Official racing starts at the 44Cup Portorož World Championship in Slovenia tomorrow (Thursday), but today the eight boat fleet enjoyed some warm-up competition.
Wedged between Italy and Croatia, Slovenia has a coastline measuring just 10 miles across, but they pack it in. This week the 44Cup fleet is based in Portorož Marina, by the peninsula upon which is perched the ancient town of Piran, today a major tourist attraction. Six miles up the coast, Koper is a medieval town doubling as Slovenia’s commercial port complete with a new container terminal. Among others, Port of Koper is a key supporter of the 44Cup Portorož World Championship.
While several early events were held here (the RC44 was designed by Slovenian Andrej Justin in conjunction with Russell Coutts), this is the third time it has visited in the high performance one design’s recent history, the last being in 2021 when it opened the season. Significantly it is the first time Slovenia has hosted the class’ World Championship.
Mitja Margon, who twice represented Slovenia in the Olympic games in the 470 and has been racing on the 44Cup aboard Team Nika for the last 12 years, is also the local event organiser. “It is a privilege to host a World Championship for such a class full of so many champions and sailing superstars. For the region it is important.”
Head of the Slovenian Met Office, keen sailor Jure Jerman, was on hand today and provided his forecast: “From a positive side - there won‘t be any rain! There is a weak easterly gradient over the north Adriatic, so we have a weak Bora overnight. Then, in the afternoon, the sea breeze takes over. It is autumn so the sea is quite warm but the heating from the sun is not great, so the sea breeze is quite weak. Yesterday we had <10 knots and it will be the same today and tomorrow although it will take longer for the sea breeze to establish.” Jerman was expecting the wind to build to 10 knots and back into the west. “On Friday the weather is changing with a warm front crossing in the afternoon, but there will still be conditions for a weak sea breeze. On Saturday and Sunday, the high pressure will move further east and there will be more southerly in the gradient.”
There are few crew changes for this event. Most significant is the return of bubbly Italian tactician and local hero Vasco Vascotto (from nearby Trieste) to John Bassadone’s Peninsula Racing. Previously he served as tactician with the Gibraltar team for many years before moving to Italian America’s Cup challenger Luna Rossa Pirelli Prada. Vascotto comes fresh from winning Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez aboard the Maxi 72 Cannonball alongside Team Aleph tactician Michele Ivaldi.
The local team here is Slovenian Igor Lah and his Ceeref powered by Hrastnik 1860, who, alongside Chris Bake’s Team Aqua, have been integral to the class since its dawn in 2008. They come into this event as favourite: They won here last year and unusually for so early in the season Ceeref is already the stand-out team, having posted an amazingly consistent 1-2-2 in Puerto Calero, Cascais and Marstrand, leaving them five points clear of Nico Poons’ Charisma, despite the latter winning the last two events.
But Ceeref’s tactician, Adrian Stead is far from bullish. “It is great to be sailing here in Slovenia: Everyone is excited – it is our World Championship! We are currently winning, but it doesn’t make any difference - all the boats here are more than capable of winning races and that is why we all love this class. It is down to ‘that’ shift or ‘that’ start or ‘that’ boat-on-boat exchange, that usually takes it to the last race.”
A significant development here is the debut of the first new RC44 in eight years. Swiss sailor Christian Zuerrer’s new Black Star Sailing Team, hull #27 was launched a month ago in the UK. This week her shore team has been busy commissioning her. “They have done a great job to finish it,” said Zuerrer. “We had planned to have some more days sailing before.” The new boat is identical to the other RC44s except it has an electric engine, which, including the battery, is some 20kg lighter (rectified by corrector weights). “We have no excuses now!” says Zuerrer. “Of course it is much nicer to the sail the boat with new sails and everything.”
This 44Cup Portorož World Championship will also be the first time since the pandemic that the class has returned to having its guest program.