Kiel came good for the start of the 2017 Nord Stream Race today. After a windless morning, a solid breeze filled in allowing the international teams to leave Germany’s ‘sailing city’ on their first leg to Copenhagen.

Five teams are competing in this this sixth edition of the St Petersburg Yacht Club’s annual race across the Baltic: Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Each crew competing on the 2017 Nord Stream Race comes from the club which won the National Sailing League tournament in its respective country in 2016. While the boats all have young sailors on board, many from their 2016 National Sailing League-winning crew, they are all accompanied by experienced offshore racers. This includes, in the case of the Swedish and Finnish crews, some who have competed in, and even won, the Volvo Ocean Race.

The 2017 Nord Stream Race was supposed to start today at 1000 with a short series of inshore races. Sadly Kiel’s Inner Fjord was a millpond, without a breath of wind so these did not take place. Fortunately with just 30 minutes to go to the start of the offshore leg, a most welcome light northerly filled in. The five ClubSwan 50s were close on the start line and by the time they exited Kiel’s Inner Fjord, Team Sweden – Cape Crow Yacht Club had pulled out a tiny lead from Team Finland – Nyländska Jaktklubben. Team Denmark – Frederikshavn Sejlklub was holding third place, her crew hoping that local knowledge will pay off on this leg to their capital, ahead of the local heroes, Team Germany – Deutscher Touring Yacht-Club in fourth, and Team Russia Lord of the Sail – Europe.
Sweden and Finland neck and neck on their way out of Kiel. Photo: Lars Wehrmann / Nord Stream Race

Ahead lies a minefield of a leg. Light upwind conditions are forecast as the boats sail along the south of Denmark this afternoon and evening. The wind is then expected to veer into the south towards midnight just as the boats reach the first major turning mark of the course at the southernmost tip of Denmark. This should allow them a brief spell of downwind sailing before the wind shuts down. The breeze is then due to re-establish from the north, and then west around breakfast time for the last miles. Shortly before finishing, the boat will pass under the famous Øresund Bridge joining Copenhagen with Malmo before heading on to the line off the Copenhagen suburb of Skovshoved. Here the boats and crews will be hosted by the Royal Danish Yacht Club.

“It is going to be quite difficult,” agreed Chris Nørgaard, navigator on Team Denmark – Frederikshavn Sejlklub. “Overnight it looks like there will be two different systems meeting each other and then there will be light winds and the wind will do a 180° turn. The tactic will be to put your boat in the right place in terms of the weather systems.” Nørgaard says that the effect of current fortunately won’t be an issue until the boats are further north, when it builds towards the Øresund Bridge due to the Danish and Swedish coast converging.

While some crews are expecting to spend a sleep-less night on the weather rail, British Figaro sailor Hugh Brayshaw, navigator on Team Germany – Deutscher Touring Yacht-Club, reckons that they will be trying to get the crew rested in time for the difficult early morning calm tomorrow. “It’s going to get fairly funky going onto a beat before the wind fills in from the west,” he advises. Preliminary routing on the German boat suggests a 1000 arrival tomorrow into the Skovshoved finish.

NSR172381234-0117_bigTeam Germany – Deutscher Touring Yacht-Club getting up to speed. Photo: Lars Wehrmann / Nord Stream Race

Patrik Sturesson, skipper on Team Sweden – Cape Crow Yacht Club agreed with this forecast. “It will be super light for sure. The big challenge will be finding any local wind coming up. We’ll need to keep hydrated and make sure we are all still focussed. We’ll have to move the crew around the boat.”

While the Russian Lord of the Sail – Europe team has experience on the world’s top 600 mile offshore races such as the Rolex Middle Sea and Rolex Sydney Hobart races, skipper Maksim Taranov was a little anxious about sailing on the unfamiliar waters of the Nord Stream Race. His team heralds from Yekaterinburg near the Ural Mountains, 2000km from St Petersburg. “The first time is always difficult and you never know which side [of the course] is better. But everyone has the same problem.”

Taranov was excited to be sailing ClubSwan 50, a much faster, more high-tech machine than he usually races. “This boat is so fast. Yesterday we tried to do some manoeuvres and some guys weren’t ready for how fast it would be. And it has a lot of hydraulics. We wound on the backstay yesterday and we gained 2 knots upwind! On our boat you might gain 0.5 knot.”

There was more trepidation for Niki Blassar, one of the young sailors, and sole female, with Team Finland – Nyländska Jaktklubben. She was mentally preparing herself for what will be her first ever night at sea tonight. “It is exciting. I am going to learn a lot. Being out there in the dark is different for me.” As to sailing with an otherwise male crew, including several seasoned sailors from the 1989 Whitbread Round the World Race, such as skipper Kenneth Thelen, she said: “They are really fun. I know them well – they are all friends of my dad.”

The Nord Stream Race follows the route of the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline. It is supported by the pipeline’s owner, Nord Stream AG and Russian natural gas producer, Gazprom. Leg one into Copenhagen is expected to finish at around lunchtime tomorrow (Sunday).

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