[Source: World Match Racing Tour] The race village at the Segel-Club St. Moritz was buzzing today, with 12 world-class sailing teams making their final preparations for a week of fierce head-to-head competition in the St. Moritz Match Race, the sixth stage of the ISAF World Match Racing Tour Championship.
After a light dusting of snow on the hills above the lake overnight, St. Moritz sparkled in the morning sun. However, the unseasonably cold weather meant the trademark Maloja wind was absent today, leaving sailors to contend with an erratic and chilling northerly breeze. This was light and fitful at the start of the competitors’ registration and weigh-in session, but built to a useful 10-15 knots for the first practice session.
With the Maloja not expected to be fully active for a few days, the challenge of making the most of the shifty winds is uppermost in the minds of many skippers.
Johnie Berntsson (SWE), Berntsson Sailing Team, commented: “This is the second time for us here – it’s a stunning venue and we’re looking forward to it. The shifty winds make it a very challenging place for us, but we are used to that from our home waters near Gothenburg.”
One skipper who is not so worried about the tricky conditions, however, is Eric Monnin (SUI) Swiss Match Racing Team. Switzerland’s best match race helmsman, Monnin is currently ranked 26th in the world and has competed at every St. Moritz Match Race. He stepped ashore after today’s practice session relaxed and smiling, saying:
“We like sailing at our home event. We know the boats and we know we can do well in the shifty conditions – it’s what we’re used to. We do as many of the WMRT events as we can – it’s always great to sail against these people.
“The standard of racing is increasing over time, with dedicated teams having a chance of winning against the America’s Cup sailors. There were coaches on many of the boats today – you didn’t see that here five years ago.”
The WMRT is well established as a pathway to stardom for sailors. Jérôme Clerc (SUI) Team CER Genève is an up and coming Swiss sailor, with the distinction of being the second amateur team in this year’s Tour de France a la Voile. The St Moritz Match Race will be Clerc’s first ISAF Grade WC event, having been awarded a wildcard entry after finishing second in the Qualifier Event 2010 Volvo Match Race, Zug.
Clerc added: “This is a very big challenge for us – we’ve been match racing during the winter for training, but this is our first time with the Tour. It’s a great pleasure to be able to race against the big sailing stars we’ve seen on TV. Match racing is perfect for improving our manoeuvres and crew communication – the courses are very short, so you must be very precise.”
Tomorrow morning will see Clerc pitched straight into one-on-one battles with three of the biggest names in the sailing world, starting with double ISAF World Match Racing Champion Ian Williams (GBR), Team GAC Pindar. In his next race the young Swiss sailor will face Mathieu Richard (FRA), French Match Racing Team, who’s currently at the top of the Tour rankings. Clerc will then go head-to-head against triple Olympic gold medallist and America’s Cup skipper Ben Ainslie (GBR), TEAMORIGIN.