Gotland Runt is possibly Sweden’s largest sailing happening every year, and it is one of the most prestigious keel boat races in Scandinavia. The race starts in the heart of Stockholm and finishes in the Archipelago outside of Sandhamn, the Mecca of Sailing on the Swedish east coast. Last year, in 2022, the bar was raised even further as the 300 nautical mile race also served as the Double Handed World Championship. Anna Drougge and Martin Angsell sailed Onboard the Shogun 50, Ladykiller.
Anna and Martin have sailed a lot together previously, the preparations leading up to the start run smoothly. On three occasions before the race they have weather briefings: according to the forecast it looked like it would be an upwind race to Hoburgen where a cold front passing and a left shift would be the most critical strategic consideration. After that the wind would shift back to a south westerly direction, and later clock even further right. For faster yachts, like the Shogun 50, it looked to be fairly light conditions north of Visby, whilst those later in the fleet would see stronger south westerly winds all the way north from Hoburgen.
During the start the wind is westerly. Not optimal as it means dead downwind going out to Sandhamn. On a yacht as large as the Shogun 50 manoeuvres take longer to complete than on a smaller yacht, the strategy, as a result, is to minimize manoeuvres and sail as low as possible.
The fleet of 80 yachts partaking in the World Championship are divided into three classes based on size, where the largest yachts start last. This meant that Anna and Martin had around 70 slower boats to pass during the first hours of the race. A real challenge in the narrow passages of the Stockholm Archipelago. Well aware that the start would become intense, they chose not to battle for a tight position at the start and with space to leeward.
“As I recall, we get of the line in the middle of the pack. Going dead downwind… Tricky. Tight. Loads of boats. Many teams opting to go high to then gybe onto starboard to claim their rights, us included. It is a dogfight the first 20 minutes. At some point we almost make it to the front of the pack, but after a quick halt we are reeled back in,” recounts Martin.
Once they are out of the city and have passed Nacka, they are able to sail their own angles and move forward in the fleet: “Here we are sailing pretty well and stay out of trouble, well clear of the others we are passing. Going through Oxdjupet, a key crux, goes well. As we pass Vindö we are ahead of the fleet – finally we can do our thing” says Anna.
Heading down towards Fårö the conditions were as expected. The crew sailed on starboard waiting for the right opportunity to tack in the coming left shift. They time the manoeuvre well and position themselves at a good distance from Fårö. Down towards Hoburgen it is upwind sailing in moderate winds and the crew have issues with the calibration of their instruments – they make some attempts to amend the situation, to no avail – windspeed and angle differ between starboard and port. Making the already tricky upwind even more difficult.
As they approach the rounding mark it looks like they will be at an angle for the gennaker, but the crew isn’t sure: it might be borderline to steep, especially if they want to go a steeper rout or the wind picks up. Add to this that there is no room to bear away as the water is too shallow. Anna and Martin made the decision to test the angles, a wise move, because after rounding the mark the angle was steeper than expected and the wind increased to 24 knots in the gust. With the big kite they would have ended up on the shore of Gotland…
They hoisted the Code instead. “The yacht sails like a rocket ship! It is easy to handle and there are no issues whatsoever to come down when a larger rudder angle is required to push back the bow after a surf,” exclaims Martin.
They blast towards Karlsöarna where the wind shifts to west – as predicted by the forecast. The wind stays at around 15 kts and we start to worry about it mellowing. In towards Visby the wind has decreased to 12 kts and they approach the city. After passing Visby they hoist the Code and blast on, the wind increasing to 15 knots. New weather data forecasts that the wind should stay up all the way home, even for the front of the pack. It shifts west and increases temporarily, they set the jib and furl the code, a challenging manoeuvre for just two people, but it goes well.
“We notice the rudders start to growl as the boats accelerate to 17-19 knots and there is a bit of pressure on them – perhaps it is a sign to play it safer. Likely she growls just before she wipes out,” Anna analyses.
On the way “home” they had issues with getting the tackline tight for the Code, making it difficult to change sails. This meant they had to stick with the jib, even though the angle indicated a larger sail. The yacht is quick even with a jib and main, but would have been blasting with the Code.
“When we crossed the finish-line, we were exhausted and a little bit disappointed, primarily because we know we could have probably been even quicker using a different sail set up going home from Visby. We are proud of what we achieved, we take line honours, but without technical difficulties we could have been even quicker – but how much quicker is difficult to say. The wind increased after we crossed the finish line, just like the forecast said it would, and the slower yachts had even more favourable conditions than we did.
When you start a race the goal is always to perform as well as possible, regardless of what happens during the race, and you have to make the most out of any situation. I think we did just that, and we managed to sail the boat well despite technical and meteorological adversities. I am incredibly impressed with my teammate Anna – she never sees problems, only solutions. She has a grit out of this world, hats off. It was a privilege to sail this race with her,” concludes Martin.