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The Hardest Race

Updated: Aug 17, 2023

Photo from solo-sailor Robert Kuper from leg 1 on the offshore course. Negotiating gales on the North Sea while passing the most western and northern point of Denmark Blåvandshuk and Skagen. // GRDR23 R. Kuper

The Garmin Round Denmark Race 2023 was heavily challenged by Storm Hans. Despite course alterations, it became an incredibly tough sail, where a phantom time was set for the offshore distance, and there were also two surprising overall winners in the ORC Club race – more on that later in the article.

When the offshore participants set sail from Esbjerg on August 3rd at 16:10, facing gales and waves of up to four meters along the Jutland west coast, it was also a chance for the semi-professionals from Hansen Sailing Team to set a doomsday time for the distance. If the forecasts held, their routing showed that they could reach Aarhus by Monday morning.

It was also Michael Møllmann & CO who first passed Denmark's westernmost point, Blåvandshuk, and after 25 hours at sea, rounded the northernmost point, Skagen. They were 6 hours ahead of the doublehanded boat Polish Manx. First solo sailor Stig Wittrup in Moody 45 Cassiopeia arrived 11 hours after Hansen. Two hours later, Robert Kuper in the 1970s sloop Lea arrived, followed by Esben Pilegaard in the X-79 Relax an hour later. These three hours would prove crucial on the following leg, which became a race to reach the harbor before the storm Hans hit.

Video from the North Sea. GRDR23//R. Kuper

Hans Hits the Participants

On the bridge at the headquarters in Aarhus, it became increasingly clear that the rumors of the storm Hans would become reality. It was now certain that it would hit Denmark and the participants no later than Sunday midnight. It would be prolonged and maintain pressure with medium winds stormy gales and storm-force gusts. This meant that the race management made a series of choices to prioritize the safety of the sailors while maintaining a fair race.

With the start of GRDR Inshore from Aarhus at 12 noon on Saturday, August 5th, there was no longer any doubt that shortening the route would be necessary. Particularly, the Baltic Sea round Bornholm would be hit hard by the storm. After discussions with several participants, consultations with the Danish Meteorological Institute, and much consideration, the following choices were made – allowing one single boat to move on, replace the rounding at Skagen with a rounding of the island of Anholt, and omit Bornholm for most.

Ahead of the Storm

When the inshore race started on Saturday at 12 noon, Møllmann & Co were already past Falsterbo on their way to Denmark's easternmost point, Christiansø. In other words, the routing held, and it was likely that they would reach the finish line before the storm hit in earnest. Therefore, there was no shortening or forced stop for Michael Møllmann and Co.

The Isle of Man-registered boat with a Polish crew, Polished Manx, was at the same time north of Kullen, Sweden. They would most likely be near Bornholm when the storm raged and therefore had their course shortened, so after the Øresund, they would head directly towards Gedser - the southernmost point in Denmark - and from there, head north towards the Great Belt and Aarhus.

Time Stopped in Helsingør

Monday morning in Helsingør no sign of the storm easing the pressure.

For the other offshore participants, the next stop was Helsingør, where their sailing time was noted and put on standby. For inshore participants, the rounding of the Skagen compass mark was replaced with rounding the island of Anholt in the middle of the Kattegat, and from there, these boats also had to head to the pit stop harbor of Helsingør. The first boats arrived in Helsingør on Sunday morning at 7:30. The fastest was singlehanded sailor Rikard Roth in his Xp44 Xar, followed by Dutchman Gerben Bos, who doublehanded in Jetstream, a J/122, and the third boat in Helsingør was John Haurum X4.9 Flux. They all arrived within minutes. The last boat from the inshore fleet was the Maxi 999 Salikon with skipper Fredrik Engler, who arrived at 11:30.

From the offshore course, Cassiopeia got to leave Skagen some three hours before Relax and Lea. Skipper Stig Wittrup caught some gentle breeze and cleverly choose an eastern track south towards Helsingør. When the came back he had a fast ride and arrived in Helsingør at 4:30 p.m. Torben Herslund and his crew in GB1000 Midas took a 36 hrs. time out on the North Sea and waited in Thyborøn until the wind dropped below gale force. He and his crew arrived in Helsingør around 8:40 p.m. Earlier in the day, solo sailor Robert Kuper in the boat Lea chose to abandon racing and headed to Grenå.

X79 Disappeared

The only boat missing was the last solo sailor from the offshore course, Esben Pilegaard in X79 Relax. Since there had been no contact with him or with his tracker or AIS for eight hours, the race management chose to contact the JRCC, Joint Rescue and Coordination Center, who called Pilegaard on VHF. There was a connection, and Esben Pilegaard reported everything was okay. He then reported to JRCC every half hour. He arrived in port at around 02:00, not in Helsingør, but 25 km northwest in Gilleleje at the top of Zealand. Esben Pilegaard had safely reached the port but during derigging and preparation for mooring, the keel of X79 became stuck in the shallow eastern part of the mooring basin in Gilleleje, and the engine couldn't pull the boat off the sand. On the contrary, it was pushed further into the shallow water. Esben Pilegaard could walk ashore from there and he informed JRCC, relatives, and race management that he was okay. The next afternoon, representatives from the Garmin Round Denmark Race event management went to Gilleleje, where they confirmed that Esben Pilegaard was 100% unharmed, but discovered that the boat would be lost.

