Ten years on since the RC44's first season, it is appropriate that the first regatta in 2016 for the Russell Coutts-conceived one design monohulls should take place in Bermuda, where the Kiwi yacht racing legend is masterminding next year's 35th America's Cup.
Eight teams are competing in the RC44 Bermuda Cup, which starts tomorrow, Wednesday 2nd March, with a day of match racing. As usual this will count towards the class' unique Match Racing Championship, that rolls from event to event throughout the season. The regatta then continues with four days of fleet racing on Bermuda's Great Sound, where America's Cup racing will take place next summer.
On the start line tomorrow will be the RC44's longest serving crew: Chris Bake's Team Aqua has been part of the circuit since 2006.
“It is a great class and there are great teams out here,” observes Cameron Appleton, who has been tactician on Team Aqua from the outset.
While two teams – Team Nika and Bronenosec Sailing Team – dominated in 2015, Appleton advises that any of five or six top teams could prevail this season, including Team Aqua. “There is a new level of excitement and new motivation on board – Chris is really excited to have a bit more of a permanent role.” (Work commitments kept Bake from competing in all regattas in 2015.)
New to Team Aqua is American bowman, Sean Couvreux, while the experienced Andrew Palfrey is now coach, focussing especially on post-race video analysis. As ever Chris Bake is keen to develop young talent and has brought 22-year-old British Keelboat Academy sailor James French on as reserve crewman. “He'll fill in for anyone on the boat,” says Appleton. “Our goal is to develop him into a great sailor and to teach him and share all we can with him.”
With her golden wheels glistening in the Bermuda sun, the 2015 RC44 Fleet Racing Champion, Team Nika, is in Bermuda ready to begin the defence of her title. However her owner Vladimir Prosikhin is talking down their position: “Honestly, we are starting a bit slow and I am slow. We have two newcomers who are very good sailors and very strong, but it takes time for them to become accustomed to the boat. Our result will depend on how quickly we can pick it up.” The 'newcomers' are both highly experienced, in bowman Greg Gendall and pitman Ryan Godfrey.
On the plus side, having sailed with three different tacticians in 2015, including Dean Barker and Terry Hutchinson, Prosikhin has finally settled on former America's Cup-winning helm, Ed Baird.
As to how he feels about having a target on his back as reigning champion, Prosikhin is relishing it. “Of course we are CLEARLY the target! And at the moment we are an achievable target, but I'll do my best to stay ahead.”
After Chris Bake, Slovenia's Igor Lah is the second longest serving RC44 competitor, having joined the class in 2008, his Team CEEREF winning the RC44 World Championship in 2013. Fourth overall last year, this season Team CEEREF is gunning for the podium. “We try to start from where we finished in the BVI [the last event in 2015], to make the best out of it,” says Lah. “We just need to not make mistakes and not be afraid of anything.”
Lah says he is enjoying his first visit to Bermuda and is looking forward especially to the third event this season in Portsmouth, UK, when Team CEEREF will be joined by Lah's son, who is studying in Plymouth.
After spending most of 2015 close to the leaderboard bottom, 2016 will see Artemis Racing Youth on the ascent. Following the departure of Paul Goodison, Swede Freddy Loof is now the sole Olympic gold medallist on board (Star, London 2012) and has taken over as tactician while America's Cup winner and round the world race veteran Rodney Ardern joins as main trimmer.
According to Loof, with Aussie former Olympic Finn sailor Anthony Nossiter on board, crew language remains English, “but it's all good. We have added 30kg to the boat, which will help. We need to mix in with the fleet, so the pressure is on, but I think we can get a couple of good results this year. We have good guys on board and we understand the boat more and more. I haven't raced that much recently, so I am eager to get going.”
Match racing at the Bermuda RC44 Cup starts at 12:00 local time. Follow the racing via the live blog at www.rc44.com.
RC44 Bermuda Cup – Crew List
Artemis Racing (SWE)
Artemis Racing Youth (SWE)
Peninsula Petroleum Sailing Team (GBR)
Team Aqua (GBR)
Team CEEREF (SLO)
Team Nika (RUS)