Top match racing crews from around the world are gathering on the north shore of Lake Constance this week ready for the first salvos of the 2013 Alpari World Match Racing Tour, starting on Thursday.
The Tour this year comprises six events, starting with Match Race Germany from this Thursday until Monday, before moving to Korea, back to Europe with the Stena Match Cup Sweden in July, then Chicago Match Cup, the Argo Group Gold Cup in Bermuda, the season concluding in December with the Monsoon Cup, held in Kuala Terengganu, Malaysia.
For this, its 16th year, Match Race Germany is being held in Langenargen, located close to the Austrian border on Europe's third largest lake, where the event sailed in Bavaria 40S.
As ever the Alpari World Match Racing Tour attracts the cream of the match racing world, all of whom are present in Langenargen ready for tomorrow's practice sessions.
The line-up going to all the events - the Tour card holders - this year numbers eight rather than nine. Tour Director Craig Mitchell says the reduction is for reasons of simplicity. "It allows each event to have two qualifying invites and two wild cards. The last thing you want is a closed shop and it keeps the local interest up, which is vital."
The 2013 Tour Card holders are reigning world champion Team GAC Pindar skipper Ian Williams and Swedes Johnie Berntsson (Stena Sailing Team) and Bjorn Hansen (Hansen Sailing Team), runner-up to Williams in 2012. From New Zealand are Phil Robertson, winner of Match Race Germany last year and Adam Minoprio, the 2009 ISAF Match Racing World Champion. France is represented by Pierre-Antoine Morvan and his Vannes Agglo Sailing Team while with the retirement of Peter Gilmour last year, Keith Swinton and his Black Swan Racing team are flying the flag for Australia. A highly anticipated new tour card holder this year is Taylor Canfield from the US Virgin, whose USone team impressively won the final two events last season.
One of the strongest contenders this year is likely to be Adam Minoprio, making his return to the Tour after taking two years off to compete with an Emirates Team New Zealand crew aboard Camper in the Volvo Ocean Race. After competing at the Bermuda Gold Cup and the Monsoon Cup last season the 27 year old has felt inspired to make his return this season and has been fortunate enough to get backing for from Alpari, his team now called Team Alpari FX.
"I am really excited,"
said Minoprio. "I'm looking forward to this first event and getting back into the match racing this year. Last year I had a taste of it in Bermuda and at the Monsoon Cup and wanted to do some more this year. I am lucky to have Alpari help me get back on to the Tour."
Minoprio has also managed to get the majority of his crew back including Tom Powrie, Dave Swete and Nick Blackman, with Chris Main join as trimmer, having last competed on the Tour a decade ago with GBR Challenge.
But Ian Williams and his Team GAC Pindar crew remain the benchmark. If Williams wins the Tour this year he will be only person in the 25 year history of the World Championship to have done so for a fifth time. Williams has the same crew as previous years, including Bill Hardesty and Mal Parker, but has lost Matt Cassidy and Gerry Mitchell for Match Race Germany, replaced by Willem van Waay and Graham Spence.
Both Minoprio and Williams have been attempting to fire up their campaigns prior to the Tour kicking off this week. Both had their full teams competing at the Congressional Cup in Long Beach in April where Williams came home third to Minoprio's fifth.
"We've never won it before,"
admits Williams of his record at Match Race Germany. "It is one of the few that we haven't. In fact I think third is our best result there, so it is one we'd like to win at some point."
Keith Swinton is back with his same crew as he's had for the last couple of years, including trimmers Olof Lundgren (SWE) and Ted Hackney (AUS), pitman Jakob Gustafsson (SWE) and bowman Ricky McGarvie (AUS). Swinton's north European home is Sweden, where he spent three years up until London 2012 coaching the Sweden women's match racing team.
"Competition on the tour this year is going to be really tough - more difficult than last year,"
says the skipper, who heralds from Perth, Western Austria. "There is one less tour card, which thickens the competition up and some of the wild cards are going to be strong,"
he adds referring to Mathieu Richard.
As to Match Race Germany, Swinton said, "It is an interesting event. The boats are very big and quite slow. But it is the first Tour event of the season and we'll take it as it comes. I'm sure we'll improve during the week and if that happens, we'll have the possibility of doing a really good result."
Tomorrow crews get to practice before racing off Langenargen starts on Thursday.