On a circuit where the racing is as close as it is on the 44Cup, rarely does one team to claim back-to-back wins in the high performance, owner-driver one designs. Yet this is what Igor Lah, tactician Adrian Stead and the crew of Team CEEREF managed - victorious in the first event of the new 44Cup season in Portoroz in May following their success at the 44Cup’s last pre-COVID event in Palma in 2019.
Previously Lah has started the season with the 44Cup leader’s golden wheels, but this year is the first he has retained them going into the second event, which begins tomorrow off Marstrand, Sweden. As Lah puts it “We intend to keep the golden wheels, but we will see what happens. We sailed yesterday, it was good and I am pretty sure it will go fine. The most important things are to stay safe and not have anyone testing positive.” This morning everyone involved in the 44Cup Marstrand was tested for the virus and all were negative. The event is being held as a bubble between the host hotel and where the RC44s are moored.
Thanks to the continued support of Stena Bulk and Artemis Racing’s Swedish owner Torbjörn Törnqvist, Marstrand is historically the most frequently visited venue of the 44Cup. Since it first came to Marstrand in 2011, the circuit has returned every year since save for 2016.
The team with the best track record in the 44Cup’s Swedish home is unquestionably Chris Bake’s Team Aqua. Bake, the ‘Master of Marstrand’, won here consecutively for the first three years and is also the defending champion, having claimed the title here again in 2019. Bake came close to winning the 44Cup Portoroz after recording a perfect scoreline on the second day of racing only to drop subsequently to third overall.
In their ‘zero to hero and back again’ season in 2018, Nico Poons’ Charisma won here, while another team with a strong track record in Marstrand is Vladimir Prosikhin’s Team Nika. They famously claimed the RC44 World Championship title on these waters in 2017 and were runner-up here in 2015 and 2019.
“I am very happy to be back in Sweden - it is such a nice place, beautiful,” says Prosikhin. “It feels very different: Different sea, different landscape, different feel - in fact the whole environment and the whole Swedish lifestyle, with their own vision of how people should live - I respect them a lot!”
His Team Nika has a new tactician this season in Spain’s Manu Weiller, the latest in a long illustrious line that has included Russell Coutts, Ed Baird, Terry Hutchinson and Dean Barker, among others. In terms of his temperament the mild-mannered Weiller is most similar to Barker during whose tenure Team Nika performed the best. “His manner is different – he is very calm. It is not a loud boat. He is very precise,” says Prosikhin of his new tactician.
John Bassadone’s Peninsula Racing had an up-and-down performance in Portorož, but tactician Ed Baird knows the waters off Marstrand intimately. He competed here many times on the World Match Racing Tour and also won the match racing part of the RC44 event here in 2012, sailing with Synergy. “It is a beautiful place,” says Baird. “It is quite different where we sail with the 44s than where we match raced. It is more offshore, so it can be lumpy, rainy, windy, smooth – every day is difficult… It is a rugged place, beautiful in the summer. We love coming here. It is a fantastic venue.”
Hugues Lepic’s Team Aleph has never made it to the podium in Marstrand but showed moments of brilliance in Portoroz, winning the final race. However the French team’s Italian tactician Michele Ivaldi won the RC44 World Championship here with Bronenosec Sailing Team in 2014 and followed this up with a repeat win on these waters in 2015.
“It has been a good place for me,” admits Ivaldi. “It is always a very open course. There is a lot of dynamics going on – there’s current, wind shifts and changing conditions. I don’t have to deal with currents in the Med, but we’ll have them here and for the next event [in Cowes, UK over 11-15th August]. It is always very challenging in Marstrand because you get the wind from every direction during the week and it is always different, with low pressure or high pressure passing by. You have to keep your eyes out of the boat.”
Another team to watch here in Marstrand will be Pavel Kuznetsov’s Atom Tavatuy. The Russian team, which unlike the other veterans of the circuit only joined the 44Cup full time in 2019, missed finishing on the podium in Portoroz by one point. Across the series there they only finished lower than fifth in one race and among all the teams they seemed ‘most improved’. But as ever with the 44Cup, any team seems capable of winning anytime.