On the eve of the SSL Gold Cup Final Series, the Inaugural World Cup of Sailing Nations, there was a buzz of excitement across the international teams in attendance for the Opening Ceremony of the regatta. The glittering hall of the Real Club Náutico de Gran Canaria on the east coast of Las Palmas, played host to the historic occasion. There was a palpable sense of anticipation amongst the competitors as dignitaries delivered their welcome messages to the first 16 international teams who have travelled from around the globe to compete in Gran Canaria this month.
Regatta Director Paul Hutton-Ashkenny opened the ceremony with these words:
“It was six years ago in The Bahamas that the concept of the SSL Gold Cup was presented, modelled on the Football World Cup, but in sailing. Nation against nation, with the legends of sailing competing for national pride in a big keelboat.
“Many avenues of life get talked about, few get actually launched, but the SSL Gold Cup was not to be such a project. In the six years that followed an astonishing 56 countries embraced the vision before a single race had been sailed.
“In this remarkable venue we have everything that is good about the sport of sailing, we could not have better partners. The sight of the SSL47 moored at the end of the dock is a joy, and it gives me great pleasure to thank our hosts; the wonderful island of Gran Canaria, the city of Las Palmas, and our highly professional and warm-hearted hosts at the Real Federación Canaria De Vela.
“We have 24 days of highly competitive sailing ahead of us before we will crown the World Champion sailing nation. But make no mistake, this will not be an end to the SSL Gold Cup story, but a new beginning. As we cheer the new World Champion we will equally be looking ahead to new horizons and new editions of the SSL Gold Cup. The story has only just begun.”
Antonio Morales, President of the Gran Canaria Council, added:
“This month, Gran Canaria will open its doors to you all. You will witness our hospitable and welcoming nature, as has always been the case since Christopher Columbus’ ships landed on our island 530 years ago.
“This marks the first edition of the championship, and we’re aiming for it to be a success—hopefully becoming a fixture where people from various corners of the globe come together to compete and bond over their love for sports and the sea. It’s about camaraderie and sportsmanship, which is all about respect, discipline, tolerance, and the drive to achieve. It’s also about representing your countries through teamwork, moving us forward in cooperation, social ties, friendship, competition, and participation.
“We appreciate and celebrate the initiative of the promoters of this championship. Know that in Gran Canaria you will always find a place to sail.”
Finally, Luis Doreste, captain of the Spanish SSL Team, closed the speeches off with his predictions for the event:
“This is a brand-new format, so there’s a lot of uncertainty. No team has previously trained on the boats for this regatta, and most teams include highly skilled sailors, which means the competition is going to be very tight.
“The Italian team includes a number of outstanding sailors well-versed in the RC44 class, so they are familiar with this type of boat. Slovenia is another strong team, as are Brazil and Argentina, both of which have seasoned teams in the cruiser class.
“The event is going to be competitive and fun. It’s the first time it’s been organised, so let’s see how it goes. The organisers and the entire team at the Royal Canarian Sailing Federation have thrown themselves into the preparations, making every effort to ensure everything runs smoothly. Now, we just need the weather to be on our side.”
The night’s announcements ended with the draw to determine the Fleets for the 1/32 Finals of the SSL Gold Cup which starts tomorrow (Friday). Four Fleets – each with 4 Teams – were hand-picked by officials in a random draw. Lego figures, representing each country’s Captain, were chosen from the pots, which will no doubt inspire the next generation of sailing greats.
Yavor Kolev’s ‘Lions’ from Bulgaria are taking on Peru, Slovenia and Tahiti in Fleet 1. Yavor was under no illusions of the strength of the competition his team were facing:
“I would say that there are no weak teams here. Everyone has their strengths, so we’ll do our best. But at the same time, there is no unbeatable team here. We’ll do our best and we’ll stick to the plan, avoid big mistakes and we hope everything will work out. We can’t tell for sure this is the best team in the group, but Peru are pretty good. So they will be one of the leaders for first place in the group. Slovenia is still a considerable adversary, and we don’t know Tahiti, which is not always a good thing!”
In the Football World Cup there is always one referred to as the ‘Group of Death’ and Stefano Peschiera feared his ‘Paracas Warriors’ from Peru were in it with his Fleet 1 adversaries:
“I think it’s a very competitive group, maybe the ‘death group’, so we’re going to keep it honest and do our best to win. Of the three teams, I think probably Slovenia is our biggest competition. I know Vasily [Zbogar], he’s been my coach for two years in the Laser class, so now we’re facing each other. We faced each other at the test event back in Switzerland in 2021. But things have changed, and both our teams have been training. We’re ready for the challenge.”
In Fleet 2, Tonu Toniste thought that his ‘Icebreakers’ from Estonia faced a very strong challenge from Portugal, Chile and Cuba:
“Portugal is very strong. We have been training in Grandson, which is flat, and Cuba I think is used to sail with big waves. So I think we have quite strong teams. But we’re feeling confident, I think we have a strong team as well. Often the first time sailing in a new venue is a little bit scary. I think everybody is a little bit scared.
Fleet 3 has produced the ‘Battle of the Caribbean Islands’ with Shannon Falcone’s ‘Rum Runners’ from Antigua and Barbuda and Rockal Evans and his ‘Privateers’ from Bermuda set to take on Ukraine and Malaysia.
Shannon though was happy to see Bermuda in the SSL Gold Cup Final Series:
“We had joked around that with Bermuda back in the mix we might face them. We had a great time in qualifying against them, where it was really close on the final day, going down to the last leg of the last race. With how things have lined up it’s great to see them here and I hope we can showcase our islands against two other really good teams, punching above our weight and getting both teams through to the next round.”
“This is definitely a dream come true. Only around six weeks ago we were offered a wild card entry, and I couldn’t turn it down. We were definitely going to make it happen. I got in contact with the crew from Australia, and after tons of Zoom calls everybody was onboard, and now we’re here. I’m looking forward to two small Caribbean Islands moving forwards to the next round.”
Ondra Teply’s Czech Republic team are in Fleet 4, together with Lithuania, South Africa and Oman and he was looking to the start of racing tomorrow:
“We are happy with our group, it’s a good set of teams. After the Qualifying Series we have proved to ourselves that we are able to work together and challenge the other teams, so we are feeling confident.”
When asked which team Ondra feared most in his group, Ondra replied: “Ha! No-one!”