Fight for Pole Position: Nord Stream Race Clubs in National Sailing Leagues
Three weeks from now, the Nord Stream Race (June 24 to July 6) brings together five of the highest-achieving yacht clubs from the National Sailing Leagues. The five champion clubs are gearing up towards the 1,000-mile offshore challenge through the Baltic Sea. However, the same teams are also engaged in a battle for the right to race again in next year's Nord Stream Race, as they compete in this season's National Sailing Leagues which have got underway in Europe.

The path to compete in the Nord Stream Race is no easy one. It requires you to compete alongside your fellow club members against many other great yacht clubs from your country in the highly competitive National Sailing League. Winning your League is an enormous achievement in itself, but for the winners of the Leagues in Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Russia it also earns you the right to compete in the Nord Stream Race.

Since its inception in 2012, the Nord Stream Race has been organised by the Saint Petersburg Yacht Club with the support of Gazprom and Nord Stream AG. At 1,000 nautical miles and following the route of the Nord Stream pipeline, this has become established as the most demanding and prestigious offshore race in the Baltic region.

Across Europe the National Sailing Leagues have been getting underway and this year's teams who have qualified for the Nord Stream Race are doing battle again in their respective Leagues, to fight for the right to go again in the 2019 edition of the Nord Stream Race. So how are this year's representatives faring so far?

Russia has already held three events and the team "Lord of Sail - Asia" sits in 8th place overall right now. Can the club from Ekaterinburg make it three Nord Stream Races in a row for their club, after representing their country in 2017 (Team Europe) and about to compete again in the 2018 edition (Team Asia)? Among Sergey Musikhin's experienced offshore crew are three veterans of last year's edition of the offshore challenge: the 2017 skipper Maksim Taranov, crewman Boris Khmurovich and Eduard Podshivalov, whose experience navigating the Baltic Sea last season could prove an invaluable advantage to the Russians this summer.

There has been one event of the NSL season so far in Sweden. Last year it was Patrik Sturesson's young team from Cape Crow Yacht Club who succeeded in winning the Nord Stream Race. However, this year it is a different club, Kungliga Svenska Segelsällskapet, who will be looking to hold on to the title for Sweden. Of last year's winning crew in the Nord Stream Race, Martin Krite and Patrik Sturesson return. Krite is an America's Cup and Volvo Ocean Race veteran, including victory in the 2011/12 Volvo aboard French entry Groupama. Interesting that both, Krite and Sturesson, were "poached" by the Finnish team to profit from their experience. After one stage of the Swedish Sailing League, Kungliga Svenska Segelsällskapet sits in second place overall – behind Cape Crow Yacht Club.

In Germany there has been just one National Sailing League event so far this season at Lake Constance. German fans will be cheering on Norddeutscher Regatta Verein in this summer's Nord Stream Race and it will be valuable experience for the team if they manage to secure another shot at the long-distance race in 2019. NRV is fielding a large squad for the Nord Stream Race, with three sailors sharing skipper duties: Sven-Erik Horsch, Tobias Brinkmann and Henrik Brandis. Another key member who will be useful particularly in the inshore racing is German Olympic

representative Tobias Schadewaldt from London 2012. Currently, Norddeutscher Regatta Verein sits in first place overall in the National Sailing League.

The Danish League started last weekend in Frederikshavn, which means a home waters advantage for Frederikshavn Sejlklub, the defending champions from the last two seasons of the National Sailing League. The 2017 edition was a painful debut for the Danish club who competed in last year's Nord Stream Race after gear failure forced them out of the final leg to St Petersburg. But it will have been valuable experience for skipper Kris Houmann and his crew as they get ready for another assault on the 1,000 mile challenge this summer. Frederikshavn Sejlklub sits in first place overall in the National Sailing League.

Åländska Segelsällskapet won last year's Finnish National Sailing League and this season's League is yet to get underway in Finland with the first event set to take place in Mariehamn on 15 June, just days before the crew embark on the start of the Nord Stream Race. Again on board for Finland in Nord Stream Race is professional sailor and highly accomplished match racer Staffan Lindberg.
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