Effervescent Italian Vasco Vascotto made a welcome to return to one of “his sailing families” when for the 44Cup Calero Marinas Lanzarote he stepped on board Nico Poons’ Charisma as temporary stand-in tactician. At the time regular tactician Hamish Pepper was stuck in New Zealand, victim of his nation’s draconian COVID restrictions.
For seven or so years, the short blonde haired Vascotto, one of Trieste’s most famous sailing sons, had become a surrogate Spaniard, calling the shots among an otherwise largely Spanish crew on John Bassadone’s Peninsula Racing. However when he received the call-up by Patrizio Bertelli’s Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli team to challenge for the America’s Cup he was forced to stand down from the 44Cup, his position filled by sage-like American Ed Baird, who in turn this season has been replaced by Finn double gold medallist and British America’s Cup tactician, Giles Scott.
“It is very nice to come back because this class is amazing,” Vascotto mused as we waited for one of the 44Cup’s skippers’ briefings to begin in Puerto Calero. “It is well organised, the boats are beautiful and the people – in these crazy times which we are living through, they want to have something exactly like that – well organised and fun.”
Competition on the 44Cup between the high performance one designs is uber-tight, something that Vascotto also relishes. “All the crews have good coaches and the crews are very talented so the reality is that if someone slows down a little bit and they think they are good enough for the class, they are going to have a hard time. So you need to be very humble and all the time try to look at what the other guys are doing – because they are all smart people and everyone is trying to take a step forward.
“The boats are light so it is very important to have good balance and to sail the right angles. Obviously the technology of sails is moving forward so you need somehow to keep developing the sails. People have been working a lot on the manoeuvres and you see some people are doing outside gybes which seemed impossible a few years ago. Everyone is looking for something special, which is a nice part of the game.”
A much sought-after tactician when he is not on America’s Cup duty, Vascotto is a regular on the 52 Super Series (he won its first season as skipper of Pisco Sour in 2005) as well as aboard other one designs such as the Melges 32. He, alongside old friend, Team Aleph tactician Michele Ivaldi, was also in the afterguard aboard Dario Ferrari’s Cannonball when they won the unofficial Maxi 72 World Championship at last year’s Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup .
Like the Maxi 72, the RC44 is an owner-driver boat and Vascotto says that because of this it has been designed to be easy to helm. “The rudder is quite big, so owners can steer the boat even if the conditions are tough - this boat can easily sail at 20-22 knots downwind and when you have waves it is great.”
Vascotto was asked by Hamish Pepper to stand in for him and this represented a profound change going from the latin culture among the Peninsula Racing crew, or even with Luna Rossa, to the largely Kiwi/Australian/Dutch line-up manning Charisma. “Obviously it is a luxury to sail with these guys who have such huge experience. They are very passionate. They gave me all the information that I needed in order to be part of the team straight away. But in reality Hamish is the official tactician and I just try to help as much as I can. Obviously I don’t try to put my nose into technical things too much because the team has some little secrets, which is good.”
In Nico Poons they also have a hugely experienced owner with a long, long background in yacht racing at the highest level. “It is the first time that I have sailed with him,” Vascotto continues. “We have a lot of fun. He is a very funny guy, who I enjoy a lot. He loves this class and the atmosphere and the owners that are around. They make for a very nice atmosphere, which is very important – one of the reasons why this class has been going for so long is because the owners have fun, both in the good times and during the bad times when you have bad results, because everyone is together at dinner and they make jokes, which is nice. Here everyone can win races and everyone can also be last, because everybody is more or less at the same level.”
In the intervening years while Vascotto has departed in his quest for America’s Cup glory, new teams have joined and continue to join the class and, despite the RC44 class being so well established, it has continued to evolve. Aside from the boats and the sailing techniques, it is also due to a fresh influx of people joining the circuit. “Obviously in a class like this there are people who have experience, but you can see on the water the new generation is getting stronger,” Vascotto observes. “We have Giles Scott who has two gold medals. Give him two or three more regattas and he will be on top. This is a good challenge for everybody.”
Having notched up 25 World Championships, 25 Italian Championships and 15 European titles in one designs ranging from the J/24 to the TP52 and Maxi 72, Vascotto’s ultimate ambition still remains to win the America’s Cup. In the last decade this competition has seen the advent and development of fully flying foiling boats such as the AC72, which spend most of the time sailing elevated from the water, capable of unheard of speeds of 50+ knots. This has effectively created a new branch of the sport now divided between slow boats that always sail firmly planted in the water, the flying foilers like the AC72 and others like the RC44 that fall in between, displacement boats but ones that are regularly able to plane and can achieve 20+ knot speeds. “I am lucky to have the privilege to sail in both types,” admits Vascotto. “I think the RC44 has a strong future because people recognise that when it comes to one designs there is nothing better out there on the water.”
While it was nice to see him Lanzarote, Vascotto is handing back tactician duties on board Charisma for next month’s continuation of the 44Cup, the second event of the 2022 season in Cascais, Portugal. We hope that one of the fresh influx of new teams will benefit from his huge enthusiasm and RC44 experience.