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Intriguing battles set for curtain raiser

Racing for the 69th Argo Group Gold Cup is scheduled to start today with an intriguing first day of racing on Hamilton Harbour.

The first match on the schedule pits grizzled veteran Johnie Berntsson of Sweden, a two-times winner of the King Edward VII Gold Cup, against first-time participant Kelsey Durham, the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club representative.

Other matches in the first flight include Maxime Mesnil of France, sailing his first Gold Cup, racing Chris Poole, of the United States, Ettore Botticini, the reigning Youth Match Racing World Champion of Italy racing Eric Monnin, the World No 1-ranked match racer of Switzerland and Australian Torvar Mirsky, the reigning open match-racing world champion, against Lucy Macgregor the reigning women's match-racing world champion of Britain.

Pauline Courtois, women's No 1-ranked skipper of France makes her debut in the third flight of matches when she takes on Nicklas Dackhammar, of Sweden, in match three. Harry Price, of Australia, another first-time entrant, makes his debut one match later, against Mirsky.

Besides winning the coveted King Edward VII Gold Cup trophy, one of the oldest trophy awarded in match racing second to only the America's Cup, the Gold Cup will also award $100,000 in prize money to the top-eight finishers. The winner will receive $30,000, second place will win $15,000, third place $12,000, and fourth place $11,000. Crews finishing fifth through eighth will receive $8,000 each.

In what is believed to be a first at a Grade 1 match racing regatta, the Gold Cup includes the three reigning match racing world champions — Mirsky is the open champion, Macgregor is the three-times women's champion and Ettore Botticini is the youth champion.

All three competed in last year's competition, but Botticini had not won the youth title. He achieved that feat last July.

Besides Mirsky, Macgregor and Botticini, the Gold Cup also includes six-times open world champion Ian Williams, Britain, and Price, the 2017 youth world champion.

The field also includes three past winners of the King Edward VII Gold Cup trophy, Berntsson, of Sweden, in 2014 and 2008, Mirsky in 2011 and Williams in 2006.

This year's Gold Cup features two of the top women's skippers in Macgregor and Courtois. Courtois is a two-times women's match-racing champion and also the two-times champion of the Women's International Match Racing Series.

Macgregor beat Courtois to win the 2018 women's worlds in Russia and regards Courtois as a fierce competitor.

“Pauline and her team have been one of our toughest opponents at women's events over the past couple of years,” Macgregor said. “They seem to be very natural sailors and I'm sure will be tough to beat on the circuit again this year.”

Match racing might be the best discipline in the sport of sailing where men and women can compete on equal terms.

The racecourses are short and quick and if the wind is light to moderate the strength advantage of men's crews is neutralised.

That proved true last year when Macgregor advanced to the semi-finals before placing fourth overall. Never before had a women's crew made it to the semi-final round of the Gold Cup.

Monnin, the world No 1- ranked open match-racing skipper, trained with Macgregor in her run up to the Olympic Games in London in 2012 and has raced against the likes of Sally Barkow and France's Claire Leroy, a past two-times women's world champion. He believes there is no reason women's crews should not be included in open match race regattas.

“To be clear, a women's team is as difficult to beat as a men's team,” Monnin said.

“I think match racing should always have women and mixed teams. To allow a flexible crew number inside the weight limit is a key to open match racing for women.”

Macgregor is sailing with an all-women's crew while Courtois has two men and one woman in her crew. Poole, the world No 15-ranked skipper, is also sailing with two men and one woman.

The first crew member he signed up was Bermudian Emily Nagel, who sailed the past Volvo Ocean Race with Team AkzoNobel.

“Emily and I became friends on Facebook and when I saw her background, I asked her if she would sail with me,” Poole said.

“I totally support women in crews. Emily's an incredibly talented sailor who's at the top of the sport.

“She's very strong and her skills suit match racing very well. It'll be her first Gold Cup and I'm happy to have her. She's going to kill it.”

The crew-on-crew racing, more similar to a wrestling match where tactics, strategy and escapes are rewarded, will be held on Hamilton Harbour, directly in front of the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club docks where the exciting pre-start circling action is often played out within feet of the docks.

We are sailing: the Argo Group Gold Cup starts today (Photograph by RBYC Media)

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Published May 07, 2019 at 9:00 am (Updated May 06, 2019 at 10:42 pm)

Intriguing battles set for curtain raiser

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