Skype co-founder on learning curve at the Audi Medcup

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The Independent Online

Niklas Zennström spent last winter with two central tasks. One was putting all the finishing touches to the selling of the company in which he was a co-founder, Skype, to Microsoft for £5.2bn. The other was keeping day to day tabs on the design, build, launch and commissioning of his new racing yacht, like the others named Rán, the Norse goddess of storms, who specialised in sinking ships and collecting the bodies of drowned sailors.

Zennström is less murderous, but he has stepped into an area of sailing that took just a few hours to make him re-assess the nature of the task ahead of him. The Audi MedCup is full of predators.

“We had been feeling well-prepared,” as he waited for the wind to settle today. “”But, on the first race day we made a lot of stupid mistakes. It showed us how competitive this fleet is, how intensive and tough the competition is. People are attacking you the whole time.”

He is the only owner-driver among a pack of professionals but no quarter will be given and none expected. “The goal is to improve throughout the series, and we know that the others will not be standing still,” he said, “the learning curve is very apparent.”

Because he is Swedish, the boat carries the flag of Sweden, but there is a  very British feel to the team. Zennström lives in London, the boat was built in Lymington and the crew started pre-Audi training in the Spring Series at Warsash on the Hamble River, where he is also a prominent member of the Royal Southern Yacht Club on the opposite shore.

“This is great sailing and I want to sail the boat, which is something I could not do is, say, the America’s Cup, where I would be sitting on the dock just watching and signing the cheques. This is THE professional circuit and that is what we have signed up for.”

But a poor start to the third race put Rán at the back of the pack and it was only a penalty against Jochen Schuemann’s All4One that gave them back a place. Spain’s Bribón, skippered by Gonzalo Araujo led from start to finish chased hope by Guillermo Parada on Azzurra and the Russian entry, Synergy, helmed by Eugeniy Neugodnikov, was third.

The first race for the Soto 40 fleet was easily won by José Maria Torcida on Spain’s Iberdrola. Britain’s Ngoni, helmed by Mark Lambrusco, was easily last.