From southwesterly winds gusting up to 20 knots, and one of the sharpest sea states the class has endured, dropping to five to six knots and the lightest conditions sailable by the nimble RC44: the 44Cup Marstrand’s penultimate day provided a complete test for the teams off west Sweden’s holiday hotspot.
The fleet ventured out of the security of Marstrand harbour to be greeted by a stiff southwesterly breeze and a vicious sea state that was short and sharp. The fetch had built up overnight and according to tactician Adrian Stead was especially confused, and at times mountainous, having combined from different directions - coming around the top of Denmark and up its east coast.
The big wind specialists on Nico Poons’ Charisma, who include past Volvo Ocean Race winners Ryan Godfrey and Ross Halcrow, got off to the best start, posting a 3-1. They were en route to becoming boat of the day until they were one of three called OCS in today’s final race. Nonetheless in that they managed to salvage a fifth, leaving them second overall, a mere point from first.
“We had a good start to the day and were extremely happy with that and felt the boat was going really well,” said Charisma tactician Hamish Pepper. “Then I just put us over the start line in the last one and had to claw our way back. The guys are sailing the boat well and fast. We seldom make mistakes.”
However there is some truth in Charisma’s reputation. “We have had some good races in light airs too, but Nico [Poons] enjoys the stronger winds - it is a lot easier to feel the boat and get it going in those [big] conditions,” said Pepper. “In the waves it was tricky for him and the trimmers, keeping the boat going and keeping good modes, both upwind and downwind.”
On the first beat of race two Charisma played the left and then, tacking and on port had just wriggled across Ceeref powered by Hrastnik 1860. This set them up to cross the rest of the starboard tackers and ultimately reach the top mark with a small lead. Poons and his crew then extended. After today’s second race Charisma had taken the lead.
As yesterday, winner of the day’s first race was Hugues Lepic’s Aleph Racing. After an absence from 44Cup, Lepic had regained his RC44 stride today with he, tactician Michele Ivaldi and his crew second lowest scoring of the day. They are fourth overall going into the final day, one point shy of Chris Bake’s Team Aqua.
Christian Zuerrer’s Black Star Sailing Team got off to a good start, hitting the right side hardest in today’s first race to hold second behind Aleph at the top mark. Sadly they later dropped to fourth, but it was still a strong display by the newbies.
Heroes of the day were undoubtedly Igor Lah’s Ceeref powered by Hrastnik 1860, which followed a 2-3 with a win in today’s third - another course, like yesterday, finishing within Marstrand Harbour. This propelled the Slovenian team to the top of the leaderboard where they now cling, just one point ahead of Charisma.
“It was an extremely tough and complicated day: from strong winds to light winds, with big waves; from 20 to almost nothing, so you had to adapt immediately,” said a tired but satisfied Igor Lah. “Cheese [Dirk de Ridder] and Javi [De La Plaza] kept working on the speed and Ado did great tactics, so it paid out.”
Of the big waves Lah commented: “It was extremely difficult, extremely hard to steer.” Then the physical stress turned to mental: For the third race the wind dropped to sub-10 knots and the sea state was flattening but the wind dropped more sailing into Marstrand harbour, causing the fleet to compress. Thus Lah, tactician Adrian Stead and the crew could only watch at their substantial lead eroded followed by a tighter-than-comfort gybing battle to the finish line off Marstrand’s Strandverket with Aleph Racing.
Adrian Stead summarised: “It was an interesting day, staying ahead of the sail changes, how we sail the boat from flat planning and surfing on big waves to making the best of it in the last run. There was quite a lot of helping current out on the right where it was even choppier so it was just a case of finding the rhythm, not putting yourself in too tight a spot. The goal was to be in contention going into day four.” Which they certainly are.
“Igor did a really solid job today,” Stead continued. “The helmsman does get thrown around in waves like that, but Igor has got good balance and is good at being focussed and he was being pushed pretty hard to keep the boat locked in.”
Tomorrow is the last day with three races again scheduled to start at 1130. But with the top six separated by nine points, the story of the 44Cup Marstand, as usual, is far from written.