The Royal Yacht Squadron, Cowes and the Solent laid on a World Championship worthy of the leading owner-driver one design class, the RC44. Over four days, the nine teams enjoyed top of the range conditions, plus the usual complexities of British tides and fast moving weather systems. Despite these challenges Nico Poons, tactician Hamish Pepper and the crew of Charisma defended their World Championship title. Unlike the title they won last year in Portorož, Slovenia in ultra-light conditions, this time, the latter part of the regatta was held in 20 knot winds, more typically ‘Charisma conditions’ which contributed to their victory with a race to spare.
Charisma began the day five points ahead of Team Nika, with Chris Bake's Team Aqua and Hugues Lepic's Aleph Racing a further two and three points astern respectively.
The first race was action packed with two of the main contenders receiving penalties - Team Aqua shortly after the start and Team Nika at the second top mark rounding. In addition there were two significant lead changes: Igor Lah's Team Ceeref powered by Hrastnik 1860 led around the top mark; John Bassadone’s Peninsula Racing edging ahead on the second beat; finally Charisma, having to make one less gybe, pipped both to the post.
The fortunes of Aqua and Nika descended further in the second race, held in similarly brisk conditions. With the tide slack, Peninsula Racing and Ceeref looked strong out to the right. However Aleph Racing rounded in front while Charisma was just able to get the inside berth rounding in third. Here Team Nika picked up yet another penalty. Meanwhile Team Aqua was caught in traffic and in a last effort gybed early and alone on the final run. Team Aqua and Team Nika crossed the finish line in seventh and eighth places respectively.
Their results had a dramatic effect on the leaderboard leaving Charisma 13 points ahead going into the final race and, unbeatable, claimed their second consecutive title.
“In this class because of the level, you don’t need to do anything to be at the back,” said Poons of his victory. “The trick is to be as consistent as possible. You win the regatta by reducing the damage of the bad races.” He added: “This week we didn’t start that strong, especially on the second day. Yesterday we had a very strong day and today was good.”
Hamish Pepper added: “The last five races went really well - all credit to Nico and the team – they make me look good and do everything really well. When I have full faith in Nico steering and the guys trimming and the crew work, it give me the confidence to put the boat into places that sometimes normal people wouldn’t try. We had to do that today at the top mark for our last race - Nico and the guys pulled it off nicely and that probably won us the regatta with a race to spare.”
In addition to Poons and Pepper, the Charisma crew comprised Chris Hosking, Ross Halcrow, Dimitri Simmons, Ryan Godfrey, Robin Jacobs, Flavia Tomiselli and Ivan Peute. Their coach is American Morgan Reeser with the local experience for this regatta from David Howlett.
Other reasons for Charisma’s generally superb performance seems to be a combination of Poons, who despite his modesty has been yacht racing as both crew and helmsman for some 40 years; a world class tactician and crew; the team, including Poons, getting in the maximum permitted training time before every regatta and using up all their annual sail cards harnessing the talents of sail designer Robert Hook.
While Charisma basked in glory, the story for the rest of the fleet was far from over. With Charisma gone and Louise Morton’s all-female Bullet crew having retired, there was still the tightest fight in the final race for the remaining podium positions with Aleph Racing one point ahead of Team Aqua and Team Nika.
Ultimately Team Aqua, the day one leader, finally came good to win the race and claim second overall. Even then the drama was not over. Team Nika was looking solid in second but where would Aleph Racing finish? A third would leave her tied, claiming third overall on countback. Ultimately Aleph Racing finished fifth behind Christian Zuerrer’s Black Star Sailing Team and Torbjörn Törnqvist’s Artemis Racing, leaving Team Nika third overall.
Chris Bake, who in addition to campaigning Team Aqua was also the 44Cup Cowes’ host via his club, the Royal Yacht Squadron commented: “As always in this class it comes down to the last leg of the last race. Charisma put on an exception performance this week and were very consistent. The rest of us struggled with ups and downs on the scoreboard. We were really pleased to be able to pull it together on the last race.
“The Solent is a tricky body of water. It has variable winds and variable currents to deal with. The race management and the courses they set up were superb. The weather was typically British summer time with some cloud and rain, but it has been superb. We provided a lot of entertainment on the water.”
At the prizegiving the Royal Yacht Squadron was roundly thanked by the 44Cup class and teams for their hospitality and their superb race management headed up by Peter Saxton with the 44Cup’s own Maria Torrijo.
From here the 44Cup moves to Alcaidesa Marina next to Gibraltar for the penultimate event of the season, over 18-22 October.