Peter Holmberg defeated Ben Ainslie 3-1 in the final of the Swedish Match tour event in Portugal yesterday

Peter Holmberg has won his first Swedish Match Tour event in more than three years when he captured the 2nd annual PTPortugal Match Cup in Cascais yesterday.

Holmberg, of the US Virgin Islands and a helmsman for America’s Cup champion Alinghi, defeated Ben Ainslie (GBR), of Emirates Team New Zealand, 3-1 in the final. Holmberg lost the first match, but then won three straight to win approximately $42,200 of the $120,700 prize purse.

“It feels sweet. It really feels good because I think it was a hard battle. I think we all got tested and I think we stepped up our game during the whole regatta. It’s one of those great results you cherish,” said the 45-year-old Holmberg.

Holmberg became the early leader of the seventh Swedish Match Tour season. His victory gives him 25 points towards the championship, while Ainslie scored 20 points.

Holmberg and crew Rodney Ardern, Murray Jones, Lorenzo Mazza and Matt Mitchell became the first America’s Cup crew to win an event of the Swedish Match Tour this year. For Holmberg, the 2002-03 Tour champion, it was his fourth career victory on the Tour.

“I’d especially like to thank my team, Rodney doing my main, Matt on the bow, Murray Jones on the tactics and Lorenzo trimming,” Holmberg said. “This place here requires a team. There’s no way you can win it without a great team, so I really owe these guys all the credit.”

Ainslie sailed with Stu Bettany (main), Ray Davies (tactics), Rob Salthouse (headsails) and Chris Ward (bow). They won approx. $24,100 in placing second. “We had a fantastic opportunity to win, but they sailed better,” said Ainslie. “Credit to Peter and his guys.”

The 3-1 final score doesn’t reflect the closeness of the match. Ainslie won the first race by about six to eight boatlengths. Riding port tack he won the first cross and led by about 27 seconds at the first windward mark. Holmberg closed up on the first run but Ainslie extended away over the second lap.

Holmberg won the second race when he won the first cross. Ainslie made it close at the first windward mark, approaching on starboard in a lift, but Holmberg rounded the mark with about a six second advantage. Holmberg played the hard right on the second windward leg while Ainslie went hard left, and Holmberg held a sizeable lead at the windward mark.

With the score tied 1-1, Ainslie and crew made a fatal error. They entered the pre-start on port tack at the pin end. They won the right side of the start line and worked the right side of the beat to lead by more than 20 seconds at the windward mark. They led all around the track but when they got to the finish the race committee didn’t raise the blue flag signaling victory.

Ainslie and crew had sailed the wrong course. When they entered the pre-start box the race committee signaled a course change to the second windward mark, the one with a black band. Two marks were set because the wind was shifting through about 20 degrees, and the race committee was choosing the mark at the four-minute gun based on the wind direction.

Entering the start box from the far end Ainslie and crew failed to recognize the course change. “The third race was a pretty big error on our part,” Ainslie, the double Olympic gold medalist, said. We were in the lead and did the wrong course. I’m slightly bemused how all five of us missed the change of course flag, but somehow we did. That was a pretty frustrating way to lose that race, and it kind of turned the tables.”

“We all talked about it after the start and we all agreed it was the left-hand mark,” said tactician Ray Davies. “We came in on port entry, wound up about trying to cross Peter.”

Down 2-1, Ainslie got a penalty against Holmberg in the pre-start of Race 4 for a port-starboard incident. “The umpires say we never went to starboard,” said Holmberg, who entered the pre-start on port tack. “We changed our attitude after that and got aggressive.”

Holmberg and crew started chasing Ainslie around the start box. They almost forced him to hit the committee boat as the start signal sounded. “We were just inches away from closing him out,” said Jones, Holmberg’s tactician. “We couldn’t quite slow the boat enough. We were too far forward.”

Carrying a penalty Holmberg rode Ainslie to the right side of the racecourse. Holmberg led by about 23 seconds at the first windward mark. Ainslie gained time at the leeward and second windward marks to trail by about 16 seconds beginning the final leg. It wasn’t enough time for Holmberg to complete his penalty turn and win the match.

On the final leg, however, Jones called for a gybe to starboard. “We saw some pressure and thought that’ll do us,” Jones said. Indeed it did. They extended to enough of an advantage to complete their penalty turn at the finish and win the championship by half a length.

Holmberg and Ainslie advanced to the final by beating Peter Gilmour (AUS), Pizza-La Sailing Team, and Jes Gram-Hansen (DEN), Gram-Hansen Racing. Both scores were 3-1. In the Petit Final, Gilmour beat Gram-Hansen 2-0 to win approx. $18,100. Gram-Hansen won approx. $9,600.

Swedish Match Tour Standings

(after stage 1)

1. Peter Holmberg (ISV) 25 points

2. Ben Ainslie (GBR) 20 points

3. Peter Gilmour (AUS) 15 points

4. Jes Gram-Hansen (DEN) 12 points

5. Staffan Lindberg (FIN) 10 points

6. Chris Law (GBR) 8 points

7. Bertrand Pace (FRA) 6 points

8. Michael Dunstan (AUS) 4 points