What the opening day of the 44Cup in Cowes lacked in sunshine it more than made up for with close racing.
The morning had started with just 8-10 knots of breeze and flat seas but, as the day played out a series of subtle changes took place that kept everyone from trimmers to tacticians on their toes.
The two most notable factors involved the breeze building to a peak of around 15 knots and the tide turning in the middle of the day. Both helped to deliver some very close racing and revealed one team in particular that was clearly in the groove.
Yet, before a single point had been placed on the board, the evidence as to just how closely fought the 44 fleet is came as the first start gun was fired. Ten seconds before the gun went the bows went down as the fleet put its collective foot to the floor. The entire eight boat fleet was now at full pace and crossing the line as one. No one was over, no one buried out the back, but everyone clearly eager to get their nose out in front.
And as the opening upwind leg played out it looked more like the opening seconds of an arm wrestling match as tiny gains and losses came and went.
As a result, when the gaggle reached the first windward mark the approach to the rounding was tight before the east going tide helped to stretch the fleet. Yet, as the day played out even this was to change as the tide turned and compressed the fleet with each windward mark rounding.
Scoring the first win of the event was Team Aqua, but owner Chris Bake was taking nothing for granted.
“Coming back to the UK and sailing in the Solent was always going to be special for us, but to start off strong with a win in the first race was especially satisfying,” he said. “We had a few issues today with our mast track and it didn’t feel as if we ever started that well but we managed to hang in there. So, to finish the day in second overall is a good place to be.”
An even better place to be was aboard Hugues Lepic’s Aleph Racing that finished the day leading overall having been on the podium for all three races.
“We liked the flat water and 12-15knots of breeze,” said tactician Michele Ivaldi, “Three, two, one is always a good way to start a regatta, but while we came away with a good scoreline it wasn’t that easy. On the first round of the last race halfway down the downwind leg we were 300m ahead and by the bottom gate we were just one length in front of the second boat. That’s the spirit of this class, this is what happens every regatta, we find we’re fighting for every centimetre.”
Team CEEREF’s tactician Adrian Stead knows this feeling well and having ended the day in third overall was clear on what their goal should be. “For me the key to these events is being in the top three every day,” he said. “If you can do that for four days, you’ll be in pretty good shape.”
Hitting the line on time, at full speed and with your own clean path ahead is just the first essential element. From then on in the 44s it gets even tougher.