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Nord Stream Race Leg 2: A voyage from Heaven to Hell and High Water
The old cliché of football being a game of two halves really did apply to Leg 2 of the Nord Stream Race. Originally the leg was set to take place from Copenhagen city centre all the way to Stockholm. This 420 mile passage took no time for the fleet to complete in 2017 when strong southerly winds propelled the ClubSwan 50s at speeds in excess of 25 knots to Sweden's capital. The crews arrived tired but elated a day sooner than expected.

However, with a big high pressure system sitting over Scandinavia, Sweden was bathed in some of its hottest weather for years. Great for sunbathing, not so good for wind. With the prospect of a very slow passage out of Copenhagen, principal race officer Eckart Reinke called for the fleet to motor their way along the coast for a start the following morning from the southern tip of Öland, Sweden's spear-shaped second largest island. The course would now just be 211 miles, almost exactly half the original leg distance.

When the fleet started on Thursday morning, it was in soft southerly breezes. The lightweight ClubSwan 50s were cruising along nicely under gennaker with the Swedish sunshine. For Swedish skipper Jim Rotsman, it was his first time sailing the ClubSwan 50. "The first day was fantastic, a lovely evening. We had 12 to 14 knots of wind and we were sailing downwind in the sunshine. And then in the evening with the sunset, it was just magic."
Nord Stream Race © Anya Semeniouk
As night fell, however, the magic disappeared quicker than the setting sun. "The wind changed very quickly and we had 30 to 40 knots from the North. That was really tough. We were leading when the new wind came. We had the Germans right behind us. We had to change some sails and that took a while. And then we had to change the sails again, and the thinking went from a racing mentality to, 'let's just get to Stockholm with a boat that is in good shape and make sure that everyone survives.'

It was a similar shift of thinking on board the Danish boat, as skipper Kris Houmann recalls. "We were leading for a while during the lighter sailing. The front came in and we wanted to keep to the starboard side of the course because we thought the wind would arrive first. We did get the wind first but, wow, what a lot of wind! It started to breeze up to 20 knots and it was dark, then suddenly it was 35 knots and the boat flipped over and we lost control. We tripped the quick release, we took the sail down and put up the J4 sail. In the end we had so much wind, this morning we had almost 50 knots of wind. The mast was just pumping in the waves. We were afraid the mast would break. Somehow it turned into a survival situation. Everyone was clipped on with their lifelines, so I felt secure about the crew's safety. But if we lost the mast or anything else, it would have been a lot of trouble."

The Danes lowered the mainsail and jib and switched instead to the storm jib, and were still making 7 knots of boatspeed towards the finish. "We just wanted to get the boat to the finish in one piece. There was a lot of seasickness, that was a really tough trip. Absolutely not enjoyable."

The Germans made it across the finish line in fairly good shape, winning the leg a few minutes in front of the Russians, who were limping the final miles at reduced speed after filling the bow with water. "We lost the hatch for the forepeak, destroyed by the waves along with the pulpit," said skipper Maksim Taranov. "We had water pouring down the forepeak. We were leading for most of the time, then when we found out the problem with the forepeak we started reducing the speed."

Despite hundreds of litres of unwanted sea water in the bow, good seamanship carried the Russians across the finish, just holding off the Swedes who came in third. The Danes decision to finish with the storm jib meant they crossed the line in fourth while gear breakage forced Finland to retire from Leg 2 and motor the final 12 hours to Stockholm city centre. Leg 2 had been heavenly for the first day, but when the wind turned northerly, the race to Stockholm had turned to a battle through hell and high water.
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