Lia Ditton joins Swedish team at Seacart Grand Prix in a matchracing event in Stockholm 9/5/07

Lia Ditton who last year completed the Route du Rhum aboard her Open 40Dangerous when wetwas, last weekend, invited to race the Seacart Grand Prix in a matchracing event in Stockholm. Here’s what happened?

For a staggering £0.01p [plus tax] I buckled my seat on Ryanair flight FR58 for Stavksa, Sweden and a weekend of match racing around the islands of the city of Stockholm. Over the north-western Frisian Islands of Holland and across Denmark – the view from the cabin portholes was ablaze with crimson and cadmium reds and pastel purple hues. The sun was setting and the atmosphere – a breathless cloudless chasm, gave crystal delineation of land from sea – a rare and stunning sight from the commercial jet cruising altitude of some 30,000 feet. Onwards and above Sweden, passengers peered over neighbouring shoulders to gaze down on the wild and wonderful watery wilderness of Skåne, the Southern most tip of the Scandinavian Peninsula. By the time we touched down in a woodland clearing and taxied towards the remote and solitary airport building, I was enchanted.

In preparation for the Seacart Grand Prix I joined Calle Hennix, the boat’s concept designer and his crew, Kristian Mattsson of the F18 Swedish Olympic team, in Saltsjöbaden. Our aim was to deliver the boat to the regatta-hosting yacht club at Nacka Strand, and the term ‘delivery’ was certainly an apt description. It was ambitious of us to think we could sail, as the islands cast wind shadows and left us wallowing in their lee, but any lack of line pulling was certainly well compensated by the scenery, the charming Hansel and Gretel cottages with patterned decorative trim and ‘gingerbread’ fencing verandahs; many with a private jetty. Under gennaker we crept towards ‘Gamla Stan’ [the old town] to complete our sightseeing tour before heading to the yacht club for an early evening repast.

The morning skippers’ meeting was an incomprehensible jabbering of Swedish from sailors fully clad in drysuit combat gear and harnesses, eager to take to their Hobie Cats and F18s! The Seacart crews stood incongruously in casual attire. Heading down to the boat,Audithe first build of a 15-strong class, I couldn’t help noticing the proportion of spectators to participants! An impressive array of wooden deck chairs draped with fleece blankets was being set out in front of the yacht club and people were already beginning to take up position on the harbour wall.

With only minutes to the starting gun, all four Seacarts were volleying in close proximity, only meters from the shore, whenKnot Multihullingsnuck ahead to seize the line first. The battle was on and in the shift we spun out the Code Zero and dumped the jib. The breeze was patchy but a gust line rippled the water ahead – a puff was being funneled between the buildings, trees or island contours. As Kristian reeled off a brilliant commentary of tactical information, Calle kept one eye firmly on boat speed. It was quite a navigational feat to stave offAvanzaon the starboard stern, but our height advantage soon left them training behind as the new breeze line took hold. The mark of leg 1 lay right before the bridge of the old town and in the course of a ‘styrbord’ rounding – jib up and in swift succession, the Code zero gybed and rolled in a slick action series, we gained on the lead boat. There were now only 2-3 boat lengths between us and between Pår on the jib sheet and Kristian on the mainsheet fine trim, we were honing our boat speed to achieve a winning edge. Taking a lead down the middle of the course paid dividends as we droveKnot Multihullinginto an airless cul-de-sac, forcing them to tack over to a chorus of screams from the theme park behind on the island of Tivoli. In less than 60 seconds we had snatched the lead!

After the run back east to the original mark off the Nacka Strand Yacht Club, it was north towards Lidingö, gybing back and forth between the islets with less than a 1km run on either gybe.Knot Multihullingwas close behind, so the dual was relentless as we snaked towards the mark. The slightest delay in trim or a moments wavering of concentration, we all knew could cost us the number one spot. Our sport boat with two prospective Seacart buyers kindly driven by Nikolas Brabbing, tracked along our port side, its low rumbling serving as a focusing reminder that we were on film!

The third and final leg took us off to the east and more open water and the sea breeze was starting to kick in to add some dramatic moments of middle-hull foiling. This was a great reaching stretch where the Code Zero was soon forced to yield to the smaller canvas area of the self-tacking jib. Weight in, weight up, high side – we shuffled ourselves around the boat to compensate for the gusts and lulls; lulls and gusts.Knot Multihullingwas fighting bravely to recoup their loss, but our lead was now deepening and our fast, blast to the finish line put us in good stead when we hit a complete dead zone inches from the final mark. Thankfully the beauty of multihulls is their ability to creep, to glide onwards in the minimum of air and so the gun was ours and the race won.

Loosing our support team to the Yacht Club buffet lunch, we wolfed a Smoked Salmon ciabatta and barely made the start of race two, a re-run of the same course but in much stiffer breeze. A third place start set us back from the outset and with the breeze up, the action was unfolding at a furious pace with little opportunity to smother, outwit or get ahead. With hardly a moments recovery after our performance in race one, [excuses, excuses] we soon slipped into fourth, but taking the inside ofUBSat the old town bridge mark, brought us back into third and feeling better.

The gennaker gave way to the Code Zero and back again, with a lift forcing us to roll up and unroll the Code again. At the Lidingö mark, boats one, two and us converged in a dramatic shouting match with us sandwiched betweenKnot MultihullingandAvanzaforcingAvanzato gybe away even though they held starboard priority, to our penalty. One 360 degree turn ‘on a high heel’ [as the Swedish say] and we were back at the Yacht Club marker and haring into the final leg. Our Gennaker stubbornly refusing to unravel at top and bottom added to frustration and forced us to carry the reacher – Code Zero, while we pounded at the sheet in an attempt to persuade it into full fill. FinallyAudiwas sailing max kite when the team opted to take a flyer through the Feather islands. Alas this killed our speed and threw a nail in the coffin. A very gusty middle-hull flying finale to the finish gave minor reprieve as we out-tackedUBSand maintained our last minute third place by tacking to cover and running them into an island lee. Fortunately a first and a third put us in joint first, so a cool bubbling glass of Swedish Kronenburg 1664 was well warranted! What an exhausting, but incredible day of intense match racing! Of course through all our second-race dramas, our merry band of supporters were tucking in to a second plate of Smorgasbord, followed by coffee and truffles!