Concentration was at 100 per cent for the 415 nautical mile race from Warnemunde in Germany to Sandhamn in Sweden. Just one mistake would give the opponent an advantage. For 47 hours, two teams, Sony Ericsson (T Blixt/Swe) and Britain’s Matthew Humphries with Team Elanders were attached to each other by a piece of elastic, or so it seemed.
Finally, Team Elanders crossed the finish line six minutes ahead of Blixt. “It went really well,” said a smiling Matthew Humphries. “This crew is very competitive and this is the kind of result they want to have. They deserved to win. We’re all pretty tired. I can’t think anymore, we’re all burnt out. We haven’t been running a watch system, and it was tough mentally and physically with no sleep.”
Team Elanders led in the early stage of the race, but Sony Ericsson over took as a front passed over. Humphries’ strategy of protecting the right hand side of the course began to pay as the wind shifted from the west to the south west about 20 miles from Almagrundet and an hour later they moved into the lead.
“We knew, maybe one hour before, that Elanders would pass us,” explained Blixt adding, “they had to separate from us, otherwise they wouldn’t have passed us. There was nothing we could do. Of course we are disappointed, but we have a new race tomorrow.”
Starting in very light airs from Warnemunde on Sunday, it was a frustratingly slow ride for the first day and night, with glassy seas and slatting sails. “It’s harder to race in lighter air than heavy air as it takes so much effort,” explained Avant’s skipper Mikael Lundh from Sweden.
The light conditions benefited AV-Teknik’s mainly Croatian crew, whose boat is better suited to this type of racing. They swept into third place and were nipping at the heels of Team Elanders in second, until they blew out their spinnaker during the second night. A thunder squall brought with it a change of wind direction and 30 knots of wind and the team couldn’t drop their spinnaker in time. Sony Ericsson and Team Elanders escaped unscathed. “We can gain when there’s less wind,” said co-skipper Anders Carlberg/Swe, but Sony Ericsson and Team Elanders just take off when it’s windy.” AV-Teknik did not have a sail suitable for the conditions and the disappointed crew could do nothing to prevent JMS Next Generation who finished in third and Avant who finished three minutes later in fourth, slip past them.
JMS Next Generation (KI Heiberg/Nor) and Avant spent much of the racing covering each other. During the night, Avant lost sight of JMS in a bad thunder squall. “They (JMS) stayed to leeward, and when the wind lifted, it paid off,” explained Mikael Lundh. “From start to finish we were not doing what we wanted to do, we simply sailed the wrong way. This leg was important, but there’s still three more stages,” he added.
Norwegian skipper of JMS, Kjell Inge Heiberg, saw it this way: “We ended up on the wrong side of the course at the southern tip of Sweden. We decided to take a loss and went to find the wind. We didn’t know if we were in front until we got to Oland, (an island south of Gotland, close to mainland Sweden). It was an exciting, interesting and in some ways an unexpected race and we’re tired, but very happy to be third.”
Finishing positions leg 6
1 Team Elanders (Matthew Humphries, UK)
2 Sony Ericsson (Thomas Blixt, Swe)
3 JMS Next Generation (Stefan Eneman, Swe/Kjell-Inge Heiberg, Nor)
4 Avant (M Lundh, Swe)
5 AV Teknik (Marko Murtic, Cro)
Positions overall after leg 6 (leg 4 postponed)
1 Team Elanders 20.5 points
2 Sony Ericsson 20 points
3 JMS Next Generation 12.0 points
4 Avant 10.0 points
5 AV Teknik 5 points
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