Usually racing on the 44Cup between the high performance owner-driver one designs is tight with ties or just single points separating the leaders. At the 44Cup Oman, opening event of the 2023 season and hosted out of Muscat’s Al Mouj Marina by Oman Sail, perhaps due to the strong conditions of the first three days, the leaderboard was clearly defined going into the final day with Nico Poons’ Charisma seven points clear of Igor Lah’s Team Ceeref powered by Hrastnik 1860, in turn eight ahead of John Bassadone’s Peninsula Racing.
Unlike the previous three days when conditions built to 20 knots with a vicious short sea, today racing took place in light 5-8 knots, more typical of the Omani venue. Fortunately the wind held, enabling PRO Maria Torrijo to complete the full racing schedule.
In today’s opening race Peninsula Racing was the runaway winner. This compressed the leaderboard points but only slightly with Ceeref coming home second and Charisma fourth.
Sadly for Nico Poons’ team, the second race was a disaster. As Charisma’s tactician Hamish Pepper explained: “We weren’t going particularly well and after a bad start, went the wrong way up the first beat and got a little bit stuck in the middle and didn’t recover. And we got a penalty on the downwind - we thought we were racing Team Aqua for the title and they thought they were racing us…”
As result Charisma finished eighth, while another second for Ceeref caused Igor Lah’s team to take the lead by one point going into the final race. Ceeref was also ahead on countback so Charisma would have be two places ahead of her rival to win overall in this last race.
By this time the wind was down to 5-6 knots, but still more than sailable for the nimble RC44s.
At the start fate was smiling on Ceeref as Charisma tied herself in knots, OCS and with a penalty against. Fortunately for Poons’ team there was a general recall and they made a better job of it when the second attempt got away successfully. However, a nose ahead, Ceeref maintained a loose cover at the top mark was where she needed to be – immediately ahead of Charisma. This position she held to the leeward gate where she rounded the port mark, allowing Charisma to split right. At this critical moment Ceeref received a penalty for failing to keep clear of Peninsula Racing: “That penalty was a little harsh, but we dealt with it and we got back into it,” said Stead, but his opposite number Pepper observed: “They got a penalty and it seemed not to affect them at all - they were right back with us at the next cross.”
Coming into the top mark, Charisma was indeed ahead of Ceeref, but with Peninsula Racing on her inside, was not ahead enough… Ultimately it was all settled on the run: Ceeref gybed early and recovered the extra metres bringing her home sixth to Charisma’s seventh.
“I feel really good!” said Igor Lah of his victory. “Today was like a new day. We knew that we could do it and we did it. We have to come back to Oman!”
While it could be argued that Charisma lost this regatta as much as Ceeref won it, Stead observed: “You have to bear in mind in this fleet it is so easy to come first or ninth – everyone is so good. No one gives you an inch. If you mess up the start and miss the first two shifts you are at the back and then there are gold medallists and AC sailors and everyone to get past.”
According to Stead this is the fourth year Ceeref has won the opening event of the season.
Winner of today’s second race, Team Nika had a slight zero to hero and back regatta. New British tactician Nic Asher assessed: “The guys sailed well - we were going fast. I just made a couple of mistakes today. I was kicking myself in the first race: We wanted to start at the boat, but it got crowded so I thought we’d start under the fleet, which was a mistake. Then I missed the layline into the gate which was pretty costly. After that we sailed well.”
As a relative newcomer to the RC44, Asher is still coming to terms with its light wind speed: “Often you don’t realise how light the wind is, because you are still powered up and heeled over. It can be only 4-5 knots.”
While there were distractions deeper in the fleet, Hugues Lepic’s Aleph Racing won the final race. Of his week the London-based Frenchman observed: “We were doing very well when it came to our speed and our tactical choices. We had a few hiccups with two MOBs, one OCS, three penalties and two penalty points and considering this, the result was actually very good. But a lot of action took place which was not very positive!”
Elsewhere in the fleet Christian Zuerrer’s Black Star Sailing Team had a better day with their new crew, finishing with a fourth, while the Oman Sail team found it easier today in the lighter conditions.
The next 44Cup event will be Marstrand, Sweden over 28 June-2 July.