Gusts of 26kts made for an exciting start of the first offshore race in the Volvo Baltic Race series yesterday

Starting in the Gota river in 18-20 knots gusting 26 knots without much sea room to manoeuvre made for an interesting start to the first offshore race in the Volvo Baltic Race series yesterday.

Setting small headsails and full main, Avant, co-skippered by Mikael Lundh (Swe) and Wouter Verbraak (Ned) but helmed by up and coming Swedish match racer, Emil Wiberg (21), squeezed the fleet and made excellent start to windward. The Norwegians, JMS Next Generation, looking very promising were close on their heels.

Sony Ericsson and Elanders made conservative starts at the back of the fleet, Elanders immediately to windward of Sony Ericsson. AV Teknik chose the right-hand side of the river but was soon rolled by Elanders and Sony Ericsson, both showing superior boat speed. But it was Avant who led the fleet out of the river, holding onto her lead with every tack.

The 200-nautical mile course was met with universal approval by the five crews. “The course is good,” said Ray Davies (NZ) sailing with Matthew Humphries (UK) on Elanders, currently in second place; “we’ll have a bit of everything.” Humphries agreed: “There will be a lot happening. It’s a really interesting course, with short tacking out of the Gothenburg harbour and lots of sail changes around the island of Anholt. It will be all about crew work.” Thomas Blixt (Swe) skipper of the leading boat, Sony Ericsson, was happy too. “We have a quick boat upwind, so this is a good course for us. It could be a nice sail.”

After hitting the rocks just short of the finish line the previous day, Avant (the former Swedish Match) was hauled out of the water for damage inspection. Nothing structural was found although several chunks of lead were missing from the keel bulb. A Swedish boat builder was flown in to supervise the repairs.

Avant has three under 23-year-old team members aboard. “It’s all about trust and coaching of our young team,” explains Verbraak. “We’re taking small steps at a time. We have a big difference in experience and it’s very tempting to take over, but by putting faith and trust in the young guys, we will actually get further and Mikael and I will have more time to lead the team.”

There is a low-pressure system situated over Oslo, which is more or less stationary, and cold and unstable air is brought in over the North Sea to the race area. Sailors can expect cloudy weather and gusty winds.

Positions after race 1

1 Sony Ericsson (Thomas Blixt – Swe) 2.5 points

2 Team Elanders (Matthew Humphries – UK) 2.0 points

3 JMS Next Generation (Stefan Eneman) 1.5 points

4 AV-Teknik (Marko Murtic) 1.0 point

5 Avant (M Lundh (Swe)/W Verbraak (Ned) DNF