Over the next two weeks, the International 5.5 Metre fleet will be gracing the waters off Cowes, UK, as they compete for a range of class cups, including the much coveted Scandinavian Gold Cup, and then the world championship. The Royal Yacht Squadron is hosting the events, which run from August 15-24.
The first event is the Scandinavian Gold Cup, which dates back to 1919 and is one of the oldest yachting trophies in the world. It was established by the Nylandska Jaktklubben (NJK) in Helsinki (where it will return in 2019 for the Cup’s centenary) though the first race was held in Sandhamn, Sweden, in yachts of the 40 m2 class, and organised by the Royal Swedish Yacht Club.
At first, the Cup was a challenge competition between Finland and Sweden. In 1922 it was deciding to use the increasingly popular 6 Metre class, which was then used at the Olympics and then in 1926 it was opened up to non-Nordic countries and soon became one of the most prestigious trophies in sailing, attracting famous designers and competitors, including America’s Cup winners.
By 1953 to reduce costs, the event was transferred to the International 5.5 Metre class and this year’s event is the 67th edition to be sailed in the 5.5 Metre. The Scandinavian Gold Cup is a Nation Trophy, with only one boat only per country, with a format that places an emphasis on winning races. The first yacht to win three races is the winner, with yachts not having won a race being eliminated after the first three races.
Last year’s winner in Benodot, France, was Marie-Françoise XIX SUI 228, skippered by Jürg Menzi.
He explained, “It begins like a fleet race, and ends in a match race, so it is quite special. You have to go only for first places. Second means nothing…and the level is quite high, with one boat per nation.”
Former winner Kristian Nergaard, this year sailing Artemis XIV, NOR 57, is also back. He has won the Gold Cup a record nine times, both with his father and in his own boats.
However, Nergaard has never sailed in Cowes before. “But I have heard a lot about the sailing venue. My father has sailed there many times and Cowes is known as a historic place for regattas. There are rumours about lots of current, so hopefully we can handle this challenge.”
He last won the Gold Cup in 2010, and regards it as a very special event because of the trophy itself and its long history. “It’s one of a kind. I have nine victories with my father and with my own team.”
He is expecting some tough competition to claim it for a tenth time. “It is a good level in the class at the moment. Most of the fleet was at the season opening at Lake Garda in May. It is tough racing and it would not be wise to point out the hardest competitors at this time. The reigning World Champion, Gavin McKinney, from the Bahamas will be ‘the overnight leader’ until we have finished our first race.”
The entry from The Bahamas will be John B, BAH 22, skippered by Gavin McKinney, who is the defending world champion.
He said, “The Gold Cup is the second oldest sailing trophy, so that makes it special. It certainly looks nice on the dining room table. It is an interesting format. As far as scoring goes, second place is the same as last place so one has to think a bit differently.”
He thinks the class is in a good place right now, with good boats and tough competition.
“I have been in the class for over 45 years so have seen a fair amount of change. Any modern boat built in the last 15 years is capable of winning. The design advancements have levelled out which is a good thing. Previously design changes were jumping radically so one could get out designed in a hurry. I think there are four to six boats capable of winning.”
On Cowes, “We raced the world championship here in 1998. The current played a big part then and I expect it to do so this time as well. As I remember, being fast was no guarantee, it is more about positioning.”
And on the competition, “It is like every regatta. One goes with the intent to win.”
As well as the Scandinavian Gold Cup, there will also be racing for the Hankø Evolution Cup, the Royal Kaag Classic Cup and the Kings Cup during the first week in Cowes. Racing for the Gold Cup is scheduled to begin on Wednesday 15 August. The first race for the world championship is scheduled for Monday 20 August.
by Robert Deaves