By sailor Mati Sepp for the magazine PAAT
Until 1995, Estonian offshore sailing scene was peaceful, men talked big and club culture and joyful cruising were flourishing. The newly liberated Estonia had Soviet-era yachts produced in Poland, which were useless abroad in terms of competition. The tougher and the more famous you were on the shore, the greater freedom you had and the more rules you could bend the on the sea. The keels were shallow, and quite a few teams knew their way around the Moonsund archipelago without running aground. Some say that there were even manmade passages in the seabed. But these are just speculations, and we must rather bow down to the heavenly seas, because we should appreciate the late heroes of those times who kept sailing alive and became ironmen on wooden boats.
New winds started to blow at the end of the nineties, as the emerging economy provided new opportunities. With the opening of the capitalist markets, first fast foreign yachts began to arrive in Estonia.
The first major manufacturer to work here was X-Yachts, and their reasonably priced, small, and fast conquered the Estonian seas, captained by young fierce men. The X-99 initiated a period that could be deemed the golden era of offshore sailing in Estonia – in just a few years many future world and European champions and medallists launched their careers and domestic competition grew considerably. Men like Tõnu Tõniste, Peter Šaraškin, Jaak Jõgi, Mati Sepp, Tiit Vihul, Harles Liiv very quickly introduced new concepts to offshore sailing, and cruising was replaced by elite sport testing the limits of human endurance. Oftentimes the teams were so exhausted that nobody had the strength to brag and boast in the pubs anymore. The tired bodies just wanted to sleep off to return to ploughing the seas again.
The X-Yachts continued their winning streak, and the X-35 and X-41 conquered the world with Estonian men on board and the titles kept coming. From then on, no year passed without championship titles, and men who were now used to competing internationally, were able to acquire more and more modern equipment. The first real ORC class yacht in Estonia was NM 38 by Cossutti Yacht Design – this was Sugar of Ott Kikkas. More and more businessmen got interested in sailing, their aspirations grew and soon the house was full of international ambitions, which meant that new boats were bought and built.
Arcona 340 Katariina II was rebuilt with Aivar Tuulberg being the driving force behind it, with multiple upgrades by Cossutti Yacht Design and this was enough to become European champions. Aivar Tuulberg's next boat was One Off designed by Cossutti Yacht Design, and built by Ridas Yachts in Estonia, which won the European Champion' title in 2018. Arne Veske bought the J-112E Matilda 4 directly from the shipyard and became immediately a title winner at the 2019 ORC European Championships in Sweden. Ott Kikkas continued to race on Italia 9.98 with great success.
But 2021 will be special. Tallinn will host the Alexela ORC World Championship. This means more work and investments than in previous years combined. Therefore, it is time to review all the new yachts that will put both the men and the sea to test in Tallinn. And if anything is certain, it is that ambitious goals and winning at home would mean a huge wave of further engagement in sailing.
We should begin with the most faraway guest in Estonian waters - Cape 31 Riot, acquired by Rolf Relander. Designed by Mark Mills, the yacht is built for uncompromising speed, and it has impressive sails. This ultra-light boat promises a lot of excitement riding the waves. Rolf is infamous for his speed-loving and his previous yacht Cookson 50 Furiosa made history in Estonian sailing when he won the legendary Gotland Runt regatta, which the Swedes are ready to die for. This victory for sure was a bitter pill to swallow for the Swedish elite, shaking the foundations of their long-standing traditions.
In this light, him choosing a Cape 31 is as good as a cowboy buying a Stetson. This yacht literally flies over water, and the only way faster is by foiling. At the same time, so far this yacht has been sailing only in South Africa, where winds are raging, and gliding is in high value. We can only guess how it can cope in the ORC system and in quieter winds, because, after all, the yacht is built for the very foreign IRC system.
In terms of its competitive value, this yacht will definitely be the fastest in C-Class and there is no doubt that it can be the first to cross the finish line in strong winds, but the traffic will be heavy on headwind courses, and it will all depend on how hard the larger yachts can trample him before it reaches the downwind course. In any case, Rolf has both Estonian Olympic sailors and presumably also professionals from abroad on his team. Which means they can surprise all of us.
The next newcomer is Harles Liiv’s Corsa 915 Shadow, which is again a super-fast gliding yacht for strong athletic men. This is such a new project that they have not been able to show themselves much on water yet. It was designed by the ingenious Matteo Polli, who has largely dominated the ORC C-group for the past ten years. Only the J-112E designed by J-Yachts has been able to compete against his designs and Polli’s NM 38, M 37, Italia 9.98 and Italia 11.98 yachts are quite an overpowering force in the ORC system.
Corsa was specifically created for the ORC C-Class and the ORC Sportboat competition system, and it is safe to say that this boat is a very serious contender. The concept of the yacht has been meticulously devised so that the active owner can easily travel the world with it.
