Having rewritten the RC44 Class Rule so that teams this season can race with at least one female on board, so the 44Cup will next week have its first all-female team. The nine teams competing will include the ‘black boat’, which is regularly lent out to those looking to join the circuit or local teams, like Oman Sail. She will be campaigned by well-known Cowes skipper Louise Morton and her Bullet team.
Although new to the high performance RC44 one design, Morton is far from new to racing with an all-female crew and has enjoyed much success ‘beating up the boys’. Most significantly, against stiff competition, including her vastly experienced husband Peter, she has won, not once but three times, the highly prestigious Quarter Ton Cup. She is also a four time winner of the Women’s Open Keelboat Championship. Otherwise her sailing has been extensive from transatlantic and Fastnet Races and numerous RORC seasons, to 30+ Cowes Weeks and inshore regattas from the St Barths Bucket, Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup in Sardinia, to the Rolex China Sea Race and Phuket King’s Cup. Most recently she has taken to yacht racing in the 5.5mR keelboat class.
“I am really looking forward to it – it is something different,” says Louise of the 44Cup Cowes. “All of the crew immediately said ‘yes’. For them it is a really exciting opportunity.” Like her last Quarter Tonner, her RC44 will be called Bullet.
Within the family there is a little 44Cup form. Husband Peter Morton, steered Team Aqua in place of Chris Bake for the first two days in Porto Montenegro in 2019. On the second of those Team Aqua was top scoring boat. “He loved it,” Louise says of Peter’s brief stint. “I think he was hoping he might be asked next week, but he’ll have my role! He absolutely thinks we can have a crack at it and have a good time. We have local knowledge of the Solent and we’ll be based at home, which will make life easier.”
With former Olympian Lucy Macgregor as tactician, Louise will be migrating her regular crew across to the new boat, although she has had to expand this. The Bullet crew will comprise Lucy Macgregor, her capable sisters Kate and Nicky; Annie Lush on mainsheet; Dutch Ocean Race sailor Laura van Veen; Annabel Vose; Midge Watkins; Mary Rook and Abby Childerley. While with the new rule for 2023, RC44s now typically sail with nine, all-female teams can sail with 10 and their combined crew weight can be 760kg compared to 730kg. However according to Lucy Macgregor they won’t be anywhere near these figures: “We are going to be wildly underweight. We will be ‘eyes wide open’ to work out our own way of sailing the boat, because we won’t have the power that some of the guys have in terms of body weight.”
Up until this year RC44s were regularly sailed with eight, so Lucy says: “I think effectively we’ll have two floaters - someone floating between bow and pit for example and another at the back of the boat. We will work all of this out as we go - I’m sure it will be one of those events where we’ll finish the last race wishing we were starting the event again, because we will have learned so much.”
Significantly for Lucy, this regatta will not only reunite her with her sisters but also with her past crew line-ups. She match raced with Lush and younger sister Kate in the Elliott 6m at London 2012 and with Lush and both her sisters when she won the last of her four Women’s Match Racing World Championship titles in 2018.
Both Lucy Macgregor and Louise Morton are impressed by the level of support they have had from other teams and individuals in the 44Cup. Like all the other RC44s, the 'black boat' had the same Harken winch and pedestal upgrade. Over winter she also received a full new paint job, non-skid plus standing and running rigging replacement. On top of this the regular teams are lending them good quality racing sails.
Aside from being light, a lack of RC44 experience will be their principle hurdle. They will sail the boat for the first time on Saturday and will put in more training days before the race proper starts. However on their 5.5mR team is Andrew Palfrey, previously Team Aqua’s long term coach and the Macgregor’s match racing experience will come to play: “I am sailing with some girls who have been on the match racing circuit for some time and they are used to turning up at regattas and having to learn a boat and go racing,” says Louise. As to the specifics of the RC44: “It has got twin wheels and I haven’t sailed very much with asymmetrics, which will be interesting…”
Lucy Macgregor concludes: “For me personally the RC44 has always been on my list of fleets I wanted to sail in. It is a bucket list item for me to have this opportunity to race and race with our own team as well. We’ll be quick learners - we’ll need to be because there are a lot of established teams and some seriously high quality talent across the fleet. We are just looking forward to getting stuck in and trying to make some impact in the class. I can’t wait.”
The 44Cup Cowes starts with practice racing on Wednesday 9 August with racing proper from Thursday 10 August to Sunday 13 August, culminating with a prizegiving at the Royal Yacht Squadron.