Aboard not bored: how the nation’s long summer evenings are going to sail by

The country is busy preparing to host four major international competitions on Danish waters in July and August

While Americans across the breadth of Denmark will be keenly anticipating their independence day next month, and most particularly the celebrations in Rebild in northern Jutland, another event just 50km south in Aarhus is generating equally heightened fervour among the country’s sailing community. 

Not only does the July 4 traditional staging of the Tall Ship Races, an annual international school ship competition, offer sailing enthusiasts a bit of light entertainment, it signals the start of what will be an extremely busy summer on Danish waters as the country plays host to a number of major sailing events. 

The Big Four

There are four major championships coming to Denmark this year. The first on the sailing calendar is the 49er and 49er FX European Championships, which will also take place in Aarhus, from July 2-7 – coinciding with the Tall Ship Races – while the 29er and 29erXX World Championship, again in Aarhus, are scheduled to run from July 28 to August 3. Meanwhile, the Europe Class World Championship is set to take place in the south Jutland town of Sønderborg from July 29 until August 11. And the final major tournament, the prestigious International Sailing Federation’s (ISAF) Match Race Nations Cup Grand Final, will take place in Middlefart from August 6-10. 

A class act

It is probably not apparent to most laymen, but Denmark is a major player on the world sailing scene. At last year’s Olympics, Denmark entered a boat in eight of the ten classes and only failed to qualify for the Women’s RS-X and Men’s 470, which meant that the nation was represented in each of the five Olympic boat-types. 

“I would say we are in the top five in the world,” said Mads Kolte-Olsen, the general secretary of the Danish sailing association, Dansk Sejlunion. “Obviously there are many different classes, but for instance, in the 49ers we are really strong.” 

Kolte-Olsen adds as proof of Denmark’s strength the fact that Denmark is one of the most successful nations in terms of Olympic medals. Denmark currently ranks fourth in the overall medals table (with 28), and fifth in terms of gold medals (12).

Finn margins

While Denmark won two sailing medals at the 2012 London Olympics, one athlete rose above the rest: Jonas Høgh-Christensen, who competed in the Finn class. Høgh-Christensen had a memorable duel with the now knighted and most successful sailor in Olympic history, Sir Charles Benedict Ainslie or, as he is more commonly known, Ben Ainslie. The Dane started out stronger, finishing ahead of Ainslie in each of the first six races of the initial ten, but a latter half surge ensured that Høgh-Christensen narrowly missed out on the gold and had to settle for silver. His feat was especially impressive given that he had opted for an early retirement back in 2008. 

Peter Lang and Allan Nørregaard brought home the second Danish medal in the 49er class, but were completely outclassed by the pair from down under: Nathan Outteridge and Iain Jensen. However, the Danish duo are expected to be serious challengers at the forthcoming 49er European Championship.

A finger on the pulse of the people

According to Kolte-Olsen, bringing big tournaments to Denmark is an important factor in establishing the nation’s reputation within the sailing world. “It is very important for us to be able to invite the world’s sailing elite,” he explained. “Not just to create international attention, but also to create more attention within Denmark. We want to reach out to Danes who are possibly not interested in sailing, but are interested in exciting competitions.”

Many critics of sailing have argued that the sport is too elitist and hard for most people to get involved in. In order to expand the reach of the sport, Dansk Sejlunion launched an initiative this May entitled ‘Puls og vind I håret’, which translates as ‘heart rate and the wind in your hair’. 

“The goal right now is to get more life on the water,” said Kolte-Olsen about the initiative. “The dream scenario would be that five years from now, we can proudly announce that the sport has grown.”

According to Kolte-Olsen, the idea of the initiative is to market sailing as a good alternative to other forms of physical exercise. “Many people use an ocean kayak or a bicycle to exercise, and we want people to see sailing as an alternative way to exercise.”

Swapping spinning for the rigging

A part of that initiative is to transform the sailing clubs around the country from being less of a country club and more of a sailing club with a ‘heart rate’. Included in the initiative is a bid to make the clubs more open to people who don’t own boats by setting clubs up with boat rentals and providing seminars to newcomers. 

“We have a big challenge bringing people onto the water,” said Kolte-Olsen. “And hosting major tournaments is a big factor in making that happen.” 

There are many possibilities for those who want to get involved in sailing this summer. With four major tournaments and easier access to the sailing world, there is no reason why everyone can’t be ocean-bound.

Factfile | The Big Four, when and where

The 49er and 49er FX European Championships – July 2-8. The Aarhus Yachting Harbour, Kystpromenaden 3, Aarhus

The 29er and 29erXX World Championship – July 28-Aug 3. Kaløvig Sailing Centre, 15km north of Aarhus, Præstekravevej 46, Rønde

Europe Class World Championship – July 29-Aug 11. Sønderborg Yacht-Club, Ringgade 2, Sønderborg

IASF Match Race Nations Cup Grand Final – August 6-10. Middelfart Lystbaadehavne, 124 Østre Hougvej, Middelfart