Sotogrande, the new Spanish venue for the 2014 RC44 Championship Tour, laid on idyllic conditions with flat water and breeze gusting at times to 20+ knots, for the match racing on the opening day of the RC44 Puerto Sotogrande Cup.
New faces also appeared in the results today with Bronenosec the top scoring boat, unbeaten in all five matches. Similarly Chris Bake’s Team Aqua may have lost the overall fleet racing championship lead, but today she managed to claim first place overall in the cumulative match race ranking after three events, displacing Valentin Zavadnikov and Leonid Lebedev’s Synergy Russian Sailing Team.
This week Slovenian RC44 veteran and former Team Ceeref owner Igor Lah is standing in as helm of Bronenosec in place of St Petersburg Yacht Club Commodore Vladimir Liubomirov, who is tied up with another event.
Lah seems to have lost none of his magic, as explains Bronenosec’s Italian tactician Michele Ivaldi, who previously sailed with Lah on Team Ceeref for six seasons: 'Normally this is a training day for our fleet racing, but as we went on it got better and better and we knew we were fighting for the day. Igor has been sailing these boats for a long time and has a good feeling for them.'
One of the most drama filled matches of the day was between Bronenosec and Team Aqua, when Chris Bake’s team made an unforced error, entering the pre-start from the wrong side of the line with the wrong flag on. Picking up two penalties from the start, they immediately got rid of one and then fought back to overhaul the Russians. However they then tried and failed to carry out their second penalty at the finish line, handing the win to Bronenosec.
Bronenosec Sailing Team and Peninsula Petroleum - RC44 Puerto Sotogrande Cup 2014 - RC44 Class/MartinezStudio.es
Of all the boats, Bronenosec seemed most diligent today in covering her opponents. As Ivaldi explained: 'You can’t leave anyone by themselves here. We were expecting this kind of behaviour from the wind: You have to stay in the same piece of water, because the wind is so unpredictable and the shifts are way too big to give leverage to the other guy.'
Team Aqua also scored five wins today, elevating her up the leaderboard, but this was from six rather than five races.
Aleph Racing would have been the second highest performer of the day had it not been for her part in a pre-start collision with Artemis Racing. For this incident the French team was docked one point, while Artemis was penalised two, one for the hard contact, the second for being in the wrong.
With a 4-1 score today, Aleph Racing was also the only one to claim a point off another star performer, Team Nika. 'It was very close,' said helmsman and French match racing ace, Mathieu Richard of this match. 'We were behind them for the first lap and managed to overtake them on the second beat, but then they came back and overtook us.' At the time Nika was a penalty down due to have been washed down on to the top mark by the current during their second rounding, causing her boom to touch it. The crew tried to shed its final penalty on the finish line.
Team Nika skipper Vladimir Prosikhin described it: 'Funnily enough I was only this morning reading how to recover from this situation! The idea was to make him tack with me, allowing me to do a penalty turn and to try to push them out. I succeeded in rolling them and got below, but it wasn’t well adjusted: I should have been much closer to catch Aleph and I wasn’t.'
Aside from her race with Aleph, Team Nika had more comfortable victories in her other four matches, no doubt thanks to circuit founder Russell Coutts standing in for American Terry Hutchinson as her tactician.
So how much of a difference does it make having an America’s Cup legend on board? 'He is a great sailor – there is no doubt about it,' says Prosikhin. 'And it is a bit more relaxing. He has very high standards and goals and he really pushes you. He is a very strong presence, but he is also gentle, so you can enjoy life and work less hard, but of course I was helming and motivated to work hard!'
For Coutts himself, he has been so busy putting together the next America’s Cup that this is just the second time he has sailed this year after the RC44 Virgin Gorda Cup, also on Team Nika. 'I haven’t been doing much sailing for the last few years,' he admits. However he is impressed with Sotogrande: 'It was fun to be out there. It is a really nice place.'
Racing will continue tomorrow with four days of fleet racing, with the first warning signal at 11.00 CET. RC44 website