasing group close on Sehested’s heels. One of the them, fellow Dane, Rasmus Viltoft has been highly confident since overcoming higher ranked rivals to win the Danish qualifier in April (Sehested took the place given automatically to the Nations Cup hosts).

The Open format means that crews in two divisions will race each other once in two types of boats, DS37s and Match28s. “I have sailed several regattas in Middelfart; it almost feels like a second home to me,” Viltoft said after qualifying. “We know this type of boat (the DS37) very well. I don’t think there are many who sail it better than us.”

David Gilmour, son of the legendary America’s Cup sailor, Peter Gilmour, is another who many are tipping to do well and he has beaten Sehested.

“We don’t feel like we’re one of the favourites, but we definitely feel that we should be able to make the semis and hopefully the finals, but any of these guys could knock us out,” Gilmour said. “We’ll have to beat the other Australian team (skippered by Ashlen Rooklyn) to make it through to the semi-finals. We’ve probably beaten most of the other crews here, but there’s a few of them who have also beaten us. Last year Nicolai (Sehested) beat us in two events in the US Grand Slam and we beat him in one. We raced Viktor Ogeman from Sweden last week and Ash(len) in Finland in a grade 2 race. We finished second but beat Viktor and Ash, which was good, but the boats are completely different here. We were sailing J22s.

Sehested will also have one other major thing on his mind with Danish television descending on Middelfart for his exhibition race against Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark and his team of Olympic legends on Thursday, August 8, at 1030hrs (CET).

In the 4-team women’s event there will be a rolling round robin with continuous competition as time allows before Saturday. The women’s teams will race solely in the Match28s. The form is even harder to assess there but Brazil’s Juliana Senfft (Brazil) has the talent and experience to win after finishing sixth in the previous two Grand Finals in 2009 and 2011.

The sense of expectation in Middelfart Marina is palpable. “It’s an important event for us because it’s a global event and it exemplifies what we would like to be known for: the entrepreneurial spirit of the Triangle Region,” Morten Rettig, chief executive of the Triangle Region, said. “The cooperation needed to perform in match racing is very much the way we would like to cooperate between the municipality, the region and private enterprise.”

This is not just talk because Match Racing Denmark, the event organisers, based in Middelfart Marina, are one of the world’s leading match racing centres, having taken 30,000 people out for match racing team building exercises since 2004. It is a model from which others in sailing could learn much.

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