Shifty winds and an unfamiliar boat make for an interesting day of practice

A mostly quiet day consisting of two practice sessions and a Pro-Am Race belied the action that’s about to take place at the Pizza-La Red Lobster Nippon Cup, Stage 4 of the 2004-’05 Swedish Match Tour. The 15th anniversary edition is scheduled to begin tomorrow with round robin racing in Hayama, Japan.

The 12 crews are led by skippers Ed Baird (USA), Dean Barker (NZL), Gavin Brady (NZL), Yasutaka Funazawa (JPN), Peter Gilmour (AUS), Jes Gram-Hansen (DEN), Sven-Erik Horsch (GER), Michele Ivaldi (ITA), Meek (RSA), Takami Nakamura (JPN), Philippe Presti (FRA) and Kazuto Seki (JPN).

Early matches tomorrow feature Baird, the world’s No. 1-ranked match-racer, against Brady, the helmsman of the BMW Oracle Racing team for the 32nd America’s Cup, Barker, the skipper of Team New Zealand, against Gram-Hansen, a fiery Dane who is fifth in the Swedish Match Tour standings, and Baird against Barker. (For a complete race schedule and crew list please go to

A north/north-easterly breeze (between 030 and 050 degrees) blew around 12 knots for the morning session but dropped away to 6 to 8 knots for the afternoon session, and competitors found the wind very shifty. That coupled with an unfamiliar boat, the Yamaha 30S(see photo), for many of the crews made practice interesting.

Ivaldi, of Italy’s Luna Rossa Challenge for the 32nd America’s Cup commented: “The last boat I sailed was a J/22, which turns in its own radius. This is a different boat, with a big turning radius. It’ll be tricky to sail fast. They feel heavy and don’t have a big jib, so you’ll have to make big adjustments in the puffy conditions like today.”

A prize purse of 6 million Yen (approximately $56,000) is at stake, with 1.5 million Yen (approximately $11,000) slated for the winner. The Nippon Cup also affords competitors their last chance of 2004 to gain points toward the Swedish Match Tour championship.

Russell Coutts (NZL) leads the championship race with the high score of 45 points. Baird holds second, 5 points behind, and Gilmour third, 10 points behind. Gram-Hansen is fifth with 25 points, 20 points behind Coutts. The champion of the Swedish Match Tour will win a $60,000 bonus and a BMW 545i Touring from Tour Partner BMW.