Deutscher Touring Yacht-Club (Team Germany) claimed honours on the 150 mile opening leg of the 2017 Nord Stream Race from Kiel, Germany to Skovshoved, just north of Copenhagen today.

Leg one of this four stage, 1000 nautical mile race east across the Baltic took the boats 24 hours, after starting from Germany’s ‘Sailing City’ at 1300 yesterday.

“Our tactician from the UK, Hugh Brayshaw, did a super job last night, all of the team did a good job,” said the winning team’s skipper Michael Tarabochia. “We sailed the right angles and we worked hard the whole day.”

As to why they won, Hugh Brayshaw explained: “We pushed the whole time – you couldn’t take your foot off the throttle ever. We made some good decisions on the way out of Kiel and it felt like we were in a good position.” Unlike most other crews they used a watch system. “We structured things properly so we always had fresh trimmers and helms. We rotated everyone around before dark, so everyone knew their roles. It was a really dark night so it got quite tricky, but everyone did well.”

The crews spent much of the first leg following the Danish coast. This was mostly upwind and made for few tactical options. For example the Swedish crew dived south during the evening in search of stronger wind, but this didn’t pay.

Despite the newness of the one design ClubSwan 50s, and their crews still being unfamiliar sailing them, the racing was extremely close. During the leg at least three of the yachts led. Ultimately the German crew finished just two minutes 20 seconds ahead of Cape Crow Yacht Club (Team Sweden). The top four boats finished within 13 minutes with Nyländska Jaktklubben (Team Finland) third and the local heroes on Frederikshavn Sejlklub (Team Denmark) fourth. Lord of the Sail – Europe (Team Russia) was fifth, still within half an hour of the winner.

During the leg, crews experienced all manner of conditions. “We had a lot of wind and no wind at all, from every possible direction – it was crazy,” described Kenneth Thelen, skipper of the Finnish team. Michael Tarabochia added: “We had a terrible time from about 0100 and 0500. There was no wind for about half an hour and then we had a very difficult time with little wind. I was trimming the kite and you couldn’t see anything. And then the heavy rain came…” and with it impressive thunder and lightning.

While the German and Russian teams ran watch systems, the three other crews didn’t, resulting in some extremely tired Scandinavian finishers.

Arvid Bild, deputy bowman on board the Swedish boat to Volvo Ocean Race winner Martin Krite, said he had personally had no sleep. Others on board had only grabbed an hour or two when possible. “There were a lot of sail changes due to the wind coming from everywhere.”

Among the Swedes, some had never raced offshore overnight before and struggled to pace themselves. “They were really pushing it for the first hours, but then they got tired,” recounted Bild. Personally he has sailed offshore before, but mainly races sportsboats. The powerful ClubSwan 50 is very different: “I am not used to the big loads, but you learn processes and tricks and then it is the same.”

Kenneth Thelen, said his Finnish team had lost out to the Germans when they were both becalmed. “We saw the thunderstorm and couldn’t work out what was going to happen. Instead of a lot of wind there was no wind at all – the masthead wind vane was doing 360s. We were furthest left, which paid later, but by then it was too late. Otherwise we sailed well and the crew was fantastic.”

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Photos: Lars Wehrmann / Nord Stream Race 

The local team on Frederikshavn Sejlklub (Team Denmark) arrived to cheers and flag waves from their fan club. Skipper, Michael Nielsen, was disappointed with their fourth place. “We were leading at the end of the night, but we had some problems and made a tactical error,” he said. However he was impressed by the closeness of the racing. “It was a very difficult leg with lots of wind shifts and extremely tight competition all of the time. At 2100 we even had to duck the Swedish boat! It was really interesting. We brought freeze dried food, but we didn’t have time to cook it – we just grabbed a sandwich or an apple. We’d only get to sleep 10 or 20 minutes at a time.”

The Russian crew on Lord of the Sail – Europe was equally frustrated. “It was not my dream,” said skipper Maksim Taranov. A few tactical choices didn’t pay but the Russian team lost most time when they got something caught around their keel. “We had slow slow speed and we couldn’t understand it. It was dark and we shone a light, but we couldn’t see anything,” admitted Taranov. Eventually after two attempts at going around in circles and backing down, they cleared the impediment and were back up to speed.

On this leg several boats were sailing with special guests. With the Russians was Julia Smirnova, Travel and Education Editor for Komsomolskaya Pravda in Moscow. “It was nice – we had enough wind and our team was amazing,” she said. “All these nine guys are gentlemen, so I felt very comfortable. I got a bit of sleep. But they kept making me move when we tacked.”

Starting tomorrow at 1300 is leg two of the Nord Stream Race, from Copenhagen to Stockholm. At 470 miles, this will be by far the longest leg.

Finished at
1. Deutscher Touring Yacht-Club (Team Germany) 12:39:15
2. Cape Crow Yacht Club (Team Sweden) 12:41:35
3. Nyländska Jaktklubben (Team Finland)  12:47:03
4. Frederikshavn Sejlklub (Team Denmark) 12:52:23
5. Lord of the Sail – Europe (Team Russia) 13:06:30