Stealing the Record from a Multihull

Meanwhile, the Hansen Sailing Team fought their way back to Aarhus. Their arrival wasn't on Monday morning but rather on Monday at noon. The time turned out to be 7 minutes and 23 seconds faster than the standing record, set in 2022 by Jens Thuesen and Jens Quorning in the carbon fiber trimaran Flying Dragon, a Dragonfly 40. The very impressive new time to beat is 3 days, 20 hours, 6 minutes, and 44 seconds, with an average speed of 8.2 knots on the officially measured distance.

Restart on Wednesday

The storm continued to grip the participants and the race until Wednesday at 10:00 a.m., when racing finally could be resumed. The official start from Helsingør took place on a line between two marks south of the city. The route for all inshore boats was the same as the 2Star boat Polished Manx sailed. Thus, from Øresund to Gedser, and from there towards the Great Belt and Aarhus.

The two offshore boats with skippers Stig Wittrup singlehanded and Torben Herslund with a full crew sailed the entire course like the Hansen Sailing Team without any shortcuts, covering 760 nautical miles.

2Star Boat Next to Finish

During the remaining part of the race, sailing was close to pure upwind. And all participants reported a very unpleasant sea state in the Baltic Sea. The next boat back in Aarhus was the winner of the 2Star offshore, the boat Polished Manx. Kuba Szymanski and co-skipper Maciek Lato had sought shelter from the storm in Spodsbjerg for their First 40.7, from early on Monday night. They resumed sailing on Wednesday at 06:00 a.m. and crossed the finish line at 8:06 p.m. on Wednesday evening.

Inshore Boats Arrive in Aarhus

The next to return to Aarhus were the winners of the inshore fully crewed, singlehanded, and doublehanded categories. The three boats crossed the finish line on Friday night around midnight, all within an hour. First was Henrik Jørgensen in Xp44 Xbox, followed by Rikard Roth in Xp44 Xar, and then Gerben Bos in J/122 Jetstream. Naturally, there were no records on the significantly shortened route, but there were plenty of impressive performances – especially Rikard Roth, who singlehandedly matched and surpassed several crewed boats.

The remaining inshore boats all arrived in Aarhus during Friday, while the two offshore boats reached the finish line on Saturday. Midas crossed the line at 2:03 p.m., while Cassiopeia returned at 10:01 p.m. after more than 9 days.

Overall Winners

As a new addition to this year's edition of the Garmin Round Denmark, boats could choose to participate based on corrected time. The goal was to determine a theoretical overall winner for both the offshore and inshore courses.

Happy Hansen Sailing Team after their impressive record. The team is the best offshore sailors in Denmark at the moment. High hopes their attitude will inspire more to up their game. //GRDR23

The best offshore boat also according to the measurement rule ORC Club was Michael Møllmann and Hansen Sailing Team in Palby Marine an Elliott 35SS. Second place went to Stig Wittrup in Moody 45, Cassiopeia. Torben Herslund and his crew on GB1000 Midas took the third podium place.

On the Inshore course German double hand team X412 team, Blue Bat, with Oomke and Katrin Möller won. Second was the Danish full crew team Xp44, Xbox, skippered by Henrik Jørgensen. Third was another double handed team Jetstream, a J/122 sailed by Dutch sailors Gerben Bos and Martin Hingst.

Here are the Garmin Round Denmark Race records:

Inshore Singlehanded: Claus Cato, Archambault 35 Emily, 4 days, 15 hours, 58 minutes, 0 seconds (2022)

Inshore 2Star: Andreas Willim & Tom Gosh, JPK 38 Belle. 5 days, 2 hours, 39 minutes, 40 seconds (2022)

Inshore Fully Crewed: Henrik Jørgensen, Xp44 Xbox, 4 days, 4 hours, 56 minutes, 33 seconds (2022)

Offshore Singlehanded: Rikard Roth, Xp44 Xar, 4 days, 16 hours, 0 minutes, 28 seconds (2022)

Offshore Fully Crewed: Michael Møllmann, Elliott 35SS, Palby Marine, 3 days, 20 hours, 6 minutes, 44 seconds (2023)


Fastest Times on the distances*

Offshore: Bouwe Bekking, VO 65, Childhood II, 2 days, 22 hours, 24 minutes, 21 seconds (2019)

Inshore: Jakob Frost, one-off, Frostboksen, 3 days, 20 hours, 35 minutes, 17 seconds (2020)

*) These boats have chosen the weather window individually and were not a part of a fleet race. Bouwe Bekking holds the official record. You can read more about the record here

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