So You Want to Be a Match Racer - SailNet Community
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So You Want to Be a Match Racer

Some of the world's top match racers were on hand in Bermuda, along with a few you've never heard of, which makes this Grade 1 event unique.
For the past three years the Swedish Match Tour has been a highly successful proving ground for America's Cup-level teams to hone their skills before the main event in Auckland starts this time next year. Many of these teams have been using the Tour as a competitive respite from the in-house routine of testing boats, sails, and all the minutiae associated with an organized Cup program. The eight events on the Tour give these sailors the unique opportunity to size up the competition regarding boat handling and tactical skills since the races are held on equally-matched boats where boat speed can't be bought.

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.

And finally being an invitational format, there's also a catch-22 for newcomers: without earning ranking points from successful past competitions, they cannot get the invitations needed to attend future events, particularly those which are high-grade level and popular.

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.

Thomas Kozyn takes a break from the action.
Here is the story of one aspiring match-race sailor who is pursuing his quest for bettering his own sailing skills by having a shot at sailing against the best 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 level of competitiveness is unlike anything 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 requiring an instant response"
"It was at the Marriott Frenchman's Reef regatta at home that I had the opportunity to sail with Peter Gilmour, which was a real thrill," said Kozyn. For this Grade One event's short two-year life, racing was held on board J/120's, with two local crew supplementing the team of four who came from abroad to compete. In having to set, gybe, and take down the J/120's huge asymmetrical spinnakers and on the very short courses set along the Charlotte Amalie waterfront, these locals had to be good. Kozyn went on to crew also for Holmberg, who has been an active player on the match-race scene for nearly a decade.

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.

Eventual winner Peter Holmberg steers his entry upwind during the elimination rounds at the Colorcraft Gold Cup.
In the Gold Cup competition here in Bermuda, Kozyn was unable to get through the initial unseeded round, going winless in his six matches. Two of his crew, Paul Wring and James Dreier, decided to head home, but undaunted he and Andrew Studdiford stayed on through the rest of the week to study the moves of the remaining field of competitors, analyzing and critiquing the boat handling and tactics in each match.

"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 you’ll 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

Getting in the Game

If you’re like Thomas Kozyn and you want to get a taste of match racing, don’t worry, you don’t have to go as far away as Bermuda to do so. But it will help to understand a little background regarding the match-racing world before you jump into the fray.

The ISAF establishes a particular event’s status based on the level of competition, the amount of prize money and the television coverage. The Colorcraft Gold Cup is a Grade 1 event. Other Grade 1 events in the US include the Congressional Cup in Long Beach, CA and the Boat/US Santa Maria Cup in Annapolis, MD, which is a match-racing competition for women only.

Grade 3 and Grade 4 events are the ones to start with because you can more easily obtain an invitation to them if you lack a world ranking. In the US, two Grade 3 events include the Prince of Wales Cup, which has elimination series that take place all over the country, and the Ficker Cup in Los Angeles, CA. The York Cup in Toronto, Canada is also a Grade 3 event. For information regarding match race event schedules and how to go about obtaining invitations log on to

Suggested Reading:

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

Dobbs Davis is offline  
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