Competition in the 2017 RC44 Championship gets underway tomorrow with the RC44 Sotogrande Cup. This event follows from last season’s RC44 World Championship also held off this magnificent development, which is the largest on Spain’s Andalusian coast close to Gibraltar.
For this, its 11th season, the race format has changed. RC44 events now last four days and the match racing component of the competition has been removed.
Of the eight teams competing off Sotogrande, favourite is Igor Lah’s Team CEEREF. Not only is the cockpit on the Slovenian RC44 adorned with the overall championship leader’s ‘golden wheels’, but Lah’s team also won the World Championship here in 2016.
‘It is great to be back – I have been waiting all winter for this!’ said a beaming Igor Lah. On board he has the same team as 2016 including British tactician Adrian Stead and round the world and America’s Cup sailor Dirk de Ridder. ‘Everything is the same, but it is a new season and we have to prove we can still do it. We practiced yesterday but that’s all we’ve done unfortunately.’
As to the competition, Lah reckons the biggest threat will come once again from Peninsula Petroleum, whom they beat into second place here at last year’s World Championship. John Bassadone’s team has a similar crew line-up to 2016 with enthusiastic Italian Vasco Vascotto calling tactics and with the addition, into the otherwise Spanish crew, of another Italian, Flavia Tomiselli, the sole woman competing.
Bassadone welcomed the crews to his home port: ‘Sotogrande is a beautiful place. There is good wind generally being so close to the Strait [of Gibraltar]. It is pretty easy to get to and it is enjoyable – everyone seems to have a good time here.’
As to whether his home team will prevail against Team CEEREF, Bassadone hedges. ‘Last year we sailed very well, they just sailed extremely well. Their victory was very well deserved and they were the form team winning the season as well. It was great to have been in the battle with them. I hope we are up there again this year.’
Among the other teams there have been personnel changes, especially on Vladimir Liubomirov’s Bronenosec Sailing Team, where only three of last season’s crew remain. Kiwi Cameron Dunn, previously the team’s coach, is now tactician. ‘The team is now a lot more Russian with a younger group,’ he explains. ‘For Vladimir one of the program’s goals is to have a pathway for younger Russian sailors to get into professional sailing.’ The changes extend to the helmsman too with Liubomirov sharing duties with friend Kirill Frolov, a keen SB20 sportsboat sailor.
Tacticians have changed on other boats, although on both Team Nika and Charisma their new tacticians are already familiar. On the latter, American Morgan Reeser, was their coach. Charisma’s Dutch owner Nico Poons explained: ‘I used to sail with Morgan in the Farr 40 so he is not completely new, but we have to see how it works out. It is a new season. We have to see how everyone is organised and how things are going.’
On Team Nika, American Terry Hutchinson returns to call tactics for Vladimir Proshikin having, performed this job last in 2014.
He follows other America’s Cup luminaries such as Dean Barker in 2015, the year Team Nika won the RC44 Championship and the class’ World title, and Ed Baird in 2016.
‘It is nice to be back, said Hutchinson. ‘Vladimir is persuasive and a fun guy to work with. We have a lot of challenges – there’s stuff we have to do better on the boat.’
After a two year absence, Hutchinson says that the RC44 class has lost none of its competitive edge: ‘Here we have some really good teams and everyone is very good, so the hard thing is to pick where you are at and choose a few things to focus on. We’ll be keeping it as simple as possible to manage our own expectations and set a base line for 2017.’
While he races on many of the world’s most successful keelboats, Hutchinson says that the RC44 is special to him. ‘I have always enjoyed racing the boat – they are very good. When it is windy there is massive potential for things to go bad and part of that is to manage it over the course of a event. It is a challenging boat to sail well.’
by RC44 Class Association