At the RC44 Cascais Cup, conditions couldn’t have been better for the opening day. With the sun out, a wind that started light and built to a solid 20 knots, combined with a long rolling swell coming in from the Atlantic, it is no coincidence that Portugal’s sailing mecca is renowned internationally.
As usual, the first day of racing was dedicated to the RC44’s on-going match racing championship and after seven flights today there has been a change of leader. After the Virgin Gorda Cup, Chris Bake’s Team Aqua was ahead, but today there was another star player in Synergy, as three time Match Racing World Champion and 32nd America’s Cup winning helmsman Ed Baird led the team to win all six of their matches.
'The boys do such a great job in terms of getting the boat around the race track - things fell into place really nicely,' commented Baird, who steers the match racing days during RC44 events, before one of Synergy’s owners, Valentin Zavadnikov and Leonid Lebedev, takes over for the subsequent fleet racing. 'It gives the guys a different look. It is so much fun to match race these boats and it is a nice, fair, strong fleet that works really hard at it.'
One of the hardest fought of today’s races for Baird was against the Gazprom Youth Sailing Challenge, when he ended up pushing them so they were within a hair’s breadth of colliding with the Race Committee boat in the pre-start. 'It was quite similar on all of our starts, but we were able to extend forward on whoever the competitor was,' said Baird.
It was an unfortunate day for Team Aqua, despite only having dropped one of their six matches – to Aleph Racing. With owner Chris Bake away today, as usual the helm passed to RC44 veteran Cameron Appleton, who described this race: 'On the water they sailed better than us, but in the pre-start we managed to hit them, which is not ideal. We came in and had a nice opportunity to get a hook on them. One boat was going up a wave and the other going down a wave and the next thing was that the boats came together and there was nothing you could do about it –we landed on their back quarter, which is a terrible mistake on my part.'
In the collision, Team Aqua’s bow hit Aleph at the waterline and tonight Aqua’s shore crew will be busy effecting repair work.
'Apart from that it was a great day,' Appleton continued. 'The team sailed well and it was challenging out there. We came ashore happy apart from the one incident.'
One of the surprises today came from Katusha, with newcomer Vladimir Sokolov at the helm. Having sailed for the first time in his life at the RC44 Virgin Gorda Cup ten weeks ago, Sokolov has since been to a couple of Melges 20 events, but today was still only his 20th day sailing.
As Katusha tactician Andy Horton explains: 'We decided that it was best if he went and had his first ever match race today. I helped him in tough situations and he still won three races out of five! So he is on fire and is fully excited about it.'
Katusha’s toughest race today was against Italian Andrea Pozzi’s team on Bombarda, when Katusha picked up a penalty in the pre-start but had enough of a lead to complete their turn on the finish line to score the win.
'Vladimir even beat a Match Racing World Champion - Mathieu Richard. And the coolest thing is that Vladimir doesn’t even know who he is!' concluded Horton.
Like Team Aqua, Aleph Racing lost one race today. 'It was a very good day,' admitted Mathieu Richard, who steered for the starts before handing over to Pierre Eric Detroyat, brother-in-law of the owner. 'We sailed very smoothly, so it was a very good feeling on board.'
Fleet racing at the RC44 Cascais Cup, kicks off tomorrow at 11.30 local time, and the forecast is for even stronger breeze than today. RC44 website