The Monsoon Cup, the celebratory 50th event of the Swedish Match Tour, got underway in Malaysia today

The Monsoon Cup, the celebratory 50th event of the Swedish Match Tour, got underway in Malaysia today.

The Opening Ceremony, complete with pyrotechnics and a marching band from the Royal Malaysian Navy, was held under the approving gaze of the Sultan of Terengganu, Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin, and followed by the first three flights of the round robin.

“It was a very eventful day,” said Chris Dickson, skipper of the BMW Oracle Racing Team. “The fleet racing in the morning and the opening ceremony with the sultan, it’s not every day you get to meet a sultan. The day started with Muslim prayers wafting across the water and ended with it.”

Ian Williams of Great Britain is the leader after the first day. Williams took a sabbatical last summer from his day job as a lawyer to try his had at match-racing full time. He has since quit his job in pursuit of racing glory, and today showed how much his game has grown this year. He scored three wins, including a come-from-behind victory over Sweden’s Magnus Holmberg.

“That’s a good start, isn’t it?” Williams said. “It was a really shifty day. It was hard to call the shifts because they were coming off the shore and we were sailing so close to shore. But we stayed close when behind and sailed away when in the lead.”

Dickson holds second place after winning his two matches, while Gilmour, Cameron Dunn and Staffan Lindberg all won one match each and are in a three-way tie for third.

Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin was on hand to officially open the Monsoon Cup. In a ceremony watched by an estimated 15,000 people, the sultan was presented the Monsoon Cup for viewing and watched each team march past as well as a fleet parade of various boats. He stayed to watch Flight 1 and was treated to a big comeback win by Russell Coutts in the final match of the flight.

Coutts and crew trailed Italian match-racing champion Francesco Bruni for the first two and a half laps. After rounding the windward mark the third and final time they jibed to starboard and rode a sweet puff to claim a 2-second win at the pin end.

The sultan left the venue after the first flight. Had he stayed he would’ve seen some more fantastic racing, such as the matches featuring Dickson and Coutts and Magnus Holmberg versus Gilmour.

Dickson got the better of Coutts in what New Zealand commentator Peter Montgomery glibly termed their 20,700th match. “Chris got the best start and the better of the breeze,” said Coutts. “It was close at the end, but we couldn’t get up to him.”

Holmberg and Gilmour staged a thrilling final in the Swedish Match Cup last July, and their match today seemed an extension of that series won by Gilmour. Holmberg led for much of the match, but he carried a penalty that Gilmour laid on him in a windward/leeward situation on the first run.

Up the third beat Holmberg was extending but Gilmour closed up in a puff on the run to the finish, and then Holmberg had to slow to try and draw him close to unload the penalty. With the wind dying away, there was a lack of manoeuvrability and Gilmour sailed over the top to win.

The round robin is scheduled to resume tomorrow at 1000.