Identifying potential winners and losers in this year's RC44 Championship, which sets sail from Marina Lanzarote in the Canary Islands tomorrow with the RC44 Calero Marinas Cup, is all but impossible. The top teams are all back, notably defending season champion Igor Lah's Team CEEREF, John Bassadone's Peninsula Petroleum, winner of last season's concluding event in Lanzarote and reigning World Champion Vladimir Prosikhin's Team Nika. Returning to the circuit is Frenchman Hugues Lepic's Aleph Racing with a powerful crew, also expecting to perform well.
2018 may be the RC44's 12th season, but owners and crew have lost none of their enthusiasm for the Russell Coutts conceived, high performance, container-transportable one design. Teams continue to raise the bar, tweaking their boats within the class rule and pushing crew performance.
Team CEEREF tactician Adrian Stead explains: “Even though the RC44 is one design, you need to keep working hard to be in front: People are constantly developing the rig, sails, team work, boat preparation etc. The quality of this fleet is exceptional with World Champions, America's Cup winners and sailors and Olympic medallists on each boat. You can't make any mistakes because anyone can snap you up. But we're here because we enjoy the competition.”
New recruit to Team CEEREF is Spanish former round the world sailor Javier de la Plaza as trimmer. The Slovenian team is being further motivated by their boat's fresh branding. “The hawk is the new important thing!” quipped Igor Lah, stepping ashore wind swept from a practice session yesterday: “It was my first time back after three months away and it was in 25 knots!”
Peninsula Petroleum has new recruits from Lanzarote in main trimmer Nano Negrin and bowman Gonzalo Morales. “Making the change wasn't easy because the guys we had were great sailors and are as good as what we have now, but we felt that we needed to make a little change and see if it is better,” explains coach and reserve tactician, Gustavo Martinez Doreste, also from Lanzarote.
Old faces are returning on both Chris Bake's Team Aqua and Vladimir Prosikhin's Team Nika. Team Aqua's tactician Cameron Appleton explains: “It was time to put some new life into the program, so it was obvious to bring back Christian [Kamp] and Matty [Matt Cassidy] after their Cup commitments.” Through Chris Bake's long term commitment to crew development, boat captain Aaron Cooper has been promoted to trimmer. “Hopefully it will strengthen the team,” continues Appleton, “but it is not just that, it is about having a good time, having good relationships and putting together people who Chris enjoys hanging out with.”
Team Aqua has been on the circuit from the outset, yet still the boat provides great enjoyment: “It is a lot of fun,” enthuses Appleton. “The boats are great. They have a lot of sail area and are narrow, so they are tippy and reward being sailed well. Then you look down the crew lists and you can't decide the favourite or who will come last: They are all really strong teams.”
On Vladimir Prosikhin's Team Nika they have almost the same crew back as 'their year' – 2015 – when they won both the RC44 World Championship and the overall season. With Greg Gendall and Ryan Godfrey departed to Team Aleph, Kiwi America's Cup veterans, bowman Jeremy Lomas and pitman Sean Clarkson are back on. “Vladimir was keen to sail with the same guys as in 2015,” explains tactician Dean Barker. “For him it is about enjoying the social side as well as the sailing. There is a nice feeling in the team.”
Torbjörn Törnqvist's Artemis Racing also has crew changes with three time Olympic medallist and team manager Iain Percy moving himself from tactician to mainsheet. “We're going to mix up the tacticians this year,” he explains. America's Cup helm and fellow Olympic medallist Nathan Outteridge will be on for the second event in Portoroz, Slovenia while in Lanzarote old hand Andy Horton fills this role. “We're looking forward to sailing – it will be windy! We've been doing really well in all of the practice races,” observes Percy.
On Nico Poons' Charisma the only personnel change is 470 Olympic medallist American Morgan Reeser returning as coach. In addition to having their 'supreme team' crew back, including Emirates Team New Zealand tactician Ray Davies, they also have a complete new suit of sails. Plus, as main sheet trimmer Chris Hosking notes: “Nico is in good form. He is feeling relaxed and ready to enjoy his yachting.”
Practice racing at the RC44 Calero Marinas Cup was cancelled today due the wind constantly blowing at 25+ knots with 2.5-3m seas. Tomorrow the forecast is a more manageable 15-20 with a first start at 1130 UTC.
RC44 Calero Marinas Cup 2018 – Crew list
Aleph Racing (FRA17)
Jim Richardson (USA) – Substitute driver
Artemis Racing (SWE44)
Torbjorn Tornqvist (SWE) – Owner / Driver
Nico Poons (NED) – Owner / Driver
Peninsula Petroleum (GBR1)
John Bassadone (GBR) – Owner / Driver
Team Aqua (GBR2041)
Chris Bake (NZL) – Owner / Driver
Team CEEREF (SLO11)
Igor Lah (SLO) – Owner / Driver
Team Nika (RUS10)
Vladimir Prosikhin (RUS) – Owner / Driver