The bitter rivalry between Ian Williams and Taylor Canfield has been the defining story of the World Match Racing Tour in recent years. Even with the switch from keelboats to M32 catamarans, the rivalry looks as strong and closely matched as ever.
The next event of the ‘short season’ of 2016 is the World Match Racing Tour Copenhagen, taking place from 9 to 14 May, and the action is set to take place in Tuborg Havn, just a stone’s throw from the centre of Denmark’s stunning capital city.
It has been a fascinating start to the season, with the professional crews scrabbling to learn the new skills required to get the high-speed 500kg M32 around the track as quickly as possible. The reaching start requires time-on-distance skills to be sharper than ever.
Taylor Canfield and US One were widely reckoned to be the favourites for the first 2016 event in Fremantle, having put in a lot of training and competition time on the M32 circuits in Scandinavia and the USA. The US Virgin Islander started out well, emerging from the fleet racing rounds as top qualifier of the 20 teams, but ultimately only finishing seventh overall after falling to Denmark’s Nicolai Sehested in their Quarter Final.
Williams had been the dominant force in the keelboats, taking a record six world titles including the 2015 championship. Recent months have seen him training hard with his new crew of multihull veterans, but even he was somewhat surprised at just how well things went in Fremantle. After losing his opening match to young Aussie Sam Gilmour, Williams stepped up a gear and didn’t drop a match from then onwards, dispatching the Olympic medallist from Sweden, Hans Wallén, 3-0 in the final.
The next event was a return to more familiar territory for Williams, and most of the teams for that matter. With the Congressional Cup taking place in Catalina 37 keelboats, this should have been right up the reigning World Champion’s street. Instead, inexplicably, he took a turn down a wrong alley, his keelboat skills refusing to fire on all cylinders as Williams crashed out of the competition in the first round. That hasn’t happened in a long while.
Looking back at the first two events, Williams commented: ‘It’s certainly been a season of extremes so far. We worked hard to get ready for Fremantle, but I don’t think many people put us down as favourites for winning there, including ourselves. I’m really pleased we managed to get our act together so quickly as a new team.
Asked what went wrong at the Congressional Cup however, Williams said: ‘There was always likely to be a consequence to putting so much focus on the M32, but for the overall goals of the season it makes sense to concentrate our effort and attention on the new platform. I’m looking forward to showing what GAC Pindar can do in Copenhagen.’
Where Williams faltered in California, Canfield was in his element as he steered US One to their third consecutive victory at the Congressional Cup, the first time anyone has scored a hat trick in the 57-year history of this prestigious match racing classic. ‘Winning the Congressional Cup was a big morale boost for US One,’ said Canfield. ‘It was good to come back from that after a disappointing event in Fremantle. We know we’re better than that, and we’ve been working hard to make sure we come back really strong for Copenhagen.
Of course, by no means is this just the Canfield and Williams show. For starters, there are a few Scandinavian crews that will have something to say about that, especially the Danes such as Sehested who was looking fast and dangerous in Fremantle. If he can just curb his wilder instincts, the young Dane could well put a good series together, maybe win. Just across the water from Copenhagen is Sweden, from where some other hot teams will be arriving, not least Fremantle finallist Wallén and another consistent M32 performer, Swedish ex-Olympian and America’s Cup veteran, Mattias Rahm.
In Australia we saw some young twenty-somethings from the local area qualify for the Tour regatta and scare some of the seasoned internationals with some barnstorming performances. The same could happen for whichever teams make it through the qualifying regatta for Copenhagen, which takes place 2-4 May.