But how does the Tour manage to attract new talent outside these Cup programs? Without joining a team or making a substantial donation to be the 17th man on board, how can mere mortals have the opportunity to sail against the best in the world? And since the ISAF decided not to support a match-race discipline in the Olympics, there are even fewer opportunities for new sailors to be exposed to the excitement that comes from playing in this form of the sport. While thrilling for competitors and spectators, event organizers must work much harder to manage match-race events compared to most fleet race regattas, so there are far fewer of them, especially in the US.
The Gold Cup, however, has a way to solve this dilemma through it's initial round of competition among unseeded teams. The top half of these teams are in turn given the opportunity to sail against the seeds in the Championship Round, the likes of whom are among the best sailors in the world.
Hailing from St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, Tom Kozyn was not as far from home as many others who came from around the world to compete in Bermuda at last week's King Edward VII Gold Cup, presented by Colorcraft. However, Kozyn was in a new world of competition at this event, one of his first as a match-race skipper.
Originally from Michigan, he had been active on the University of Michigan's sailing team before moving to St. Thomas, where he has been an assiduous ocean racer for several years. But it was when local hero Peter Holmberg organized a match-race event in St. Thomas to emulate those he'd seen on the Tour that Kozyn got a taste for the game.
The experience was inspiring for Kozyn, who said "just the level of competitiveness was unlike anything else I'd seen in fleet racing. As a mental game, it's like chess, requiring you to think about the right move to make, but often it also requires an instant response."
Along with many other match-race sailors, Kozyn feels it has made him a better fleet racer as well. "My knowledge of the rules and understanding and interpreting them are much better now than ever before."Having been firmly bitten by the bug, Krozyn this year sought out as many invitations as he could to match-race events throughout North America. Unfortunately, these are few and far between, unlike in Scandinavia and in the Mediterranean where there is an event nearly every week throughout the season. He did, however, get an invitation to compete at the Canadian National Championship, the York Cup in Toronto, but despite several early attempts, was only able to get a last-minute invitation to the US National Championship, the Prince of Wales Bowl, which he had to decline. "I guess US Sailing didn't consider St. Thomas as one of their regions," Kozyn noted, demonstrating the frustration that can often accompany the process of soliciting invitations to some match-race events.
"It is sometimes really hard getting the dates, the invitations, and planning the logistics to get me and the crew to the events, but once you're here it's worth it. The contrast of camaraderie off the water and cutthroat competition on the water is great, really fun." He advises aspiring match race sailors to "follow their dreams. Be persistent in getting to the Grade 2 and 3 events, and youll be amazed how much better you'll get and how gratifying the experience will be."
In the end, Kozyn's former mentor Peter Holmberg and his Oracle Racing Team (with Paul Cayard doing the honors on the bow) ended up winning the Colorcraft Gold Cup over Gavin Brady's team. For full scores and additional information, log on to www.bermudagoldcup.com.
Getting in the Game
How to Get Started in Racing by Dan Dickison
Survival of the Fittest by Ed Baird
Consolidating Gains on the Racecourse by Dean Brenner
Buying Guide: Whisker Poles