While waiting for the breeze to pick up and the weather to cool down in Cartagena, Valencia Sailing caught up with Christian Scherrer. Not only is the Swiss sailor an accomplished trimmer with all America’s Cup editions since 1994 under his belt, he’s also the president of the organizing committee of the St. Moritz Match Race, the sixth stage of the World Match Racing Tour and a major sailing event in Switzerland.
Valencia Sailing: St. Moritz Match Race is Switzerland’s premiere match racing event. Can you walk us through the history of the event?
Christian Scherrer: Initially, we brought match racing to St. Moritz together with Alinghi back in 2001, during my campaign with them for the 2003 America’s Cup in Auckland. In addition to my job as sailor in Alinghi I was in charge of the UBS Alinghi Swiss Tour, which was, as its name implies, a match racing tour in Switzerland whose aim was to promote match racing and, of course, Alinghi. In 2001 and 2002 we held one event in St. Moritz and it turned out to be hugely popular.
I was familiar with the St. Moritz Sailing Club from my childhood days when I was sailing in the mountain lakes during the summer camps. I had fond memories from those years and since I knew the people well, after we won the 2003 America’s Cup and brought it to Switzerland, I was approached by Roni Pieper, one of the club’s members, in order to help them organize a match racing event, independent from Alinghi. As a result, we worked together and in the summer of 2003 we created the St. Moritz Match Race, initially a grade 3 event. From that starting point, the event grew each year and steadily built up, becoming a grade 1 event in 2005 and then in 2006 joining the then Swedish Match Tour.
Valencia Sailing: What made you and the St. Moritz Sailing Club decide to join the Swedish Match Tour?
Christian Scherrer: At that time I was sailing a lot in the Tour and after going to various events and seeing how they worked, I was approached by James Pleasance, who was then working for the Tour. He suggested it would be very interesting for them if we could become part the Tour, so in 2005 he came to visit us and was really excited with the quality of our event. Since 2006 we are a permanent event of the Swedish Match Tour and then the World Match Racing Tour.
Valencia Sailing: How does St. Moritz Match Race compare to the other major Swiss sailing event, the Bol d’Or in Geneva? Which one is bigger?
Christian Scherrer: It’s really difficult to compare the two events, it obviously depends on how you measure it, what criteria you use. For example, in terms of the number of top internationals sailors, prize money and media and TV coverage, we are probably more important than the Bol d’Or. During the events there is always a crew from the Swiss national TV and the coverage they provide on a national level is very extensive. On the other hand, they have more participating sailors and boats since we only have 12 teams.
In 2009 we attracted approximately 5,000 spectators, with the biggest group being Swiss but we also have a number of sailing fans that come from Italy, Germany and Austria, in that order. This is a big success if you take into consideration the geographical situation of St. Moritz. It is a small city up on the Alps, far away from the major Swiss cities, so you don’t have the casual stroller that happens to be passing by and stops to have a look. When people come to the St. Moritz Match Race, they come for the races. We might have some tourists that come by but the vast majority take the decision to spend a few days in St. Moritz, watch the races and combine them with some other activities, like hiking, climbing or sailing on the lake. If you measure in terms of quality but not sheer quantity, these are very good numbers. Our spectators are really interested in the sport of sailing.
Valencia Sailing: In a recent interview in Valencia Sailing, Andrew Pindar stated he took the decision to sponsor Ian Williams after going to the St. Moritz Match Race.
Christian Scherrer: Yes, Andrew has come several times to our event and really enjoys it. In my opinion it’s a spectacular event for several reasons. We are at an altitude of 1,800 meters in a beautiful setting, right in the middle of the Swiss apls. It’s not the only event of the World Match Racing Tour that takes place on a lake but it surely is the only one on a mountain. We also have grandstands for the spectators that are partially on the water, so the action takes place right in front of them. We try to put the race committee as close as possible, not more than 3-4 boatlengths from the edge of the stands. Initially, sailors weren’t very comfortable with sailing so close to the shore but as the number of the events held very close to the shore has increased they now don’t seem to mind. The boats we use are the Blu26, crewed by four sailors, that are fun to sail, competitive and especially designed for the Swiss lakes.
Valencia Sailing: If now talk about the financial aspect of the event, is it sponsor-funded?
Christian Scherrer: Yes, absolutely. We are 100% funded by our sponsors and we have two main ones. The first one is the Swiss group AFG (Arbonia-Forster-Holding) while the second one is the Badrutt’s Palace Hotel. It is one of Europe’s most famous and prestigious hotels and you could say it’s the icon of St. Moritz. Actually, there’s a long history that links the Badrutt family and the St. Moritz Sailing Club because it was founded by Hans Badrutt together with the father of Roni Pieper in 1941. These two sponsors provide the biggest part of our budget.
Since last May we also have signed Volvo Cars Switzerland as a co-sponsor. The car manufacturer supports St. Moritz Match Race but also the Volvo Match Race Zug. The Zug Yacht Club has been organizing match racing events during the last 4 years but their aspirations were to upgrade their events to a higher level. As a result, together with Volvo, we organized the first Volvo Match Race Zug last May. It has now become our second qualifier event, together with Open de España in Calpe, and its winner, Eric Monnin, secured a berth at St. Moritz Match Race.