Dutchman Nico Poons was unable to stay dry once ashore from the final day of racing at the 44Cup Calero Marinas. As is tradition, RC44 Class President Chris Bake encouraged him to take a plunge in celebration of his Charisma winning the 2023 44Cup for a second consecutive year. Shortly after the Charisma crew was dowsed again, this time in champagne at the regatta prizegiving, where José Calero, founder of the marina group playing host to the Lanzarote regatta this week, provided the introduction.
Charisma had an exceptional season. Second in Oman, they followed this with wins in Marstrand and the RC44 Worlds in Cowes. Had Charisma posted another strong result of Marina Alcaidesa last month, their victory may have been secured, but it wasn't. This week their main competition was Igor Lah’s Ceeref powered by Hrastnik 1860, winner of the last event, but which struggled in the difficult conditions here, finishing sixth. With Charisma’s third this week, and a discard applied, she won the 2023 44Cup by 7 points to Aleph Racing’s 10 and Ceeref’s 13. This win was not as resounding as last year’s when she won by seven points from Ceeref and Team Nika.
“This week we started reasonably well, but then we had a dip because of the weather. But today we had a good day,” admitted Poons. “The season was perfect: Winning for a second time and the World Championship… What more can you wish for in such a high performance class like the RC44?”
At the prizegiving he added: “I would like to thank the Calero family, who 10 years ago sold me their boat, which is why I am here with my team. Thanks to the local sailing club and all the others and especially to my team who I had a second very successful season with. I am very happy to come back here for the beginning of next season.”
For Charisma’s tactician Hamish Pepper it has been a good year, winning the 44Cup again and finishing the 52 Super Series tied at the top of the leaderboard. “The main objective from this regatta was to close out the season. We obviously had an eye on our main competitor, Ceeref. Halfway, Aleph became a threat and we had to monitor her.” This week Charisma led after day one, but a few deeper results mid-regatta dropped them to third, but today she was top scoring boat.
“The fleet is strong,” continued Pepper. “We had some really good regattas, but we were never launched from the others. It was always close and we only won them by a point or two. It shows how close this fleet is.” He paid tribute to their crew: Chris Hosking, Ross Halcrow, Dimitri Simmons, Ryan Godrey, Robin Jacobs, Flavia Tomiselli and Ivan Peute - plus shore support boat captain Edwin de Laat and boatbuilder Craig Thompson, chef Eva Rahl, coach Morgan Reecer and physio Sandra Sibbert.
The class act this week was Hugues Lepic's Aleph Racing on which Louis Balcaen was stand-in helmsman. Under tactician Michele Ivaldi, Aleph Racing has been strong all season, with only one result off the podium. This week in 12 races, they scored four bullets and avoided the ‘big scores’, never finishing worse than sixth.
Balcaen was pleased with his perfect scoreline in 44Cup racing and thanked Hugues Lepic and the Aleph team. Ivaldi added: “I am super pleased. The crew was on fire this week - we didn’t make any errors and we had a very good speed upwind and downwind.” Ivaldi is renowned as a specialist in shifty conditions which featured on the first three days here: “I like it when there are big shifts – they provide opportunities. And Paul [Wilcox – main trimmer] did a good job to help me out with them. The boat was going well, we started well, Louis did a good job and I like this place.”
Ivaldi described today’s racing: “In the first race we had a good start, believed in the left and we led at the top mark. After that it was easier. In the second we got a good start and gained quite a bit, but then we got locked outside of the layline by a couple of boats. But we fought back and finished third.”
The first attempt at the third race was abandoned after the wind faded. This was life saving for Aleph Racing – when the gun went they were parked some way from the line and with Team Nika just five points behind them, this may have cost them victory. When the race was sailed again, “we stayed in the same bit of water as Nika and [at the end of the first run] took them outside of the layline and sealed the deal there.”
There were a few tears on board Team Nika with long term Slovenian crew Mitja Margon and Iztok Knafelc retiring. Margon, who is also organiser of the 44Cup Portoroz event, will continue with Team Nika, but not sailing. “My first season was in 2007 so I’ve done 12.5 seasons,” said Margon. “I think it is time to quit. I have been offside trimmer for the last six seasons but it is a job for younger guys. I hope they enjoy it as much as I have.”
The 44Cup resumes in Puerto Calero in 2024 with the first event of the season over 28 February until 3 March.