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Two Olympic hopefuls joining team Tulikettu…

Sinem Kurtbay and Akseli Keskinen, racing in the Nacra 17 class, plan to join the Tulikettu team skippered by Arto Linnervuo after the Olympics next year. The sailing club behind the team will also become the pairs sponsor.

In August, Sinem Kurtbay and Akseli Keskinen secured Finland’s place in the Nacra 17 class at next year’s Summer Olympics in Paris. The pair will head into their second Olympics in a better position than in Tokyo in Summer 2021, where Kurtbay secured an Olympic spot with another partner Janne Järvinen, however the Finnish Olympic Committee chose not to select Janne for the Games. There were also issues with the boat during the summer before Tokyo. This time will be easier for Kurtbay and Keskinen.

Financial support is being provided through the Xtra Stærk Ocean Racing Society, an offshore racing club founded by Linnervuo. “The amount is such that both sailors are happy,” says Linnervuo.

Sailing is an expensive sport, where a lot of money is spent on travel and equipment. To succeed, you have to train abroad in the winter, just as Kurtbay and Keskinen do in Lanzarote. Kurtbay joined the Tulikettu team earlier in the winter, with Keskinen now also following in her footsteps. 

The first joint training sessions with the boat could take place as early as next spring however the pair will have more time for offshore sailing in autumn 2024, after the Paris Olympic regatta. “The most important thing is that they can concentrate on their Olympic dream in peace,” says Linnervuo.

The Nacra 17 Olympic class is sailed by foiling boats. The foil acts as a kind of hydrofoil that lifts the boat above the water’s surface at high speeds. Designed for ocean sailing, Tulikettu is also a foiling boat, although it doesn’t come entirely out of the water. 

“It’s important that the helmsman and trimmer work together and that the boat stays on the foil. Sinem and Akseli have the experience and technical know-how for this, which ultimately helps us,” says Linnervuo, on the benefits of the partnership.

Because of the two foils, the Nacra 17 is entirely ‘flying’ and above the water, unlike Tulikettu. However the rules are similar with Tulikettu; the foil works like the wing of an aircraft taking up: you need enough speed to get the boat on top of the waves and for it to stay there. 

“You have to actively trim the sails well enough to stay on the foil. That requires skill and good communication between the trimmer and the helmsman.

After the Olympic Games, Tulikettu plans to participate with its newest members in the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) offshore race, taking place in Malta in October. One of Tulikettu team’s goals is to win one of the biggest races in the RORC series and to promote Finnish offshore sailing internationally.

The most important race this year was the Rolex Fastnet Race which took place in July – the legendary offshore race has been held every two years since 1925. Tulikettu’s foil was redesigned and replaced ahead of the Fastnet after it broke in February in the Caribbean, her second offshore race of the year. 

Kurtbay and 2012 Olympic sailing medallist Mikaela Wulff sailed onboard the boat in the Caribbean, alongside world youth champion Oskari Muhonen. The sailing club founded by Linnervuo is also supporting Muhonen and Edvard Bremer’s 49er pair to make it to the Paris Olympics, where only Kaarle Tapper (ILCA7 class) has so far secured a place alongside Kurtbay and Keskinen.

The Fastnet started well for Tulikettu. At dusk on the evening of the start day, the jib halyard lockstrop broke causing the halyard to go into the mast. The halyard is the hoist line of the sail and the jib is the upwind headsail. As a result, the team was no longer able to use the same jib. Only the halyard of the genoa staysail that can also be used as a small storm jib was available, which is tacked to the center of the foredeck. Therefore the storm jib was the only remaining option, but too small for the prevailing winds.

“The boat slowed down a lot as a result of this and the front of the fleet got away. The leading boats took the shortest route from the turn around point of Fastnet Lighthouse, straight back towards the English Channel with the old weather front. By the time we got to the turn, the wind had changed and we had to sail a longer route of an additional 80 miles.”

“If the halyard lockstrop hadn’t broken and slowed us down, we would also have been able to sail more on the foil with the old weather front. Without a technical failure and longer route, we would have been able to sail in the same conditions and challenge our main competitors.”

Tulikettu will spend the coming Winter in its homebase in the UK and undergo several improvements. Our racing season also starts in England, but in May 2024, Tulikettu will finally be seen again in Finland. In July she will take part in the Gotland Run in Sweden and then the Roschier Baltic Sea Race in Finland, one of the four main races in the RORC series.

“It will be interesting to see how Tulikettu and its foil perform in the Baltic Sea.”

When the boat is in Finland, the Tulikettu team will come together and really ramp up their training regime. “We’ve put together a tighter core team with fewer crew changes than until now, with Kurtbay and Keskinen playing a key role amongst them. I think they have a lot to give!,” says Linnervuo.