Elite keelboat competition comes to the UK tomorrow with the RC44 Portsmouth Cup. In this 10th anniversary year for the RC44 one design class, eleven teams will be competing in what will be the circuit's first ever visit to one of the world's most revered yacht racing venues: the Solent.
With this, the RC44 Portsmouth Cup being hosted by the British America's Cup challenger, Land Rover BAR, out of its impressive base in Old Portsmouth, it is fitting that the RC44 class has so much association with the America's Cup.
The RC44 was originally conceived by five-time America's Cup winner Russell Coutts. Among the RC44 crews are many America's Cup winners including Ed Baird, now tactician for Team Nika, and four time winner Warwick Fleury, now trimmer on French team Aleph Racing. Ross Halcrow, trimmer on Nico Poons' Charisma, won the AC twice, as did Artemis Racing's Pieter Van Nieuwenhuijzen, while Dirk de Ridder, trimmer on Team CEEREF, has won it once.
At present the RC44 Sotogrande World Champion, Team CEEREF, is the holder of the RC44 'golden wheels' of the annual championship leader. "It is my first time sailing in the UK," admits Slovenian owner Igor Lah. "We will try to defend our position and just repeat what we were doing before…"
The RC44 Portsmouth Cup will be the only RC44 regatta this year to feature strong tide. As a result several teams have acquired 'local knowledge', with, for example, leading British navigator Steve Hayles working for Vladimir Luibomirov's Bronenosec Sailing Team.
In this respect Team CEEREF looks good, having one of Britain's best tacticians in Adrian Stead. Stead observes: "The race area right outside Portsmouth Harbour is quite restricted. There's is a lot going on: Current, traffic, ferries, and a huge island [the Isle of Wight] out there deflecting the breeze. It will be about taking out the bits that are important for each leg and capitalising on those. It will be about being consistent and avoiding the clangers."
In fact, while most of the top RC44 sailors are familiar with the Solent, few, even among the Brits, are familiar with the part of it that forms this week's specific race area, located directly off Portsmouth Harbour.
As to Team CEEREF's prospects, Stead adds: "Obviously we set the bar pretty high in Sotogrande and we want to keep going at that pace. We want to put another solid regatta together and get us one step closer to the season [win]."
Another team hoping to put in a better performance is Charisma of Monaco-based Nico Poons, currently ninth overall. A life-long sailor, Poons has fond memories of racing on the Solent in his youth and, later as a boat owner, finishing fourth here in his Swan 45.
As to Charisma's prospects, Poons admits his campaign this year has suffered from too many crew changes "and I'm busy myself. I think we will get back on track again when we get a more stable crew and I can get my focus back. Then we will be there again."
For Portsmouth, Poons has recognised the need for local knowledge and has brought on former British America's Cup helmsman Andy Beadsworth.
Tomorrow the RC44 Portsmouth Cup kicks off with a day continuing the rolling match racing championship. This is already a tight contest with Chris Bake's Team Aqua holding first place, but tied on points with Team Nika.