44Cup racing returns to Muscat’s Al Mouj marina in Oman this week for the first time since 2014. Taking place over Thursday to Sunday, the 44Cup Oman is the final and deciding event of the 2022 season for the high performance owner-driver one design monohulls.
While the annual 44Cup championship is usually close, even at this late stage of the season, this year it has developed into a two horse race with 2022 RC44 World Champions Nico Poons’ Charisma, the current holder of the 44Cup leader’s ‘golden wheels’, just two points ahead of Igor Lah’s Ceeref powered by Hrastnik 1860, the 2019 44Cup champions. In third place, Chris Bake’s Team Aqua, the defending 44Cup champions, are five points from second but will be looking over their shoulder since mathematically it remains possible for any of the four teams below them on the leaderboard to relieve them of the podium’s final spot.
At present Charisma, on which Kiwi Hamish Pepper calls tactics, remains the stand-out team. After a miserable result at the first event of the season in Puerto Calero, they have won the last three events back to back. Once upon a time, they were often spot in light airs, but this presented Charisma with no problems during October’ light World Championships. This is will be valuable this week with similar conditions forecast off the Oman coast.
Nine teams will contest the 44Cup Oman. Joining the line-up for the first time is Team Asyad Shipping, fielded by local event organisers Oman Sail. Oman Sail was set up in 2008 by the order of the then Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said to rekindle Oman’s maritime heritage, especially to develop Omani sailors. To continue this, the shipping arm of Asyad Group has enabled them to enter a 100% Omani-crewed boat both this week and when the 44Cup resumes here in March 2023.
Team Asyad Shipping is led by Musab Al Hadi, Oman's top 49er helmsman while their no1 Laser sailor Hussain Al Jabri is tactician. Also among the crew is the highly experienced Nasser Al Mashari, long term crew on repeat Extreme Sailing Series podium placer and 2015 winner, The Wave, Muscat.
“This is a team of the best people from Oman Sail - a mix of dinghies and keelboat sailors,” explains Al Mashari, who is jib and spinnaker trimmer. “This year was the first time that all of our Oman Sail sailors have got to sail together. I have been racing for the longest, but we are at a similar level. There are eight of us, so a lot of people compared to what I’m used to, but they are great people. We are happy to host this RC44 event in Oman - we hope to have some really good racing.”
Defending champion here from 2014 is Team Nika, currently lying fourth in the 2022 44Cup, two points from the podium. With tactician Francesco Bruni disappearing on America’s Cup duty, British former 470 World Champion turned pro tactician Nic Asher has replaced him. Asher has sailed on the 44Cup twice already this season first with the German La Pericolosa in Puerto Calero, then standing in for Adrian Stead on board Ceeref powered by Hrastnik 1860 in Cascais.
“It is great racing - the boats are amazing, I very much enjoy it and I am pleased to come back,” said Asher, who has previously raced in Muscat on the Extreme Sailing Series in 2015 and more recently on the Tour of Oman. “The country is great – I love it here, the people are so friendly and it is always nice to come here.”
As to the conditions this week Asher reckons “it will be fairly light. It looks like we will have sea breeze and then it will go to the gradient direction - it could be either. The water is obviously very warm, so the wind is quite turbulent. It will be difficult for the trimmers but, for the RC44, it will be exciting racing.”
Still trying to step up their campaign is Black Star Sailing Team from Switzerland, which only took delivery of its new RC44 in time for Portoroz. Owner Christian Zuerrer has raced off Muscat previously and was supposed to again at the beginning of 2020, just before the world went into lock-down at the start of the pandemic. “I am happy to be back in this beautiful country,” said Zuerrer. New to his team for this event is Christa Kuster, their offside trimmer, displacing Gregoire Siegwart, who moves into the pit role replacing Simon Johnson. “For me it was important to take this opportunity to get a girl on board,” continued Zuerrer.
Racing at the 44Cup Oman will set sail tomorrow off Muscat’s Al Mouj Marina with a first warning signal scheduled for 1200 local time (UTC -4 hours).