NAVY PIER — Chicago this week is hosting the Chicago Match Cup off Navy Pier, described by some as this year's top match racing sailing event in the United States.
"The facilities here in Chicago, the weather, the boats, everything is really well kept," said Taylor Canfield, 24, who is the youngest skipper on the World Match Racing Tour. "This is the cream of the crop."
The race is part of the Alpari World Match Racing Tour, which stopped in Germany, South Korea and Sweden before reaching the Windy City. It's being held in coordination with Tall Ships Chicago at Navy Pier through the weekend.
Match racing, as opposed to conventional fleet racing, pits two boats in a short distance, one-on-one race. It's a fast-paced race that requires strategy and quick tactics.
"Something about the Great Lakes sailing is that it’s always changing. It can be anything," said Sally Barkow, one of the top match racers in the country who has competed for Team U.S.A. in the Olympics. "You kind of have to be versatile and patient and ready for anything."
The end of the Navy Pier has been transformed into a race village equipped with grandstands for the races, which begin Wednesday morning and round out with the finals on Sunday afternoon.
The event was organized by the Chicago Match Race Center and kicked off Tuesday night with a charity challenge that placed Chicago sports figures and Chicago Public Schools students on competing boats.
Those onboard the swift five-person boats included former Chicago Bear Robin Earl, Northwestern University basketball coach Chris Collins and Blackhawks legend Tony Esposito.
Collins' team, which was captained by reigning Match Race World Champion Ian Williams, took the title and made a $25,000 donation to World Sport Chicago.
The chance to be aboard the sailboats for the races was an eye opener for many of those who had never sailed before.
"It was actually beautiful," Earl said. "I'm going to have the scars to prove it when I get home. My butt cheek is throbbing right now. I feel like I just played the Green Bay Packers."
Liam Gorzen, a 16-year-old student at Rickover Naval Academy in Edgewater, is on the school's sailing team and called the race Tuesday a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
"One day I kind of want to be a top sailor," Gorzen said. "They tour the world, so it's really cool that when they come to Chicago I could meet them and actually go sailing with them."
The Chicago Match Cup includes $100,000 in prize money and features 12 teams competing from seven nations.
One of the young guns on the tour, Canfield, has lived in Chicago for about three years and has high hopes for the event in his new city.
Canfield is a U.S. Virgin Islands native who has been coaching the junior race program at the Chicago Yacht Club for three years and is sailing director at the Chicago Match Race Center.
"It's just a great thing to bring another sporting event to the Chicago community," he said. "It will out do any other event on the tour."
Opening day for the tour stop starts at 10 a.m. Wednesday with round-robin racing and free admission. For a full schedule visit www.wmrt.com.