Following on from the likes of Jesper Bank, Jes Gram Hansen and Jesper Radich, Nicolai Sehested is one of two young Danish sailors, along with Joachim Aschenbrenner, presently making waves in the match racing world.
Sehested was awarded his first Tour Card this season on the World Match Racing Tour, but the plans were stymied by his involvement with the Danish Team Vestas in the Volvo Ocean Race.
However when Sehested and his rekindled team, Trefor Match Racing resumed their campaign this summer, they did so with a vengeance, defeating five time ISAF Match Racing World Champion Ian Williams’ GAC Pindar team in the final of the Polish stage of the World Match Racing Tour, Energa Sopot Match Race at the end of July.
Sehested comes from farming stock and grew up on the island Jutland in the centre of Denmark. He says he didn’t come from a sailing family but there was a sailing club close by.
“I guess my parents got a bit tired of me making trouble all the time!” he says. “So they bought me an Optimist dinghy and sent me out on the water, just to get some peace!” However Sehested shows aptitude and made his name in the Europe, achieving solid results in the singlehanded dinghy. He was contemplating an Olympic career, but this was cut short after he started having issues with his knees. Instead, aged 18, a chance meeting with some former Optimist sailor friends, resulted in their forming a match racing team.
So what was his inspiration? “We had a lot of great guys,” acknowledges Sehested. “Of course we grew up watching Jesper Bank, but also guys like Christian Kamp, a local guy [now with Artemis Racing], who’s always been good to me. The same with Jesper Radich.”
While match racing in Denmark isn’t as prolific as it was 10 years when there were weekly regattas and regular training, there was still a strong enough culture via Match Racing Denmark, based at Middelfart on Jutland, for Sehested’s team to hone its skills.
“After a year or two we found out we could do it, but we needed some money,” Sehested continues. “Luckily we had this local energy company, Trefor, the same sponsor we’ve got today, which has stayed with us for six years.” Based in Denmark, Trefor is principally involved in wind and water energy.
Sehested remembers his early years on the match racing circuit as some of his best and certainly the most informative. “You had to learn to do everything yourself: Build a team and take it to a high level – that’s a great experience. For young sailors it’s really healthy to have to stand on your own feet and sort everything out yourself – sponsors, regattas, travel and everything.”
Sehested won the TMC Danish Match Racing Youth Nationals in 2008 and 2009. After winning the Berlin Match Race, in 2012 Team Trefor began to score well in Grade 2 events in the USA, finishing second in at the CMR Invitational on Lake Michigan, and at the famous Knickerbocker Cup, an event Sehested won in 2013, along with the Oakcliff International Match Race.
Trefor Match Racing debuted on the World Match Racing Tour at the 2013 Argo Group Gold Cup. “It was a strange event to start off with on the Tour, but that was the only one we could get any money for. But we were pretty young and green and not sure how to play the game,” Sehested admits.
Just as he was looking to get on the World Match Racing Tour full time, Sehested’s sailing career speared off in a different direction. Having met Chris Nicholson on the Melges 32 circuit, when the Australian sailor was signed up as skipper of the Danish Team Vestas on the Volvo Ocean Race, Sehested was one of Nicholson’s first call, appointing him Boat Captain. Sehested in turn dragged his long term mainsheet man Peter Wibroe along with him.
However Team Vestas’ round the world race came to an abrupt halt when the boat ran aground on an Indian Ocean reef. With little prospect of getting back into the race, Sehested immediately applied for a Tour card for 2015, which he was awarded: “But then Vestas announced that they were going to repair the boat and we would be returning to the race. Since I was the boat captain I had to go and help rebuild the boat in Italy which meant I couldn’t do the first two Tour events.”
Sehested and Wibroe returned to the Volvo Ocean Race, competing in the final three legs with Team Vestas and with the race over, returned to the Tour emphatically, winning the Energa Sopot Match Race against five time World Champion, Ian Williams. “We just kept it simple, sailed fast and stayed away from all the match racing stuff that we weren’t really sharp at, having been away for a year,” says Sehested.
Recently turned 26, Sehested still competes with Wibroe on mainsheet and has fellow Dane Jonas Hviid-Nielsen on bow, but with Kiwi Brad Farrand and Australian Luke Payne in the middle.
Sadly Sehested wasn’t able to repeat this performance at the Argo Group Gold Cup this year, finishing 16th. “Bermuda was probably the worst event we’ve ever had. Our preparation wasn’t great – we thought we would go early and do some practise, but thanks to the hurricane we didn’t get to do any practise, which put us on the back foot, and it snowballed.”
Sehested is looking forward to the World Match Racing Tour’s future on two hulls. “I think it’s always great to keep improving your sport. It will be great and really cool for the spectators and sponsors, but it’s also important that young, up and coming teams – like I was five years ago – have got a chance to get on the Tour and improve and learn. We have to make sure the World Match Racing Tour doesn’t turn into America’s Cup with high budgets. So far the people behind the Tour have got some good thoughts and the right attitude to make it work for both young, new teams, and also experienced teams who want to show off what they can do with great sponsors and great sailing.”
He and his crew have been gaining catamaran experience with the Danish-skippered SAP team, while Sehested was able to sail the M32 Series Scandinavia in Stockholm, with past World Match Racing Tour winner Taylor Canfield of US One. “It was great fun, a great experience. I’m absolutely positive about the boats.”
Sehested says he hasn’t tried match racing the M32 high-performance catamaran yet and expects it will require major changes compared to match racing in keel boats. “It will change the game for sure of how we think of match racing and I’m not sure many people know how to do it yet. But we will find good ways.”
He admits that he still needs to get to grips with catamaran racing and specifically the M32 high-performance catamaran with its unique features such as being una-rigged. He is currently talking to his sponsors and is looking at acquiring an M32 high-performance catamaran for the M32 Series, which he reckons will be key to performing well in 2016 on the World Match Racing Tour.