The yacht fits comfortably in the 40-foot shipping container, so that the team can attend all big regattas anywhere in the world. Harles is an Olympic sailor with a lot of expertise and experience and his team shall have both seasoned mariners and young competitive sailors on it, so you should be on the watchout for them.
The boat was launched in Pärnu on July 10 to participate at the Estonian biggest and oldest offshore regatta – Moonsund regatta. Harles’ boat called Shadow EST900 was racing ready, however without any electronics onboard yet, for the fourth leg of the regatta. The team considered Moonsund regatta as a great training option on the road to the ORC Worlds, but it was a success. One bullet and two fourth places in the fleet of 26 boats gave them 16th result, despite the fact that other four stages with a score of DNC or DNF. Results
Dmitri Krasilnikov has taken a big leap forward and has acquired a Waarship 36 Wizard, built as One Off for the 2018 ORC World Championship by the most famous Dutch designer and competitive sailor Erik van Vuuren.
It is a very stable yacht and a serious contender in strong winds, and it is especially good in double-handed competitions (two-man teams), where it has won all possible medals and titles both in the Netherlands and England. It requires some work yet, also in order to find the right balance of sails, so that this yacht with a fast hull would not get in trouble in quiet winds.
Dmitri is a very big sailing enthusiast and together with a new capable yacht, he and his team can soon be expected to perform exceptionally well both in double-handed races and ORC regattas. It is very inspiring how Estonian competitive sailors have been able to find exciting projects and strong partners from all around the world to further enrich the competitive domestic sailing scene.
Ott Kikkas' new yacht Italia 11.98 Sugar 3 debuted in 2019 already, and what a start it was! They won the world championship in ORC group C and together with J-112E team Matilda 4, who was the European champion in ORC group C in Sweden, everyone could see that in order to win, one would have to defeat the Estonians. Italia 11.98 is the biggest achievement of Matteo Polli's career so far, and since its launch, there has been no competition in group C. Being a very universal yacht, it can accommodate both the crew and cruisers, should the need arise. It is very comfortable for family weekends, but it can also accommodate a six-member group of travellers, who can all live in separate cabins in pairs, without making the life on the yacht uncomfortable.
To show the scope of the race, we should also include a yacht that has been sailing our seas for two years already. The J-Yachts boat J-112E is the only yacht in the world that can take on Matteo Polli's designs. This high-performance yacht is extremely universal, and it is difficult to find any fault with it. Its big advantage over the competitors is that it has sailed thousands of nautical miles over the years, which means the development of sails and yacht itself has come a long way. Besides, this yacht has not lost a race since the 2018 Dutch ORC World Championship. There is no bigger champion in the Baltic Sea. Besides, no other racing yacht offers such elegant shelter from stormy weather without cramping anybody’s style. Probably only basketballers may have to bow their heads.
The head-to-head between J-112E and Italia 11.98 is something to look forward to. It is quite rare that confrontation of this scale within a classical sport with established traditions has become our internal affair and can be cheered upon by the rest of the world. The great mythical battle will begin in Tallinn in August, and there are not just two but three warring parties.
Ott Kikkas and Sugar 3 (the winner of the 2021 ORC Italian Championship in Class C) on the world champion Italia 11.98 will be pursued by two J-112E’s - Arne Veske's team on European Champion 2019 boat Matilda 4 (the winner of 2021 Moonsund regatta) and Andrus Luht’s team on Adelante (the second best at the 2021 Moonsund regatta). No one will hold back, no one will give up, but only one will come out as the winner!
Neither will the larger yachts in group B manage without a strife. Aivar Tuulberg, who over the years has amassed medals and prestige on different types of yachts all named Katariina II, has now taken a big leap forward and bought a legendary SWAN 42. “Swan is a God’s creation!” as Aivar likes to say. Swans are the Mercedes’ of the seas. Swans turn everything into gold.
Whenever a Swan appears on the starting line, the others can be sure a wolf has settled itself among foxes. Since 2015, Swan 42 has won all it could in the ORC B-group. If it did not win a regatta, it was because it was not there. The recent ORC World Championship was totally dominated by Swans who occupied all steps of the podium.
They won all races, and it was as if their racing was from another planet, planet Swan 42, because the rest of the yachts never got closer than two minutes to them. We can proudly announce that Swan 42 was built in Estonia, Saaremaa – the land of great Viking kings. Aivar Tuulberg's team on Swan 42 Katariina II won 2021 ORC Italian Championship in Class B.
Yet, there will be one yacht that will be trying to challenge king Swan. The Estonian-born has not yet touched the water but there are many rumours about the E-44 Clean Energy. It is supposed to be fast, they say the mast is high, sails huge, men tough, and ambitions lofty. It is known that the yacht was designed by the world's engineering superstars. Matteo Polli drew the hull, Warren Miller calculated the structures, Chris Mitchell designed the mast and the yacht itself is being built in the Alfa Yachts shipyard. There is nothing more to add yet, but there will be a longer story about it in the next issue. Exciting times lie ahead!