The 2004 Volvo Baltic Race kicked off in style yesterday with a 30 nautical mile coastal race starting in the river just off the race village in Lindholmen, in central Gothenburg.
Leading the fleet across the start line and out into the archipelago was Sweden's Thomas BLIXT, with his fully professional international crew, onboard Sony Ericsson. A shy spinnaker reach for the first mile or so in 10 knots of breeze saw Blixt widen the gap as the rest of the fleet struggled to fly their chutes.
An incident on the start line between AV Teknik and Avant has resulted in a protest, which will be heard later today.
"It was a really nice start to this regatta",
said a delighted Thomas Blixt as he brought Sony Ericsson alongside the dock after winning the race. "We had excellent crew work, good boat speed and it was beautiful sailing,"
Always in the hunt, the surprise today was the Norwegian team sailing JMS Next Generation - the original Silk Cut, which took part in the 1997-98 Whitbread. Stefan Eneman put pressure on Blixt and Britain's Matthew Humphries with Elanders throughout, but Humphries' team produced some slick boat-handling to retain second place.
"Sony Ericsson sailed a very good race, congratulations to them"
said a not-in-the least disappointed Elanders skipper, Matthew Humphries. "Thomas and his team had a good start and we just ran out of runway to creep past them, but we're only half a point behind so we're right in contention."
On the approach to the outer turning mark, a dramatic windshift left the leaders still beating towards the mark, while the backmarkers, AV Teknik from Croatia, found themselves in luck with a perfect line without needing to tack, rounding the small island seven minutes behind Elanders, deposing Avant to fifth.
But, during the final stages of this first race of the series, the fleet closed together bringing Avant sailed by Whitbread/Volvo veterans Mikael Lundh (Swe) and Wouter VERBRAAK (NED) back into the game, causing some nail-biting for the leaders.
It was short lived when Avant, while trying to pass AV Teknik, hit a rock five miles from the finish and retired. "No one is hurt and the boat is not taking on water"
explained a relieved Lundh. "We are hauling the boat out of the water as soon as we can to make sure there is no damage and to make sure that we are ready to start the offshore race tomorrow."
Sailing with Matthew HUMPHRIES on Elanders, was Daniel ALFREDSSON, the Swedish ice hockey star and captain of the Canadian Ottawa Senators team. Alfredsson had never sailed before until he had a four-hour practise with Humphrey's team, which includes an all-star line-up from the sailing world. His terrific sense of balance combined with his strength, made him such an asset to the team, that Humphries said he would take him onto his permanent crew if only he were available.
Positions After Race 1 Subject To Protest
1 Sony Ericsson (Thomas Blixt - Swe) 2.5 points
2 Team Elanders (Matthew Humphries - UK) 2.0 points
3 JMS Next Generation (Stefan Eneman) 1.5 points
4 AV Teknik (Marko Murtic) 1.0 point
5 Avant (M Lundh (Swe)/W Verbraak (Ned) DNF