With two bullets from three races, Chris Bake’s Team Aqua has taken an early lead after day one of the 2023 44Cup Cowes, the World Championship for the high performance owner driver one designs.
With racing run by the event hosts the Royal Yacht Squadron under the eye of class PRO Maria Torrijo, the easterly – southeasterly wind direction required the race course to be set up in the central-eastern Solent, southeast of Brambles Bank. While the wind started light with 20° shifts, for the second race the overcast sky cleared, the sun appeared and the wind built to 15 knots with moments of 18.
In the first two races, Team Aqua led around every mark. In the opener after a pin end start she squeaked ahead of defending 44Cup Cowes Champions Hugues Lepic’s Aleph Racing coming into the top mark (the French held on to second but then received two penalty points for a start line collision). In the second Team Aqua started close to the committee boat and was one of the first to tack on to port, nosing ahead of the group on the Isle of Wight side of the course. By the top mark she was comfortably leading Nico Poons’ 2023 44Cup leaders on Charisma and hung on from there.
As to what made the difference today, Bake commented: “Getting off the line well. After that it was fairly dynamic - whatever strategy you had didn’t seem to pan out. It was hard not to be OCS (three boats were called over in the first race). The boat was going well and a bit of [boat] speed made the difference in the end. It was a good day, but there are three more to go....”
Team Aqua ended up two points ahead of Charisma, ever consistent with their 4-2-2 scoreline today.
Team Nika got off to a slow start but after winning the final race ended the day third overall, three points behind Charisma. “It was a tricky day,” commented tactician Nic Asher. “The first race was a bit lighter than we expected and the wind was shifting around - it was tough to understand was what happening. The current was a big thing balancing whether that or the wind was more important was key. We struggled to start with - we were OCS in the first race, but throughout the day we got in the groove.”
By the final race, it was clearly paying to go right for maximum tidal boost up the beat and left to keep out of the tide on the runs. “The wind was pretty steady so we wanted to win the boat end and we then just went right of the fleet,” explained Asher. “It was a fairly straightforward race.”
Still fairly new to the RC44 is Christian Zuerrer’s Black Star Sailing Team which finished a creditable sixth after a 3-5-6 today. “We showed on the last day in Marstrand that we can have some good results in a row [they finished sixth of eight in Sweden in July]. We have found a way to balance the boat and I’m happy that we’ve continued to step up from Marstrand on the first day here.” Zuerrer admits he and the team are struggling a little with the tides since they have done almost no previos sailing on the Solent.
Bullet, the all-female team led by local legend Louise Morton, may be lying last at the end of day one, but this in no way reflects their performance. Notably in the second race Bullet was leading up the first beat, only to be edged out at the top mark by Team Aqua and Charisma and then subsequently lost places.
“We absolutely loved it,” said Morton. “We have only had three days sailing in the boat prior to today. We hadn’t lined up against anyone before the practice race yesterday. They are cracking boats – really good fun to sail, requiring really good crew work, everyone needs to work with each other – there is plenty going on and the racing is really tight. We have had a really good day. We were pleased with our second race - we went up the first beat well. We are sailing with borrowed sails and we have much less experience. We have a lot to learn, but we are in the mix and actually the girls are really good. There is a good vibe on board and we are all very grateful for the opportunity.
“I am under no illusion that we will be right at the back, however it is close racing. We are not far behind the others. As the breeze comes on there will be plenty more opportunity for mistakes to be made or misreading the tidal conditions. We are not going to win or even podium, but we are enjoying progressing and getting better with every race. Even getting the kite down was a ‘mare a couple of days ago. Now we are getting much better at it. We will be fine.”
Racing is set to continue tomorrow with a first warning signal once again at 1130.