Russell COUTTS, the all-time America's Cup-winning skipper from New Zealand has claimed the Swedish Match Cup championship with a 3-1 victory over Australian Peter GILMOUR and the Pizza-La Sailing Team.
Commenting on his second victory at the Swedish Match Cup (having previously won in 2001), "It's always hard to win a championship,"
Coutts said afterward. "I didn't start well early in the week, but did today. I think we sailed well."
Coutts, sailing with Jes GRAM-HANSEN of Denmark and his countrymen Michael ARNHILD, Christian KAMP and Rasmus KOSTNER, split the first two races of the final against the Pizza-La team, and then won two straight to claim the championship.
"These guys sail together a lot,"
Coutts said of the Danes. "It was a matter of getting them used to my Kiwi terminology."
Gilmour gave credit to Coutts for pulling together a crew that he never sailed with before and winning.
"Russell sailed superbly well,"
said Gilmour. "To come here with a new crew and win is outstanding."
Gilmour was sailing with his Pizza-La crew including Rod DAWSON, Mike MOTTL, Kazuhiko SOFUKU and Yasuhiro YAJI
"I'm a little disappointed,"
said Gilmour. "The boys sailed real well all year. I can't fault their work at all."
The final was very clinical, as you'd expect from two of the most successful match-racers ever. Each has won won the world championship three times and more than 25 Grade 1 match-race events through the years.
Facing a 2-1 deficit, the match took a dramatic turn when Gilmour plowed into Coutts' starboard quarter. The incident occurred during the pre-start, and the sudden impact sent Coutts to the cockpit floor in a heap.
"I lost sight of him behind the genoa,"
Gilmour said. "I couldn't see clearly."
The impact broke the welds on the cross bar on top of the tiller where it mounts on the rudder head.
"I think I got a slight injury on my ankle,"
said Coutts of his left foot. "Now I know how Holmberg felt."
Earlier in the week Coutts hit Peter Holmberg so hard that Holmberg wound overboard.
Similar to yesterday, the wind was from the north making for a short, one way racecourse across the Western Approach to Marstrand Harbor.
The strategy seemed simple, win the left end of the line, extend to the good breeze, tack and round the windward mark in the lead. In general, this happened in the span of two and a half minutes.
Around the windward mark crews were setting the spinnaker and then jibing immediately afterward to rotate the spinnaker rather than jibe-setting.
Laps were taking about five minutes. Match-racing is meant to be short, but the Swedish Match Cup takes it to extremes. There simply were no passing lanes if you fell behind.
"The one way race track made it all the starts,"
Coutts said. "If you lost a race after winning the start you had to muck it up. I mucked up the one we lost."
Nothing is simple when Coutts is your opponent, and the simple strategy was thrown out the window by his ability to point high on his competitor's windward quarter.
"It was about getting to the first cross,"
said Coutts. "You either start to windward with separation or you start tight underneath with lift."
Coutts started to windward with separation nearly every time, no matter whether it was on starboard or port tack.
That gave him the ability to use starboard tack to his advantage at the first cross, and force his competitor to stay to the left. No one else seemed capable of doing this all week.
"When he was to leeward he was fast to cross,"
Gilmour noted, "when he was to windward he could get a piece of the guy to leeward."
In the Petit Final Magnus HOLMBERG defeated Chris LAW, 2-0, to finish third while Law placed fourth in his defense of the title.
Holmberg won the first match outright, then used a penalty against Law to win the second match, which was not without drama.
Law became the second skipper to fall overboard at the Swedish Match Cup when he went for a swim after entering the pre-start box.
"I pushed the tiller down hard in the dial up then pulled it back and the tiller extension broke off,"
said Law. "I grabbed the toe rail as I fell backward, but couldn't stop myself from going over. When I came up the crew was saying, 'Swim, Chris, swim.' But I was laughing so hard."
With his opponent in disarray, Holmberg went for the jugular. He approached Law and forced another dial-up. Law said he slipped on the cockpit floor when he tried to lift the tiller to steer, but it wouldn't lift.
Law fell on the cockpit floor and pushed the tiller away in the same instant trying to avoid Holmberg, but the umpires ruled he didn't keep clear and penalized him.
On the racecourse, Law put out a splendid performance despite being handicapped by not having a tiller extension.
"The tiller doesn't lift up so I had to sit on the cockpit floor at times to steer,"
said the veteran match-racer from Great Britain. "I tied a piece of rope around it to pull it, but you can't push line so I used my foot to push the tiller away."
Law led around the course and was first to the finish line by between four and five boatlengths, but still had the 270-degree penalty turn to complete. He got to the line, the crew lowered the spinnaker and he spun the boat.
Meanwhile, Holmberg approached from behind. Law came out onto starboard tack and bore away, but his chute fell in the water and may have slowed his progress turning down to the line.
Holmberg crossed in front by less than 10 feet to win the race and the match, but his days may be coming to an end.
Two of his long-time crewmembers, trimmer Lars LINGER and tactician/main trimmer Stefan RAHM, are taking full time jobs that will limit their available time.
Holmberg has said that it might be time to explore other opportunities, and plans to take a break from match racing.
"There will be a break while I decide what to do,"
Holmberg said. "Ask me again in a couple of months."
As he stood dockside being feted, a beaming Kamp, headsail trimmer for Coutts, accepted a cold beverage. "Sweet as,"
he said, completing his transformation to a Danish Kiwi.