In form typical of the high performance owner-drive one design, going into the final race of the final day of the 44Cup Alcaidesa Marina, just two points separated the top four boats and, with nine points on the table, mathematically any of the top six could still win. Added to this was the venue with a third day of racing from a third direction – the east, blowing across La Linea.
Racing started in moderate wind and rain beneath an ominously dark sky, before building to 20+ knots in the gusts for the third and final race.
Leading by one point going into this race life was made easy for owner Igor Lah, tactician Adrian Stead and the crew of Team Ceeref powered by Hrastnik 1860 as their most threatening rivals tied themselves up. Ceeref won the pin, claimed the left and returning on port screeched into the starboard layline and from there rounded the top mark just ahead of Team Nika and Chris Bake’s Team Aqua. At this point their top four rivals were not featuring: leader going into the final day and generous host of the 44Cup Alcaidesa Marina, John Bassadone and his Peninsula Racing and star of the first two days – Christian Zuerrer’s Black Star Sailing Team – were eighth and ninth respectively both having committed to the unfavored right. The closest of Ceeref’s rivals was Aleph Racing in sixth.
From here Lah’s Slovenian team clung on and even extended over Team Aqua and Team Nika. At the finish, nearest of the ‘top four’ was Aleph Racing now up to fourth, leaving Ceeref powered by Hrastnik 1860 ahead of her by four points with Black Star Sailing Team and Peninsula Racing tied on points, a further three adrift in third and fourth.
Crossing the line the Ceeref team was ecstastic complete with fist pumping and high-fiving. This was their first event win for the 2017 and 2019 44Cup champions since Oman in February.
“I am happy!” said a delighted Lah shortly before he was ‘encouraged’ by RC44 Class President Chris Bake into a victor’s dunking in Marina Alcaidesa. “We were struggling for a few regattas, but now we are finally back and everything is fine.” As to going into the last race which such major competition so close behind him, Lah continued: “We wanted to extend it a little bit! So it was successful. It is always nerve-wracking but every race is a new development.”
His tactician Adrian Stead added: “It is good that we have got Ceeref back on track a little bit. We are always trying to be the best, but this fleet is bloody tough. In Cowes we had one difference in the team and we didn’t start as well. On our last day we could have been second, but ended up fifth. Here the whole regatta has been tight, so it was all about just chipping away. Today there were three windy races in building breeze, so being in control was key, avoiding the top mark incidents and getting settled downwind.”
Top scoring boat of the day was in fact Hugues Lepic’s Aleph Racing which this week has had Pietro Loro Piana on helm. Loro Piana comes from a well known sailing family, his uncle Pier Luigi campaigning a series of maxi yachts called My Song. Pietro has been racing smaller sportsboats and was enthusiastic about his introduction this week to the RC44. “It has been an adrenalin rush - it is a crazy nice boat. The crew were astonishing. It is the first time I have sailed to such a level. To be brutally honest I enjoyed it like it was my first time sailing. Michele [Ivaldi] is a great tactician and the entire crew did an amazing job. They made me do some amazing starts. I have to thank everyone who sailed with me.” Aleph Racing won the second race and with a 3-1-4 today, was top scoring boat.
Third top scoring boat today was Team Nika, winner of the opening race, their first bullet of the event. “We have been struggling a little bit with some of our crew being sick,” admitted tactician Nick Asher. “Our pitman and grinder got sick so we had to swap them out, which wasn’t ideal. Today we sorted ourselves out and we were starting better and going well upwind.” So with no warning one of their shorecrew, Vid Jeranko, found himself taking on the difficult and exacting job of operating an RC44’s pit for the last two days.
With two breezy days and one light, and wind from the west/northwest, south and east and current that was hard to predict, the 44Cup’s first ever event in the shadow of Gibraltar was considered a great success. This was especially so given the first class hospitality offered by John Bassadone’s Peninsula Racing team, including a gala dinner at the Hacienda Links Golf Resort.