Swedish Pressure Cooker
Local fan fave Magnus Holmberg and American match racer Ed Baird were feeling the heat this weekend in sunny Marstrand, Sweden. Holmberg, the architect of the Swedish Match Cup, had never won here. And it seemed high time for the guy, whose idea for a spectator-friendly match-racing regatta in Marstrand (in the mold of the Bermuda Gold Cup) has evolved over 12 years into the event on the Swedish Match Tour. A crowd of more than 35,000 was on hand with hopes and cheers for their favorite son.
You should know something about Swedes. They are sailing fanatics and intelligent match-racing fans. Abundant sunshine, warm water, and Marstrand’s place-to-be status are part of the draw. But the racing isn’t something that happens in the background. It is the happening in Marstrand. The weekend’s racing didn’t disappoint. All knock-out matches went to the deciding races (3 in the quarters, 5 in the semis, 5 in the finals).
So when Magnus Holmberg trails Peter Holmberg by 12 lengths in the deciding fifth race of their semi-final match, the crowd goes quiet. When he does the unthinkable and sails smartly back into contention, they hang on their seats in full support. When he passes Peter Holmberg and advances to the finals, they go wild.
Holmberg would give his fans what they came to see—mastery on the starting line, smart sailing (he seemed to own the popular right side), and a never-die approach. He was arguably the best on the starting line Sunday. In the finals his maneuvers had Gilmour making uncharacteristic mistakes; Gilmour fouled and then started early in consecutive race starts. But the Aussie kept fighting back, as he often does, and forced the deciding series finale.
In the final start, the two boats dialed up after entering the starting area and luffed…for minutes, eventually drifting back roughly two lengths. Gilmour was the first to escape, sailing to the right of Holmberg.
Gilmour started with a slight edge, heading left. Holmberg was first to get to the right side. In the crucial first cross, Gilmour, on port, made it to Holmberg and tacked to leeward, initiating a sequence of lee bows that forced Holmberg into the rocks.
Gilmour, having earned the $145,000 Tour bonus Saturday by eliminating Baird in the quarters, held off Holmberg’s aggressive attack from behind, including a clever fake tack that had both boats luffing head to wind for several moments.
All week we saw Gilmour, with a lead, maintain a tight grip on his opponent. He wasn’t about to let this one go.
The $145,000 match
Baird was also facing some heavy expectations in Sweden. And guess who was applying the pressure? Having let his Swedish Match Tour lead slip away to Gilmour (the two were tied overall entering this final event on the tour), the question was how he would perform with a handsome purse on the line. Fittingly they met in the quarters, winner take all.
The odds were against Baird, who estimates Gilmour has beat him 2 or 3 to 1 during their 14-year match-racing rivalry. And things weren’t looking good for Baird with a minute to go in the first start of the opening race in their best-of-three series. After a few circles 45 seconds from the starting line, Baird chose to tail Gilmour (rather than tacking and setting up cleanly to windward) and eventually got stuck in Gilmour’s lee. Both were late to the line, and Gilmour crossed 20 seconds ahead of Baird.
Gilmour held his lead, and then Baird struck back in the second race with a clever start of his own. He herded Gilmour into the lee of Marstrand’s Harbor Fortress, where the wind shut off. Series tied.
Dean Barker summed up the tie-break race best: “F-ing expensive race.”
The race for all the spoils-a $60,000 bonus and a BMW valued at $85,000-featured a great start (slight advantage to Baird), a weird penalty, and the Wind That Never Filled. In an aggressive pre-start with multiple circles and control shifts, Baird ended up pushing Gilmour down the line and started with a decent lane to windward. Seconds before the gun, Gilmour, tight to leeward, bore away quickly, striking Baird’s bow with the corner of his transom. The Aussie appeared guilty of altering course in a way that immediately compelled Baird to alter course. The call was an unusual twin penalty; both boats were found at fault, and the penalties wiped each other out.
Baird’s start looked like a winner, since he could protect the much-favored right. The right side, all the way up to the rocks, had been launching boats all day with more wind and a right shift. So when Baird tacked off (before being lee-bowed), most knew what to expect. Baird and team made it to the shore and, and, and…the shift came, but with spotty wind pressure. Gilmour, in good pressure, barreled out of the right and after tacking resumed his lee-bow position on Baird on starboard tack. He and the Pizza-La team gained a lead they would not give up.
The crowd went wild for Gilmour. He and the Pizza-Las had not only the semis to think about, but how to split the Beemer. Josh Adams
Swedish Match Cup Final Results
1. Peter Gilmour
2. Magnus Holmberg
3. Dean Barker
4. Peter Holmberg
5. Ed Baird