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29 June 2003, 06:49 pm
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Volvo Baltic Race

The seven-strong fleet of VO60s racing in the Volvo Baltic Race, has spent several days of glorious sunshine in Sandhamn, an island on the outer edge of the archipelago on Sweden's east coast.
Last minute preparations are now being made for the next stage of the Volvo Baltic Race for the SEB trophy, the 340 nautical mile, Accenture Round Gotland Race, starting tomorrow, Sunday, June 29.

The class start will be at 1400 local time for the VO60s, with the ORC Club Open and the multihulls starting 15 minutes later. This event will be the next offshore event in the Volvo Baltic Race series with full points to count towards the overall score.

Matthew HUMPHRIES (UK) and Challenge of Netsurvey start in pole position, with a margin of 1.5 points ahead of Erle Williams (NZ) and TeamRS. "We're in a situation where we really want to work on consolidation," says Humphries adding, "having said that, we really want to win the race as well."

He isn't taking any chances and during the last few days, Humphries' crew has Challenge of Netsurvey totally prepared. "We've checked our runners and have taken a spare runner with us, so we've compromised a little bit of extra weight on the boat but while we have a small advantage, we want to make sure we can retain that, by not having any gear failure," he explains.

Erle WILLIAMS has brought Tony MUTTER (NZ) on to trim the mainsail on TeamRS. Mutter sailed on this boat in the Volvo Ocean Race and knows it inside out. "If we hadn't broken the runner" says Williams, "we would be sitting in front right now. We just have to continue to improve. These guys [Challenge of Netsurvey] are good but we will give them a good run for their money. We started off a bit rusty, all of us, and it is coming together really well." Williams has completed four Accenture Round Gotland Races. He's expecting light air at the start, with the possibility of the fleet coming to a standstill at some stage. "It's good for us," he says, "we don't mind a bit of tricky stuff."

Sony Ericsson (13.5 points) with Thomas BLIXT (SWE) has a one point lead over their nearest rivals, Elanders Ten Celsius (12.5 points). Blixt has completed the Accenture Round Gotland Race 15 times, and won it seven times. "I think I have some experience that the other teams don't have, and I will use this to my advantage" he says.

Elanders Ten Celsius has Hans WALLEN (SWE) back onboard, fresh from the Tornado class at Kieler Woche, and Wouter VERBRAAK (NED) and Mikke Lundh (SWE) are the co-skippers. "We are the most experienced guys on the boat," Wouter explains. Mikke and Wouter sailed on djuice in the Volvo 2001-2002. "We have been really working hard on getting the crew used to the work and set up of a VO60. We are at the stage where we can use their dinghy sailing background now that they are aware of the systems, so we are really expecting to do well."

Atea (6 points), retired from the Kiel to Sandhamn race after damaging her boom and blowing out several sails. The crew has been working hard to get the boat back into racing shape, and say they are fit to fight!

Pontona Youth (4 points) and Nilorn (8 points), the two youth teams, will start this next offshore race with the experience of the Kiel-Sandhamn race happily behind them. Glenn BOURKE'S job as mentor to the Nilorn crew is over and he returns to the UK. "We learnt a lot," says skipper Fredrik FREJME (SWE). "To have these two guys [Andy Hindley and Glenn Bourke] onboard, with their experience was amazing. We didn't have to try anything new except learn what to do in these circumstances." It's time now to put it all into practise.

Both these teams are made up from the best young dinghy sailors in Sweden and Denmark. The forecast is for light airs, which equals tactical sailing, something which these young crews excel at.

The Accenture Round Gotland Race is a well- known offshore event, with a history of over fifty years and many previous Whitbread and Volvo teams have competed successfully in the past. In 1996, the all-female team sailing EF Education won the Round Gotland Open Race, causing a sensation throughout the sailing world. Ocean sailing is one of the few sports where men and woman can compete on equal terms, and EF Education's victory clearly demonstrated that women sailors are at least as good as their male counterparts.

In 1998, the 'Open' class was won by EF Language (the winner of the Whitbread in 1997-98) with Swedish Match as the runner up. EF Education was fourth. In 1999, the former Rothmans (Whitbread 1989-90) was the winner of the Open class.

The weather forecast for the start is: cloudy with 15 knots NNE. On the eastern side of Gotland, the wind will be very, very light, shifting to the NNW, decreasing on Tuesday and Wednesday to very little wind at all.

Current Points

Challenge of Netsurvey 20.0 points
TeamRS 18.5 points
Sony Ericsson 13.5 points
Elanders Ten Celsius 12.5 points
Nilorn 8 points
Atea 6.0 points
Pontona Youth 4.0 points

Lizzie Green (As Amended By ISAF News Editor)
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