Magnus Holmberg, Swedish America's Cup Victory Challenge helmsman, chats to Sue Pelling about his team and what the AC challengers can expect when they visit Malmö for Acts 6&7 later this year
Just as the Swedish Victory America’s Cup yacht Örn (SWE 63) was making its final approach to Valencia last week in preparation for America’s Cup Acts 4&5, Magnus Holmberg, team leader and helmsman of the challenge was ‘back home’ in Sweden for a brief visit to review the venue for Acts 6&7 in Malmö.
The city of Malmö is based in Skåne, the southern region of Sweden just a hop across the water from Copenhagen, Denmark. This stretch of water, the Öresund, will be the course location for Acts 6&7 which commences on 25 August this year. The back-to-back events will feature match and fleet racing and, under the new scoring system, (see previous news story here) will count towards the ACC ranking series leading up to the Louis Vuitton Cup in 2007.
As the second consecutive America’s Cup campaign by the Victory Challenge, and Sweden’s fifth attempt at winning the America’s Cup, Sweden have shown that they take America’s Cup success seriously. In their last campaign, headed by Jan Stenbeck who tragically passed away just days before the first race of the Louis Vuitton Cup, they proved themselves with their strong position through the quarter-finals but they were finally eliminated in the repecharge.
Thankfully for the Victory Challenge the Stenbeck involvement has continued and the team, led by Holmberg, is now in good position to pitch themselves against the other 10 challengers. Holmberg commented: “Obviously Stenbeck’s involvement is a big factor. Hugo Stenbeck [son of Jan Stenbeck] has carried on the intentions of his father and done a really good job on getting the project going again. Plus he’s been able to convince the sponsors; the backers we had last time and get them on again for this time too. Basically without the money through our backers we wouldn’t be here. The difference this time is we are still looking for sponsorship. We have the companies backing the project but we still have to build on this. Hugo and his team are still looking for sponsors for the project.”
Unlike some of the other bigger players challenging for the Cup, Holmberg and team Victory were late making their decision to sign up for the challenge but they admit that the loss of Jan made an incredible impact on the state of affairs. Holmberg continued: “Of course it would have been nice to carry on from the last Cup which I think we probably would have if Jan had still been alive but this is the way it is.
“I still think we have a pretty nice seat considering we’ve lost two years. The advantages we [the team] have is we’ve retained a lot of the key people including Mani Frers the designer who is very good, and the core people of the sailing team. Plus we have really good boats and all the equipment, so comparably I feel fairly good. Over the last month and a half, which disappeared so quickly, we’ve been working long hours but everything has been going swiftly because everyone knows what to do, and knows how each other works.”
Three more names were added to the Victory Challenge crew last week including Santiago Lange (Argentinean Tornado bronze medallist), Johan Barne (Swedish Olympic sailor, and crewman aboard BMW Oracle in last ACC), and Stefan Rahm who’ll be switching between strategist and tactician with his brother Mattias during the next two acts. “Excellent choice,” added Holmberg, “Santiago is a really good sailor, because as well as his Tornado racing he’s done a lot of IMS sailing.”
As a Swedish debut for an America’s Cup event it was interesting to take a look at the Malmö venue to see what the defender and challengers are likely to expect during their late summer visit. As far as shoreside facilities are concerned, it couldn’t be better. The venue is situated in the heart of Malmö just minutes walk to the old town where you’ll find plenty of shops, restaurants, bars and hotels. The main railway station is also just minutes away making travel to and from the venue as stress-free as possible. According to Holmberg however, the place is likely to be packed during the Acts because it’s a prime holiday time. “We have only two months in summer with nice weather so everyone will be out on the water. Expect a massive spectator fleet.”
As for the all-important racing Holmberg reckons it’s the perfect time of year because the effects of the high-pressure system, which hangs around during the summer, should have disappeared. Holmberg continued: “Late summer is a good time of year because in the middle of the summer, in the high pressure situation, we have the two land masses (Denmark and Sweden) sort of cancelling out each other which is a difficult situation. In August/September you get a bit more circulation in the weather system so it should be really good with the possibilities of good winds. The prevailing winds vary from south-west to north-west. And three miles offshore will be fine. I think we’re going to have two race courses, not sure exactly where they’ll be located but possibly one this side [Swedish side] of the low-lying island just off Malmö, and the other course on the other side [Danish side].”
Bjorn Westergaard, Olympic Danish Finn sailor added: “Generally it should be around 20kts. And if it’s good weather expect a good sea breeze although I doubt the seabreeze will be that strong.”
Malmö as a sailing venue has yet to prove itself but it certainly has the potential to be a really good sailing event venue, and of course, a top contender for an America’s Cup venue if Victory Challenge win the Cup this time. And the Cup here next time? According to Holmberg, Jan Stenbeck had the vision. He once said: “When we win the Cup we’ll bring it in Malmö, we’ll close the traffic on the Öresund Bridge and make a spectator stand on the bridge!”
Chatting about their chances of victory this time, Holmberg concluded: “I think we have a good chance but you have to be realistic. We have less time, we are not going to have the same amount of money as the big teams but on the other hand I think that history has shown us well that money isn’t everything even in America’s Cup. I think a strong side for us is that we are keeping a full team together; we have a good platform allowing us to continue with the good atmosphere and attitude we had in the team last time. A lot of teams will be struggling with internal problems, which always happens in the America’s Cup, so I think if we do well and some of the other big teams run in to a bit of trouble I think we could surprise a few.”