The 16th season of 44Cup racing set sails this week out of Muscat, Oman for the fleet of high performance owner-driver one design monohulls.
At this first of five 44Cup events taking place in 2023, nine of the best RC44 teams will be competing, including many past winners. While his team only finished third in Muscat at the conclusion of the 2022 season, Nico Poons’ Charisma team, led by tactician Hamish Pepper, had won the three previous events in Cascais, Marstrand and Portorož. Nonetheless, a disappointing eighth place at the opening event of the season, meant that going into the 44Cup Oman in December, Igor Lah’s Team Ceeref powered by Hrastnik 1860 was leading overall. This was overturned when in the final tally Charisma was able to discard her eighth while a disappointing final event result for the Slovenian team enabled Charisma to claim the 2022 title by a mere point. This was the second occasion Poons had won the 44Cup – in 2018 Charisma overcame both Team Nika and Team CEEREF by a single point.
“I was very much amazed that we won so convincingly last season,” reflects Poons. “It shows that when you have things in order - but you never know when that will be - you can be at the head of the class. But saying that, it also takes nothing to fall back again, especially in this very competitive fleet. All of the teams are strong. If you look at them - CEEREF, Aqua, Nika - they are all a threat and Aleph can have his good moments as well.”
In 2023 the 44Cup will return from Oman before returning to Europe, when the circuit will head first to a regular favourite, Marstrand in Sweden. It then moves to Cowes and one of yacht racing’s most famous stretches of water – the Solent, in the UK – where the 2023 44Cup World Championship will take place. The fourth event is at a brand venue, the 44Cup Alcaidesa Marina, in Spain, neighbouring the border with Gibraltar, while the season will conclude in an favourite venues for the teams, the Canary Islands.
“I’m looking forward to the season coming up,” continues Poons. “We are going to some nice venues and Gibraltar for somewhere new. It’s always good to go to new places, especially in the summer when you have a bit of breeze rather than the heart of the Mediterranean. That's the charm of this class. And then next year we might go to the Caribbean and the US, which will give another dynamic. I'm quite happy with the development of the 44Cup.”
As the 2022 winner, Charisma starts the new season with the 44Cup leader’s ‘golden wheels’, the class’ equivalent of the Tour de France’s yellow jersey. “Being in the lead makes you more nervous and it still makes the team nervous,” admits Poons. “But the more good results we have, the more we learn how to deal with it. But there is always some pressure on everyone. There is always something to deal with and we all know it takes nothing to be the underdog. When we have really bad results there is normally a reason - last season we had a problem with our trim tab. It could be an illness or whatever - the smallest thing can drop your performance.”
But which teams are most capable of topping Charisma? Naturally, it could easily be the turn of Igor Lah, British tactician Adrian Stead and the crew Team Ceeref powered by Hrastnik 1860 having come so close in 2023, before their unravelling in Oman in December. Chris Bake, tactician Cameron Appleton and Team Aqua also are regularly in the hunt having won both the season and the World Championship in 2021, but not their usual immaculate selves last season.
The dark horse is probably Team Nika which ended the season on a high, the first event win for the team since claiming the RC44 World Championship in 2018. Much of the heavy lifting to achieve this result is felt to have been carried by Italian tactician Francesco Bruni, but he has since disappeared on America’s Cup helming duty with Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team, leaving British former 470 World Champion turned pro tactician Nic Asher to take over from him. Remarkably in 2022 Team Nika was the third RC44 Asher racing on following La Pericolosa in Puerto Calero, then standing in for Adrian Stead on board Ceeref powered by Hrastnik 1860 for a few races in Cascais.
Asher is continuing with Team Nika this season. As to the 44Cup Oman he says: “We are just taking every day as it comes. I've only done one event and although we got a win we don't want to set our expectations too high for the rest of the season. We're not looking at anyone else in the fleet, all the boats can win races so we don't focus on it at all, just keep our attention on our own performance and try to do the best job we can.”
Another British Olympic medallist is taking over tactician’s duty in Oman aboard Artemis Racing, which already has triple Olympic medallist Iain Percy on main sheet. Dylan Fletcher was the 49er gold medallist from the Tokyo games and is also the reigning champion in the hotly contested Moth class.
Racing at the 44Cup Oman kicks off on Thursday 2 March and continues on until Sunday 5 March.