Over the past three weeks, five crews have been battling it out for the 2018 Nord Stream Race title to prove supremacy in the Baltic sailing region. Sailing ClubSwan 50 One Design yachts, the winners of five national sailing leagues have been competing in a series of challenges that started in Kiel, Germany, on 16 June and ended on 5 July in St Petersburg, Russia. The emphatic, overall winners of the offshore race, the inshore series and the combined trophy were the Russian team, named Lord of the Sail – Asia.
This year marked the seventh edition of the Nord Stream Race and the second time the event has been raced in ClubSwan 50s. The closeness of the contest was exemplified by the final leg of the offshore race from Helsinki to St Petersburg where the winning Russian crew beat their Danish opponents by a mere two minutes.
The 2018 Nord Stream Race commenced in Germany, with the racing forming part of the world-famous Kiel Week. A seven-race series acting as a warm up for the five crews, allowing them to familiarize themselves with the race-oriented ClubSwan 50, designed by Juan K. On the 24 June, the ClubSwan 50s headed offshore with legs to Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki and, eventually, St. Petersburg. Inshore races were held at each stopover. The five competing teams represented Denmark, Finland, Germany, Russia and Sweden.
The Lord of the Sail sailing team was founded in Yekaterinburg in 2004 by two experienced Russian sailors, Evigeniy Neugodnikov and Sergey Musihin. Six years later, the team established a sailing club with its own sailing school. The main goal of was to make the sport of sailing popular in Russia. In recent years, "Lord of the Sail" club members have competed in many international yacht races, including the Rolex Fastnet Race, the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race and the Rolex Middle Sea Race. In 2016, the club entered the Russian Sailing League, entering two "Lord of the Sail" teams. Since Yekaterinburg is located right on the border between Europe and Asia, the teams were named "Europe" and "Asia". In 2016, "Europe" won the League and qualified for Nord Stream Race 2017. This year it was the turn of "Asia".
The other clubs taking part were Frederikshavn Sjlkub, Denmark; Norddeutscher Reagtta Verein, Germany; Kungliga Svenska Segelsällskapet, Sweden, and Aländka Segelsällskapet, Finland.
It was the German team that came out of the blocks firing on all cylinders to the win the Kiel inshore races with seven bullets from seven. Joshua Weber, the mastman aboard the winning German boat was cautiously optimistic. "We'll see how it plays out over the offshore legs. For the inshore racing, we brought some big boat experience to the table, and a couple of us have been sailing on a ClubSwan 50 for the past year. We can see the others learn very quickly and the fleet is moving closing together." The start for the Russians was inauspicious; suffering a broken forestay meant missing two days of racing and last place overall in the series.
The problems in Kiel were well behind Lord of the Sail – Asia by the time it reached Copenhagen. Crossing the finish line at 08.30 on 25 June after 17 hours of racing they won the leg by eight minutes. The chasing pack were more tightly bunched, with the next three boats separated by less than a minute. Russian skipper Sergey Musikhin said: "We're so happy! That was a very tactical leg and we're pleased with how we sailed the boat. It was close racing all the way. Even in the moonlight we could see all the other boats the whole time." The Russians followed up the offshore leg win by taking the three-race Copenhagen inshore title.
The next leg to Stockholm was made more of a challenge by an initial lack of wind. The Nord Stream Race covers 1000nm and is run to a strict timetable to ensure the inshore portions, social and VIP activities can take place as scheduled. The five ClubSwan 50s eventually motored to the southern tip of the Swedish island of Öland for the start of a 211nm race.
The light winds at the start of leg two gave way to a bruising encounter with Mother Nature for the five ClubSwan 50s. Norddeutscher Regatta Verein overcame the northerly winds gusting up to gale force 8. Not far behind were the Russian and Swedish teams in second and third. Denmark finished fourth, while Finland was forced to retire due to gear failure. "We experienced up to 34 knots of wind," said German skipper Sven-Erik Horsch. "But the bigger problem was the sea state. It was like someone put a huge boiler into the Baltic Sea and it started to heat up the water. That was tough. I've never experienced such a sea state in the Baltic, so we're happy that not much is broken on our boat."
After a single inshore race won by the Russian team, for offshore race Leg 3, the ClubSwan 50s joined the massed start of the ÅF Offshore Race. While the main fleet took on a race around the island of Gotland, the Nord Stream Race headed to Helsinki. The first part of the leg was a tactical game navigating the narrow path through Stockholm's labyrinthine archipelago before the breaking into open water towards Finland.
The Danish crew from Frederikshavn Sejlklub won the 180-mile leg after a battle for the lead with the Finnish and Russian crews. In the end, they managed to win from Finland by six minutes. All five ClubSwan 50s finished close to each other. "Just this morning we were 50 metres apart from the Russian and German boats," said Danish skipper Kris Houmann. "We had good speed, good tactics, made the right decisions. The last bit to get around the Russian was down to good speed."
Finnish skipper Staffan Lindberg also enjoyed the Stockholm-Helsinki leg immensely, both the tactics and boat handling: "Racing out through the archipelago was fantastic. Really close, high-speed sailing. We learned a lot about how to trim the boat. The ClubSwan 50 is very sensitive to small changes in trim and one moment we'd have a burst of speed and then the conditions would change and it would be someone else's turn to go fast."
Three inshore races in Helsinki yielded three different winners: Russia, Germany and Finland. However, once again, it was Lord of the Sail - Asia that proved the most consistent. Victory in the Helsinki inshore series gave Russia victory in the overall inshore series. Russia also held a narrow two-point advantage over Denmark heading into the final offshore challenge, with Germany a further point behind in third.
With victory in the final leg, the Russian crew sealed a dominant performance across the Nord Stream Race as a whole. Skipper Sergey Musikhin commented: "We came through some very tough times during this race. Three weeks with so many challenges, but that's offshore racing. All those things made our team stronger; we were racing not just for ourselves, but for our country, our flag. Congratulations to our team, we did our best under harsh circumstances!"
Once in St Petersburg the competitors could enjoy the warmth and hospitality of St. Petersburg Yacht Club, the organizing authority for the Nord Stream Race. After the final prize giving in the Central Naval Museum, the crews enjoyed a special tour of the historic city of St Petersburg, followed by a gala dinner at the Peter and Paul Fortress.
Since its inception in 2012, the Nord Stream Race has been organized by the Saint Petersburg Yacht Club with the support of Gazprom and Nord Stream AG. At 1,000 nautical miles and following the route of the Nord Stream pipeline, it has become established as the most demanding and prestigious offshore race in the Baltic region. The path to compete in the Nord Stream Race is no easy one. It requires competing in and winning a National Sailing League. Winning such a League is an enormous achievement in itself. Being able to race a ClubSwan 50 in the Nord Stream Race is perhaps the icing on the cake.