The final day of the 44Cup Cowes was always going to be big. Despite the overnight seven point gap between the leaders Aleph and second placed Ceeref, experience told Hugues Lepic and his team that they should take nothing for granted.
Behind them the battle for third was intense with three teams on equal points.
But few could have anticipated the intensity of how the final day played out.
More breeze was always on the cards with the forecast showing over 20+ knots. And this was precisely what the fleet got. Yet this time around the tide was with the wind most of the day making for flatter seas, which in turn meant that there were some superb high speed sleigh rides downhill.
The pace was now at full bore and when it came to mark roundings the pressure was on. Crash gybes, kite trawls and round ups delivered plenty of action at the bottom end of the course.
And when it came to the way that the points shuffled out to close the 44Cup Cowes, there was plenty to talk about.
The day started with plenty of breeze and a forecast that said it would stay - It did. But, along with the tide direction which would be east for most of the day, that’s where the certainty stopped.
In the first race Ceeref smoked around the course to take the first win, leaving Aleph, who finished in fifth, to wonder where their points buffer had gone.
Charisma had finished second, their best of the series and possibly a trigger for believing that more was possible.
In the second race it clearly was as they took their first win of the week with Aqua in second.
By now the points table had been compressed and shuffled, the last race would decide a great deal. It did so in dramatic style, especially on the last downwind leg where boats hit 22knots in the relatively flat water.
In the end it and after some stressful moments deep in the fleet, it was Aleph who took the overall win by one point.
“This was an amazing day, a lot of stress but three great races, great competitors and for us it went all the way to the last run,” said Aleph’s owner Hugues Lepic. “Winning any race in Cowes is a treat, but winning an event is something very, very special. A lot of our points margin from earlier in the week got eroded but we managed two decent last races.
“I’m so pleased and happy for our team that has put in so much effort. We have been improving over the last two years and now we can show it.”
With two wins on the final day, second placed Ceeref knew that they hadn’t left much on the table.
“We knew we had to come out firing today because we had a few points to make up,” said tactician Adrian Stead. “We had 27 knots of breeze during the gybe for the committee boat for the final finish, but we pulled off. It was hard though and could have changed our fortunes completely.
“But what a race, everyone overlapped at the top mark on the first rounding in the last race after a 1.4nm beat is testament to just how close the racing is in this fleet. Another regatta decided on the last run of the last race which is awesome.”
For Chris Bake, taking the third podium spot was also a success but having been the catalyst for making the Cowes event happen the week had been particularly special.
“It’s been a great event. Showcasing the 44s here is really important, so I was happy to help get the fleet here,” he said. “It’s a boat that I think deserves to be more popular and we wanted to show the fleet off a bit and see if a few more owners would be interested in trying it.”
Any that watched today must have been sorely tempted.
In A Nutshell
Race 10 – SW 20-25 knots – Flood tide
Low cloud, drizzle and a stronger breeze than was expected kicked off the first of the final day’s racing, these were punchy conditions. But so too was the start for some, especially Team Aquas who were prepared to hold back at the committee boat end to ensure that they could tack onto port straight away and bag the right hand side of the course.
It paid off and at the top mark Chris Bake’s team rounded in the lead. But a right hand shift and the strong east going tide had meant that an early gybe was favourable. Among those that did was Igor Lah’s Ceeref team who then managed to soak down at speed on port to overtake Aqua.
But there was more fun to come thanks to the tide and the wind shift as the bulk of the fleet approached the right hand leeward mark so close to the lay that putting in two gybes and a round up was going to be a big ask.
Ceeref saw this coming and did an early drop, two quick down-speed gybes and a round up. Simple, if you do it right. But when you’re in the pack and under even more pressure, things can go wrong and for some they did, shuffling the fleet in the process.
Here, Artemis came off worse, trawling their kite and going from third to last.
By the end of the second lap Ceeref had held their lead with Charisma in second and Aqua third.
Race 11 – SW 20-22knots – Flood tide easing
Another boisterous affair in which the east going ebb tide continued to favour the right hand side of the course. By now the fleet knew it. Once again Aqua, now joined by others, tried to bag the right hand side of the course by starting close to the committee boat.
This time is was Nico Poons’ Charisma that got to the top mark first with Aqua second, which is how things stayed through to the finish.
But there was another battle developing further back in the fleet where overall leaders Aleph were trying to extricate themselves from the bulk of the fleet in 6 and catch Ceeref who were then in 4>sup class="">th. If they were to finish like this Aleph’s lead would be eroded badly.
But the French team kept pushing and managed to not only force their way through the fleet during the second lap but pip Ceeref at the finish line by a matter of just centimetres. The frustration on the faces of Ceeref’s crew was clear as the race committee confirmed the result.
Race 12 – SW 22-25knots – Slack tide
Between the two front runners nothing had changed in the order but winning for Ceeref had just got one point harder. On the other hand, as we had seen, a kite trawl could easily scrub off several points in one go so the pressure was still on the French.
Just behind, Charisma’s two good results had put them just three points behind Ceeref, with Aqua just five points adrift of third - things were tightening up. The final race was going to matter.
The breeze had also picked up and this time the fleet hunted as a pack as they pushed their way upwind. The top mark rounding was tight with the need to pull off a good hoist adding to the pressure.
By the time they got to the leeward mark there was action aplenty with hard gybes, kite trawls and very difficult mark roundings.
John Bassadone’s Peninsula was leading and Torbjon Tornqvist’s Artemis had found their mojo again. But the focus was on Aleph and Ceeref.
Ceeref were ahead but not by enough and even given their win as they scorched across the line, Aleph were hanging in with a 4th, enough to take overall victory by a single point.
Aqua scored a 5th, sufficient to take the third spot on the podium also by one point.