Up and coming Russian sailing
Published on June 11th, 2016
By James Boyd, Sailing World
At regattas around the world, Russian is a language heard more often these days. With the demise of the USSR some 25 years ago, a number of wealthy individuals have inevitably emerged across the former Soviet states. Some of these have chosen to spend some of their hard-earned, or not so hard-earned, rubles on taking up our sport.
Before Gorbachev and the easing of the regime, the USSR was best known for its Olympic sailing, a fact helped by the authorities, who were able to cherry-pick talent from across the breadth of the world’s largest country by landmass. Most notable among this talent was Valentin Mankin, one of the most successful Olympic sailors of all time, and still the only person to have won gold medals in three different classes. The USSR also conducted occasional offshore campaigns, as it did with the maxi Fazisi, which competed in the 1989 Whitbread Round the World Race.
While Russian Olympic sailing has since declined, over the past two decades there has been a steady increase in Russian owners taking up yacht racing. The most high-profile campaigns are in the TP52 class, where four Russian boats competed at the Audi MedCup’s zenith in 2007. These boats’ names betrayed the source of the money behind them: Valars was one of Russia’s largest grain-trading companies; Rusal, once the world’s largest aluminium producer; and Synergy, one of Russia’s biggest distillers.
Kirill Podolsky spent three years campaigning Valars before moving into the RC44 class, where he still enthusiastically campaigns RUS7, sponsored by Anywayanyday (the Russian equivalent of Expedia, and founded by Podolsky), with a mainly Russian crew.
Today the RC44 is the most high-profile class for Russian teams, and most recently they have been dominating: Last year Vladimir Proshikin’s Team Nika won the class’s fleet-racing championship, while Vladimir Liubomirov claimed its match-racing title aboard Bronenosec.
As an amateur helmsman, the charismatic Proshikin says he enjoys the learning process in the RC44 class, where he lines up against professional crews and tacticians, among them America’s Cup helmsmen, Olympic medalists and round-the-world veterans. He has also had coaches on Team Nika, including Russell Coutts, Dean Barker, Terry Hutchinson and most recently Ed Baird. More recently he has started racing smaller boats. He won the 2015 SB20 Russian National Championship and finished third at last year’s Melges 20 European Championship.
The only Russian team remaining on the 52 Super Series at present is Bronenosec Sailing Team, whose proprietor, Liubomirov, is today one of the most influential Russians in sailing. Between the 52 and his RC44 campaigns, Liubomirov reckons he sails 100 days each year. But crucially, for the past five years he has been commodore of the St. Petersburg YC, where he has managed to persuade Russian natural-gas giant Gazprom to back a wide range of sailing projects, including a new fleet of one-design Swan 60s.