Leaders, favourites and defending champions, Nico Poons’ Charisma got off to a solid start on the opening day of the 44Cup Calero Marinas, the final event of the 2023 44Cup. The Dutchman’s Monaco-flagged RC44 leads after three races, but by a mere point from Team Nika, with Aleph Racing a further two behind in third. The three teams managed surprisingly consistent performances despite this being one of the most tricky days out on the race course that competitors have faced all year. This was caused by the NNW wind direction, blowing across Lanzarote and its unusual mountainous lunar landscape, that was causing the wind to irregularly and suddenly shift through 40° with occasional puffs.
Perhaps the most unusual race of the day was the first. After a general recall and a resetting of the course, the race got away cleanly seemingly straight into a left shift so significant that everyone was forced to tack on to port. Hugues Lepic’s Aleph Racing reaped massive rewards having tacked immediately after the start, sailing hardest right into beneficial shift and building pressure. It was by no means straightforward after that with teams almost able to lay the leeward gate in one, making for a compressed rounding as the nine boats streamed into the port mark. Nonetheless, the French team, on which Italian ace Michele Ivaldi calls tactics, made the best of the conditions and led onto the final run. Unfortunately on this they ran into a localised wind hole, allowing those astern not just to catch up but to sail around them too. Ultimately Team Nika was first home ahead of John Bassadone’s Peninsula Racing, hosts of the previous 44Cup event in Alcaidesa Marina, and Charisma. Aleph Racing was a disappointing sixth.
Licking their wounds, Aleph Racing bounced back to win the second race, a great result given they have a new helm for the 44Cup Calero Marinas in Louis Balcaen. From Belgium, Balcaen heads an investment company but is also a highly experience sailor having competed in the 2014-15 Volvo Ocean Race on board Team Brunel and part of the subsequent fully crewed round the world race.
“Today was a good day,” he said. “The first race went well until we got stuck in a wind hole - we were too low and the fleet caught up to us with pressure. It was really unlucky. It went from 10 knots to 1 knot. Someone from above was not liking us…!”
More recently Balcaen has been campaigning a Swan 50. “But this [the RC44] feels like the next step up in terms of the competition. I have sailed with many guys on the 50 who sail in this class and they said it was amazing and I should come and try it.” Aside from knowing Aleph Racing tactician Michele Ivaldi, Balcaen is new to the rest of the crew, although there are several of his former Volvo Ocean Race competitors within the RC44 fleet. “I feel very fortunate to step into a team like this. They are really great.”
Charisma and Team Nika completed their days of podium finishes, with a first and third to Aleph Racing’s second in the third and final race, Charisma winning with the biggest lead of the day.
“It was a fantastic day - everybody pushed hard,” said Charisma’s Aussie mainsheet trimmer Chris Hosking. “That’s the Charisma attitude: never give up; fight for every metre we can around the race track. Obviously it was a mortifyingly challenging day on the race track - you wouldn’t want to be a tactician, but Pepsi [Hamish Pepper] did an incredible job.” Their day had nearly come acropper when they were sideswiped by the stern of Torbjorn Tornqvist’s Artemis Racing during the first race’s general recall start, causing Charisma’s bow to be holed on the starboard side at the waterline. Fortunately the hole was fixed with a temporarily repair that lasted the remainder of the day.
On Team Nika, British tactician Nic Asher felt they had an interesting day. “It was really tricky with the wind coming off the land,” he explained. “The wind was coming through a couple of gaps in the mountains and was flicking through 30-40°, but there were times when it went random and it dropped down and you couldn’t see it, like the last downwind in the first race - Aleph got really unlucky there.
“As usual it was about just trying to get off the line, so you can line up that first pressure. As long as you could tack, it was alright but even then you weren’t entirely sure if you really wanted to tack!”
Igor Lah’s Ceeref powered by Hrastnik 1860, who is Charisma’s main challenge for the 2023 44Cup title, had a poor first day ending in fifth place 12 points off the lead, followed by Team Aqua and Artemis Racing, both of whom received two point penalties in races today.
Racing resumes tomorrow at 1200 with wind conditions set to be very similar to today.