The Finnish sailing team Tulikettu Racing skippered by Arto Linnervuo will be strengthened by three tough Olympic sailors; Sinem Kurtbay, Mikaela Wulff and Oskari Muhonen, who are joining the crew for the RORC Caribbean 600 starting from Antigua on Monday 20 February. Tulikettu’s racing coach and four-time Volvo Ocean Race winner Stu Bannatyne from New Zealand, will also be racing. This will be the first time that the ten all-Finnish crew will be learning from Bannatyne onboard in demanding race conditions.
“Comparable to Finnish rising star in tennis Emil Ruusuvuori being coached by Roger Federer at Wimbledon, Bannatyne is the best possible coach for us athletically, but also an important advisor in developing our new boat for the best possible stroke towards our main goal of the season and the toughest race in the sport; the Rolex Fastnet Race in England at the end of July,” says Linnervuo.
Thomas Johanson, Olympic champion turned professional racer in the Volvo Ocean Race, is already involved in the Tulikettu project and Kurtbay, Wulff and Muhonen want to follow in his footsteps. Wulff, who won Olympic bronze as an amateur, has already taken his first steps as a professional sailor. Kurtbay and Muhonen are aiming for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris keen to continue their beloved sport as professionals.
“Tulikettu is the perfect project for me. Although Paris is my main goal, it’s great to be gaining race experience in a big boat and racing offshore at this stage of my career.” says Kurtbay.
One of Tulikettu Racing’s goals, as well as winning the biggest races in the RORC series, is to help take Finnish offshore sailing forward internationally and create sailing pathways for Olympic sailors. Our team is enthusiastic and excited to have top sailors with solid Olympic and World Championship experience as part of the crew, whom we can also help to move forward. Sinem, for example, brings experience in foil-assisted sailing from the only flying Olympic class,” says Linnervuo.
Sinem Kurtbay, 31, is aiming to win the Nacra 17 Olympic title with his partner Akseli Keskinen at the 2024 Paris Olympics after finishing 13th at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. Last year was a promising start as the pair took European silver and World Championship bronze.
Mikaela Wulff, 32, amateur career highlights,together with Silja Kanerva and Silja Lehtinen, in women’s match racing in 2012 include; an Olympic bronze in London and the World Championship in Gothenburg a month before the Olympics.
Oskari Muhonen, 25, is the only triple world champion under 23 in Finnjollie’s history. Muhonen is aiming for a place at the Paris Olympics in the 49er class.
In the Caribbean 600, Kurtbay and Muhonen will be Tulikettu’s helmsmen, and Wulff the trimmer. Of the three, only Muhonen has experience sailing on Tulikettu ahead of next week’s race preparation sailing.
(Pictured: Stu Bannatyne, Mikaela Wulff and Sinem Kurtbay)
BANNATYNE: “A GREAT CONCEPT”
Bannatyne empathises with Kurtbay, Wulff and Muhonen, as he also had plans to turn professional through the Olympic Games. However, as world champion in the Laser Youth Class, Bannatyne was given the opportunity to take part in the 1993 Whitbread Round the World (later the Volvo Ocean Race and Ocean Race).
“I was only 22 at the time and it took me there. I turned professional much earlier than I had imagined. For Sinem and Oskari, this is the best possible concept, as they get to compete in big boat offshore races alongside the Olympic classes,” says Bannatyne.
Bannatyne didn’t compete in Tuliketu’s first race, the RORC Transatlantic Race, in January, but has sailed the boat, developed it and coached the all-Finnish crew skippered by Linnervuo since the boat’s christening in Autumn 2021.
“I’m looking forward to Tulikettu’s second race where I will also be part of the boat’s crew. The main purpose of the first competition was to learn as much as possible about the boat. Now it’s about raising the level of what you can do. Achieving the best performance of the boat is a long process and we are still in the early stages. The RORC Caribbean 600 is a very tough race and the course is demanding,” says Bannatyne.
Tulikettu finished fourth in the IRC Zero class in its opening race and seventh overall in the IRC class. This year, the entire journey from Lanzarote across the Atlantic to Grenada was sailed entirely in downwind.
“This is quite exceptional in offshore racing, but it did not allow us to make much use of our foil, of which the performance of the Tulikettu is largely based. The course for this second race is certainly one that will test the boats’ capabilities in all possible wind angles, including not only upwind and downwind but also crosswind and open-wind sections, as in most RORC races, where we can take advantage of our foil as long as there is enough wind.
In order to learn as much as possible about our new boat, it is extremely valuable to have Stu onboard to coach us in racing conditions. I believe we are now taking a big step towards our main goal for this season – the Rolex Fastnet Race.” Linnervuo anticipates.
The RORC Caribbean 600 is one of four of the most iconic 600-mile races in offshore sailing that Linnervuo calls “Grand Slams” along with the Rolex Fastnet Race, Rolex Middle Sea Race and Rolex Sydney to Hobart Race. Tulikettu aims to become the first Finnish team to win these races and the overall RORC series, which includes the first three, in the coming years.
After the Caribbean 600, Tulikettu will head back to Europe to compete in 3-5 weekend races before the Fastnet, starting in Cowes, England on 22 July and finishes in Cherbourg, France after a circumnavigation of the Fastnet Rock lighthouse on the Irish coast. The ‘Wimbledon of offshore sailing’ is this year’s 50th anniversary race, expected to attract the toughest field and record crowds.
For more information about the Royal Ocean Racing Club: rorc.org