World Match Racing Tour 2015 – Famously he won the Argo Group Gold Cup in 2014, ahead of America’s Cup crews and Match Racing World Champions, but Swede Johnie Berntsson deserves double credit for being the only Tour Card skipper who simultaneously manages to hold down a full time job in the ‘real world’.
When he’s not ruthlessly dispatching his opposition on the race course, the 43-year-old runs an IT department within Gothenburg’s University Hospital – the biggest hospital in Scandinavia.
“Actually I do my sailing for six weeks a year and the rest of the time I work as a normal guy,” he admits.
For Berntsson Sailing Team, 2015 has been a year of bedding in new crew, in the form of Jakob Gustafsson and Carl-Johan Uckelstam. This new line-up won both the Swedish and Scandinavian Match Racing Championships this season, however their part on the 2015 World Match Racing Tour received several blows. Firstly there was the skipper starting his new job in February. As a result he couldn’t compete in the Congressional Cup. Then Holland withdrew the Dutch Match Cup event that was in his diary. “After that we were on the backfoot,” Berntsson admits. “We only have three events in our score now and we haven’t been really successful in those events.”
These included the highlight of the Swedish calendar, Match Cup Sweden, and defending his Argo Group Gold Cup title. Sadly he finished 10th in Bermuda: “I think the guys did a really good job and we were actually sailing quite well, with good boat speed and handling, but the challenge was high and we struggled to gain the points. We lost some races on silly mistakes or when we took a penalty – for example against Eric Monnin, on the finishing line there were just centimetres between us. If we’d won that race we would have gone through to the quarterfinals.
“Our main goal now is to get a great performance in the Monsoon Cup, the season finale of the World Match Racing Tour. I think we have a good possibility to do that.
Despite his background, as a traditional match racer who has competed on the Tour for a decade, Berntsson says he embraces the wholescale changes the World Match Racing Tour is undergoing: “Overall I think it’s really good that this is happening. Whatever you do, sometimes you need an injection of something new, whether it’s a team or a sport. Håkan Svensson is approaching the World Match Racing Tour with good enthusiasm and that’s actually what the Tour needs to develop. So in this transition it is great to see new things happening. It might be painful, but you have to be serious and get a boat and for that you have to get the money. To do that you need to understand the value of the events so you can present that to potential sponsors.”
Berntsson also points out that the World Match Racing Tour ‘going catamaran’, means that once again it has a place as a proving ground for new talent wishing to progress on the America’s Cup.
Personally he plans to go a step further. In addition to the World Match Racing Tour, next year he also intends to compete on the M32 Series Scandinavia, that in 2015 included events in Oslo, Gotenburg, Copenhagen, Helsinki and Stockholm.
“We’re just in the middle of negotiations and if everything turns out right, we will buy an M32 catamaran. But we’ll probably have to extend the team to eight if we’re to participate in both series,” he says. Of course his job is a factor, but also there may be a clash of dates.
So far Berntsson has sailed the M32 high-performance catamaran just a handful of times. Among his crew, Jakob Gustafsson is an experienced catamaran sailor and Robert Skarp has had an Olympic Tornado campaign, but for him personally, it is all new.
“We have a lot of the knowledge needed to develop me and develop the team. Before I’ve had the knowledge base for the match racing side and always developing the team from that, of course with the others very much involved. But this time I need to let the team help me develop my skills. That, and having a slightly different role on board, is going to be really fun.”
This will require him not only to learn about sailing and racing a catamaran, but the unique traits of the M32, such as its racks and unarig. And then there’s the whole match racing side in the new beast: “It’s going to be different for sure. There are some fundamentals that are the same – I mean the boat-to-boat relation. Even though the M32 high-performance catamaran is much faster, it’s always about your speed against the other boat, whether you’re faster, slower, higher, lower, etc. Of course the boats are wider, you cannot tack as fast, so I think the strategy in the prestart will change a lot. I think overall the racing will be just as exciting, but in a different way with more speed.”
And then there’s remembering how to fleet race. “I go fleet racing maybe two or three times a year – that’s all – so it’s going to be great being back in that kind of sailing. I’m looking forward to it.”
Going forwards, Berntsson is gunning to get another Tour Card for 2016. He is expecting to get his new M32 high-performance catamaran early in the New Year and will then immediately begin training, despite it being a time of year when most of his friends will be skiing. “Provided there’s no ice on the ocean, we will be out there sailing.”
An unexpected benefit of the latest developments with the World Match Racing Tour is that in some ways it could benefit those in Berntsson’s position who are short on time and who, for example, cannot go to events a week early to learn the venue and re-familiarise themselves with the boat being used.
Instead now, they can continue their training on their M32 high-performance catamaran at evenings and weekends back home in Sweden and being such old hands they will already be familiar with most of the venues the World Match Racing Tour will visit in 2016.