Ironic after a day blown off as severe gale force winds battered the nearby rock of Gibraltar, day two of the 44Cup Alcaidesa Marina started with barely a breath of wind. Fortunately, right on queue just before the appointed midday start time, the wind on the Bay of Gibraltar suddenly and forcefully kicked in with an offshore breeze stabilising at 13 knots from 280°.
At the start the new Spanish team Noticias of Luis Martín Cabiedes with his World Champion-laden crew (they have 23 such titles between them) won the pin while Black Star Sailing Team started at the race committee boat and tacked to claim the right, followed by John Bassadone and his local heroes on Peninsula Racing. Up the first beat the right paid and it was a confident-looking Black Star that was first around the top mark. Sadly some spinnaker issues coming into the leeward gate dropped the Swiss team to second behind Aleph Racing, which had picked up places on the run. The French team rounded the port gate mark, tacked to the right and consolidated their position over Black Star as the wind speed jumped up to 20+ knots in the gusts. “There was pressure, some right hand in the breeze and a bit of current relief too on the right once you got close in,” explained Aleph Racing’s Italian tactician Michele Ivaldi of their tactics.
Race two was by far the most dramatic of the day. Firstly a shift on the start line enabled the increasingly plucky Black Star Sailing Team to tack on the line, crossing ahead of the fleet which were otherwise bunched up by the race committee boat ‘port tacking the fleet’. The Swiss team once again led up the beat, keen to right their loss in the first race. Sadly in a matter of seconds the darkness to windward turned into into a violent rain squall engulfing the fleet as they were approaching the top mark, reducing visibility to metres in a deluge of driving rain. Crews later reports having seen wind speeds of almost 40 knots. The squall was so violent that it tore the wand (anemometer) from Aleph Racing’s masthead. The race was abandoned.
Finally on the resailed second race it came good for the Swiss team. After trailing Artemis Racing around the top mark, Black Star gybed early to take the lead at the leeward gate and then held on to the finish. This was Black Star Sailing Team’s first ever bullet on their eighth event on the 44Cup showing the considerable journey they have made to this morning.
Through the day the Swiss team with Christian Zuerrer driving and Cameron Dunn called tactics looked fast and confident. “We felt really comfortable,” admitted Zuerrer. “We had a good practice race day with two seconds and a third and we’ve found the best balance for trimming and steering the boat though the choppy stuff. It was a good first day – I am definitely pleased. It is a great venue here.” Of their brave port tack start, he said: “It is not often that you can start like that in such as a strong fleet.”
This season, Nico Poons’ Charisma has been the stand-out team, including their victory in August’s RC44 World Championship in Cowes. After two lacklustre races, including an OCS in race two, the Dutchman’s team finally bounced back to win the third decisively. After rounding the top mark in third, Charisma was first to gybe and edged into the lead. “We ended up being above the bottom mark and had to soak in,” admitted Charisma’s tactician Hamish Pepper. “It was pretty even going into the gate- the other side was favoured, but we came around on the favoured tack and then we picked up a big leftie and then it became very easy after that. It was more luck than skill I’d say…” As another tactician observed – that had been the only left of the day…
In fact while they did not win a race, the day’s star performer was local host of the 44Cup Aldaidesa Marina, John Bassadone and his Peninsula Racing. They never finished off the podium and concluded Friday leading overall on eight points to Black Star Sailing Team’s 11 and Artemis Racing’s 12.
“It is fantastic to have a home regatta in our marina here, right next to where I live in Gibraltar,” said a beaming Bassadone. “I am super proud. The guys have done a tremendous job, as it hasn’t been easy, -so a big thank you to them. I am excited and pleased what a great set up everyone has done. It is just fantastic to sail with the Rock of Gibraltar in the background.”
Some local knowledge may have come into play as the Peninsula Racing team often sail their team’s fleet of J/80s or Victorys in Gibraltar itself. “It has been a while since we have been leading – it feel good,” continued Bassadone on today’s performance. “We have sailed very well in very tricky conditions in a lot of wind. Vasco [Vascotto – tactician] and the whole team have done a great job today to help me sail around in apretty solid manner and we are super happy with the result. But this is only the first day and it all can change pretty quickly.”
For all the teams apart form Peninsula Racing it was a high scoring day and in a true example of the ‘first shall become last’ in the third race Black Star came home eighth while Aleph Racing was ninth after some spinnaker issues on the final run.
Tomorrow the racing is again due to start at 1200 CEST with lighter winds forecast.