With near gale force winds forecast for the afternoon, to stay on schedule racing for the high performance owner-driver RC44 one designs on the penultimate day of their World Championship was brought forward by two hours with a first warning signal at 0930. In the southwesterly breeze the race area was set up between Hill Head and the Brambles Bank, in the northeastern quadrant of the central Solent, by the Royal Yacht Squadron’s expert race management team led by Peter Saxton and the 44Cup’s own PRO Maria Torrijo.
In fact when racing got underway it was only in 16 knots, the tide running from left to right across the course. Torbjörn Törnqvist’s Artemis Racing and Igor Lah's Team Ceeref powered by Hrastnik 1860 were called over early. While the right was winning early, the left came good up the beat and here Team Nika managed to round ahead of Nico Poons’ Charisma and then continued to hang on for the remainder of the race.
Tactician Nick Asher described the conditions: “It wasn’t as windy as we thought it would be to start with. We were wondering about which jib to go on - everyone was on their J3 and we matched them. It was very shifty - puffy with some big holes in it – it was about just trying to get off the line and stay in phase. There were lefties - 20° shifts coming off the island - and more pressure sometimes.”
In the next two races, it was the turn of the defending world champions and 2023 44Cup leaders Charisma. Again the Monaco-flagged team headed left and, despite being caught up in traffic with Chris Bake’s Team Aqua and John Bassadone’s Peninsula Racing, wriggled clear, crossing clear ahead of several starboard tackers to squeak around the top mark just ahead of Hugues Lepic’s Aleph Racing and Ceeref. Despite Ceeref and Team Aqua gybing early on the run, Charisma stayed in front to take her first bullet of the series.
Charisma did well out on the left again in race three, but this time pulled out a solid lead by the top mark, leaving teams Nika and Aqua to round behind in traffic. Charisma went to claim the bullet unperturbed until the final run when the chasing packed closed in with the top five crossing the line within just nine seconds.
With a near perfect 2-1-1 scoreline today, Charisma has surged up the leaderboard, five points ahead of Team Nika and another two ahead of 2019/21 World Champions Team Aqua.
Traditionally Charisma’s crew likes the big conditions but Poons points out that they won last year’s World Championship in Portorož, Slovenia in sub-6 knot conditions. “But,” he observes, “our chances in heavy weather are less open-ended than in light conditions.” As to any tactics tomorrow, Poons says “We will just do our thing like normal and go as fast as possible…”
Main sheet trimmer Chris Hosking added: “Today was good. The 44s are renowned for being exhilarating boats in those wind speeds. They are fantastic boats – upwind we were doing target [speed] and downwind we were planning. We were all pushing each other to keep fully focussed. We had three great starts and good boat control.”
As to why they went left, Hosking explained: “The first two races certainly there was current, which we thought was favourable on that side. The third race was a more open race track with a few more options.”
Both Team Nika and Team Aqua scored nine points today, with Hugues Lepic’s Aleph Racing a point from the podium. A 4-3-2 restored day one leader Team Aqua to the podium. “I thought it was quite hard upwind, but downwind we had good speed and good angles and we recovered from some bad mistakes,” said Chris Bake, who is hosting the 44Cup Cowes via his club, the Royal Yacht Squadron. “Overall it was a really fun day - the RC44 comes alive in 20+ knots. It was really gusty from 16-23 knots and really fun…when we were going well… Obviously Nico and Charisma are sailing very strong. Hopefully we can get a few races in tomorrow.”
Team Ceeref powered by Hrastnik 1860 has been uncharacteristically light on top placed finishes this regatta and posted a 3-5-3 today, leaving her fifth. “It was great sailing – a lot of wind but up and down, right and left. I enjoyed it a lot - it was extremely hard to steer, but I survived. Now I have to go and have a cup of tea!” said Igor Lah.
Charisma’s Chris Hosking concluded: “It is never over until it is over in this class. There are too many good boats here and good people to go resting on your laurels, based on what happened yesterday. We will need to stay fully focussed and check through our processes and do basic things well - get off the start; make sure we are going quick and don’t make any boat handling errors.”