Bermudian Durham to take on world’s best
What is the recipe for an unpredictable, Grade 1 match racing regatta? Start with two women's crews, add a dash of youngsters and throw in a handful of treacherous veterans and you get the 2019 Argo Group Gold Cup.
The 69th competition for the revered King Edward VII Gold Cup trophy, scheduled from May 6 to 11 and hosted by the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, features just such a sterling line-up.
It includes the women's No 1, Pauline Courtois, of France, and No 6, Lucy Macgregor, of Britain, and the top five in the open rankings including Eric Monnin, of Switzerland, Ian Williams, of Britain, Harry Price, of Australia, Ettore Botticini, of Italy, and Maxime Mesnil, of France.
Grizzled veterans Torvar Mirsky of Australia and Johnie Berntsson of Sweden and wild cards such as Nicklas Dackhammar, of Sweden, and Chris Poole, of the United States, add a spicy blend to the fleet, which collectively boasts 12 match racing world championships and four Argo Group Gold Cup championships.
The 12-team line-up was completed recently with the addition of Bermudian Kelsey Durham, the 2019 Bermuda Match Racing National Champion. Durham, 25, of Smith's Parish, will race with local sailors Stevie Dickinson, Heath Foggo and Campbell Duffy. Still another Bermudian, Emily Nagel, a veteran of the past Volvo Ocean Race, will sail with Poole's crew.
Durham began sailing at age seven and has had a diverse career in a short time frame. He raced an Optimist dinghy as a youth and competed in the Bermuda Optimist National Championship, Optimist North American Championship, Optimist South American Championship and the Optimist US Nationals.
During his high school years Durham attended Brewster Academy (Wolfeboro, New Hampshire) in the US, where he was a skipper on the varsity team for all four years. In 2009 he helped the team win the Cummings Cup at the Gloucester Fall Fleet Regatta, topping a field of 32 teams, and also led Brewster to a sixth-place finish at the high school nationals in 2011.
In Bermuda, Durham has raced the local International One-Design, same boat used in the Argo Group Gold Cup fleet, and competed in the gruelling Red Bull Youth America's Cup Team trials. Last year, he skippered Victory IV in Bermuda's Fitted Dinghy racing season and placed fourth overall. Durham has also completed an ocean passage on the 112-foot sail-training vessel Spirit of Bermuda.
Durham has greater experience in team racing as opposed to match racing, but after several years at the helm of an IOD, he is ready for the challenge of racing against the world's best.
“It's going to be a very challenging regatta,” Durham said. “I am sailing against professional skippers that sail and train every day.
“They do this for a living, so I've got my work cut out for me. I'm up for the challenge. I feel comfortable sailing the IOD and getting it going, but the crew also has to be on point as they play a big role getting the necessary speed and boathandling needed around the course.”
Durham is one of three skippers aged 25 or younger in the regatta, the others being Botticini and Price, both aged 23. The 69th Argo Group Gold Cup also features two very successful women skippers in Courtois and Macgregor.
While Courtois is making her debut in Bermuda, Macgregor is hoping to break into the Argo Group Gold Cup's winner's circle in her third attempt. The two-times women's world champion had a magical run at last year's event, placing fourth overall in the best showing ever by a women's crew. She comes into this year's event more on the rusty side.
“Last year feels like a long time ago and I have only done one match race event since then, so I am just looking forward to being back on the water and racing against some of the best teams in the world, although I'm not looking forward to how out of practice I'm going to feel,” Macgregor said. “From last year, in general, we were starting well, but sometimes lost a little in the first couple of tacks so that will certainly be something for us to work on.”
Monnin's Swiss Match Racing Team comes into the Argo Group Gold Cup as the new world No 1, having leapfrogged Williams in the latest rankings. The 43-year-old Monnin, who will be racing his twelfth Argo Group Gold Cup, posted two firsts and a second in three Grade 1 match race events over the past year and comes in with abundant experience of Hamilton Harbour.
“The Argo Group Gold Cup has been very welcoming to newcomers through the years, with qualifiers and a format that allows for a high number of teams,” said Monnin, who placed second overall in 2014. “We were able to participate very early in our match racing career and liked the event a lot because it is special in many aspects. The history of the event is impressive as well as the traditional boats.
“We've performed well in Bermuda, but have never managed to win,” Monnin continued. “The field of competition is always outstanding and to win this event is a real challenge.”
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.