The RC44 Sweden Cup, the penultimate event on the RC44 Championship Tour, commenced today in Marstrand, Sweden under blue skies.
With the south entrance to Marstand pretty lumpy, the fleet headed north for some flatter water to start the match racing phase of the event.
The day started in 16-17 knots from the north-west. Some pretty big shifts came through in the first four flights before the wind started to drop slightly and with it the fleet switched to their big jibs to have some punch through the choppy sea.
The day belonged to two of the four Russian team’s competing in this year’s Tour. Synergy Russian Sailing Team has been sat at the top of the match race rankings since the second event in Cascais. Team Nika’s fortunes have been mixed this season, in Austria they failed to win a match, but in Sweden they shone, both teams finishing the day with five wins and two losses.
Synergy had started the day with a two-point lead over the French Aleph Sailing Team in the overall Tour match race standings. They won their first three matches against Katusha with Andy Horton at the helm, then Peninsula Petroleum, Russell Coutts back in the RC44 fleet calling the shots for owner John Bassadone and Italy’s AFX Capital, still in their first RC44 season and owner Massimo Barranco at the helm.
Next up to take on the mighty Synergy was Aleph Sailing Team. With Mathieu Richard at the wheel, the French team started to windward, held their lane and picked a long layline into the windward mark. Synergy was forced to follow them in and the French team were in control, a position they maintained it to the finish.
Ed Baird explained their day: 'Every time I looked around it seemed that there was a different team excelling. It was pretty tricky, early on the wind was really solid and then it started to come down and get a little flaky, so choosing which side was going to be best was not easy. We just tried to get strong starts go as fast as we could and hope that it didn’t matter where we went. Obviously we lost a couple, Nika and the Aleph guys were on the right side of the first shift and that was that.'
Team Nika have shown some great promise since joining the Tour a year ago, but never seem to quite nail a whole series. Owner Vladimir Prosikhin handed the helm over to Tomislav Basic for the day and they finished the day with five wins and just two losses.
Prosikhin, who is very vocal about his love affair with the RC44 class, was elated as they were greeted with champagne on the dock for being the best performing boat of the day. 'We’re really happy to win the day and we want to come back and match race here again. 'We got zero points in the match racing in Austria, our lowest points, but now we’re climbing back up and we want to stay at the top.'
Going for near total Russian dominance, RUS 7 Sail Racing Team powered by anywayanyday.com were the giant killers of the day. After a slow start and losing their first three matches, they suddenly kicked into form in the fourth flight of the day beating Team Aqua, with Cameron Appleton at the wheel. They followed by taking the scalp of Peninsula Petroleum and then AFX Capital. They so nearly made it four in their match against Aleph, but the French team, who had had an inconsistent day, pulled back to take the win.
Vitaly Rozhkov (RUS), Mainsail Trimmer on RUS-7 was happy with the team’s performance, but feels they have more to show. 'We’re quite happy with today but I feel the team has big potential, we are far from perfect and far from what we can be. All we need is a little more practice to be up there with the other teams. It’s good to beat Russell (Coutts) and Cameron (Appleton), but we prefer to sail focused on the other boat rather than who’s on-board, that way we don’t feel any pressure. Any team can win here. You have to be very careful, it’s very hard to win and very easy to lose.'
Mixing it amongst the big names steering today was No Way Back’s owner driver Pieter Heerema. The team showed great boat speed and some punchy moves. Heerema started the day by beating Team Aqua. A penalty for a port/starboard incident in their match against Team Nika meant they just lost on the line. They bounced back to beat the home team, Artemis Racing, then Aleph. Peninsula Petroleum were next up, a close first beat saw the pair converge at the top mark, Heerema tried to squeeze in on the port layline, a move the umpires penalised by showing the team the red flag and them having to take a penalty immediately.
Owner Pieter Heerema was pragmatic about their first day of racing in Marstrand: 'We took a few big risks that we didn’t really need to which cost us some penalties but overall we had a very good day. It’s always fun to beat the pros but it’s not just the helmsman it’s really more the team all together, there are eight guys on the boat and the team was just fantastic.'
The overall match racing standings remain unchanged after four events. There is just one more day of match racing in the 2012 Tour before the match racing champion is crowned. Synergy have 20 points, three points ahead of Aleph, who are just holding off Team Aqua in third.
Four days of fleet racing for the RC44 Sweden Cup starts on Thursday 18th July. With three team’s each winning an event so far this year, the 2012 Championship title is still wide open, but Team Aqua are still the team to beat.