Brazil’s young hotshots look forward to Middelfart after Nations Cup double in Argentina. Juliana Senfft, one of the new generation of skippers from the sailing hotbed of Brazil, hopes to be a match racing missionary at the Nations Cup in Denmark this August, she said. Senfft became the first woman to qualify for the Nations Cup grand final in Middelfart, Denmark, on August 6-10 after a 4-2 victory over arch-rivals Argentina in the South American regional final at the Club Náutico Mar del Plata on Sunday.
“Denmark is a great place for match racing,” The 24-year-old Senfft said. “We’ll have to be on top of our game there and hopefully we can get more people to understand it and that they’ll come and watch.” She was joined by her compatriot, Henrique Haddad, who had to come from behind to win 4-3 against Argentina’s crew in the Open category. Haddat survived by little more than a coat of hull paint after a photo finish gave him victory by just 10cm in the sixth race when trailing 3-2.
The bi-annual Nations Cup is the showcase event for emerging match racing talent and former winners include Ed Baird, the 2007 America’s Cup winning helmsman with Alinghi. The two young Brazilians skippers are both hoping it will be third time lucky for them in the Nations Cup. “It was a good weekend for us and boys,” Senfft said, “it’s our third Grand Final in the Nations Cup for both of us, it’s going to be really great going to Denmark.”
The 25-year-old Haddad was third in 2009 and 2011 and the 24-year-old Senfft, sixth in the two previous Nations Cups, has her eyes on a medal this time with her experienced and close knit crew of Gabriela Nicolino, Luciana Kopschitz. The three-woman Brazilian crew needed all their harmony as they were up against the three slick Silva sisters from Argentina Martina (helm), Ana Lucia and Trinidad. If match racing is all about working together, knowing and trusting each other, that is a hard combination to beat.
But the Brazilians kept things in the family too, as Senfft’s trimmer for the last seven years, Nicolino, is her half-sister and she has known Kopshitz since they were children. Such close alliances will be one of the features of the Nations Cup. “The team winning at Nations Cup 2013 will be world champion in co-operation,” Søren Laugesen, a former Denmark sailing team coach and the Nations Cup event manager, said.
Despite clearly still getting to know their boat – the women raced in threes in Magic 21s – the Brazilians dominated the pre-start and the whole of the first race. That established the pattern, with the Silva sisters striking back twice to make it 2-all at the end of the first day. The turning point of the final may have come in the first race of the second day. Argentina were ahead and stretching away when a sudden change of wind forced the umpires to abandon the race. When it was was re-run Argentina seemed to have the edge again, but Senfft attacked, managed to force a penalty against the Argentines, took the lead and held it until the end. In the next race Senfft won the start clearly, gave no passing opportunity to her rivals and won the final 4-2.
“It was definitely a tough one,” Senfft said. “We didn’t know the boats and it was hard at first. The difference was we got more comfortable with the boat on Sunday and we were able to do more moves.” Senfft was speaking from her home in Niterói, across the water from Rio de Janeiro, where she has grown up surrounded by sailing. Niterói boasts many famous names including Volvo Ocean race-winner, America’s Cup sailor and two-time Olympic gold medallist Torben Grael (whose Danish ancestry is occasionally invoked depending on the company) but Senfft also has sailing in the blood – her father, Ronaldo, was an Olympic silver medallist in 1984 in Los Angeles.
In the Open category – four in a crew racing in J24s – Argentine skipper Juan Ignacio Grimaldi started better than Haddad in the first race and led from the beginning to the end. In the second race, Grimaldi seemed to have a better start again, but the first shift went the way of the Brazilians and that was enough for them to win. In the third race, Haddad took a big lead and though Grimaldi made a stirring comeback in the final run, it was too late. But the pattern was reversed in the last race of the first day as Haddad won the start, but Grimaldi kept close to his stern, attacked and passed him downwind with a high-risk manoeuvre and then stretched the lead to level it 2-2.
The first race of the second day saw an even start. The Brazilian team took the right of the course and were ahead at the first mark. In the run-in Grimaldi attacked and at the leeward mark Haddad received an ‘immediate execution’ (red flag) penalty. That effectively ended the contest and Argentina coasted in to lead 3-2. That could have been decisive as Grimaldi almost made it 4-2.
In the sixth race, Haddad again led, defending the right side of the course. A luffing duel during the first beat ended with another penalty for the Brazilian team, but this time they held one. Haddad was still ahead at the end of the second beat, but Grimaldi’s final attack in the downwind run to the line saw a photo finish. It was judged that Haddad’s bow was just 10 cm ahead at the finish line. Perhaps that broke Argentina’s spirit because in the deciding race of the day, Haddad lead from start to finish and Grimaldi could find no opportunity to attack as Brazil sealed a 4-3 win.
Haddad joins American skipper Dustin Durant, who won the North America and Caribbean Regional Qualifier in February. Middelfart, at the heart of what has become known as ‘The Triangle Region’ in the central Denmark, will host the seventh Nations Cup grand final. The whole region has only approximately 350,000 people but because of Denmark’s record in delivering world class sailing events, it beat some of the world’s top sailing locations and biggest cities including New York, Vancouver and Helsinki.