For the penultimate round of its 2016 championship, the RC44 class returns to one of its favourite venues, the Portugese sailing mecca of Cascais. Open to the ocean, just by the entrance to the Tagus River leading up to Lisbon, Cascais is renowned for its strong conditions and large Atlantic swell. The forecast for the five days of racing, that start tomorrow, shows some of this, but also lighter conditions, providing a complete test for the nine RC44 crews.
Cascais has proved a good venue for Vladimir Prosikhin and his Team Nika, present leader of the RC44’s annual match racing championship, which rolls from event to event over the season. Here last year, when Dean Barker was tactician, Team Nika scored its first RC44 World Championship crown.
“I have a warm feeling towards Cascais especially after winning the Worlds here - I love it, it is a very nice place,” admits Prosikhin. “It is historic. It is beautiful. There’s an ocean. There’s always the wind and waves we like. The waves make it a lot of fun.”
Having sailed with many of the world’s top tacticians, including circuit founder Sir Russell Coutts, Prosikhin for the last year has been working with America’s Cup winning helmsman, Ed Baird. “We had a very good regatta in Portsmouth after I relaxed and enjoyed the sailing – and didn’t talk too much! Sometimes if you talk too much to the tactician you distract him and you shouldn’t do that. I am the owner of the team but on board I am just the driver.”
Team Nika may be leading the match racing going into the last but one event of the season, but they are just one point ahead of Torbjörn Törnqvist’s Artemis Racing and two in front of Vladimir Liubomirov’s Bronenosec Sailing Team and Chris Bake’s Team Aqua.
After the usual opening day of match racing, the RC44 Cascais Cup will launch into four days of fleet racing. Here the leader and current trustee of the RC44’s coveted ‘golden wheels’ is Chris Bake’s Team Aqua.
Being the team everyone is gunning for is a familiar position for Team Aqua, winner of the RC44 Championship on no less than five occasions. At this morning’s press conference held in the Clube Naval de Cascais, the RC44’s hosts this week, tactician Cameron Appleton said: “When we look at what makes this class great, it is a testament to the owners: They are a phenomenal group who put these great teams together. The depth in the class is based on what they have allowed us to do.
“This class gets closer every year and what we see every day is that you just have to put your best foot forward, keep pushing hard and make fewer mistakes. No one gives you a chance. The racing is unbelievably tight.
“Cascais is one of our favourites, but it is also testing and it is hard to sail perfectly.”
Just two points behind Team Aqua is Team CEEREF. Igor Lah’s Slovenian team came close to winning the World Championship here last year. As British tactician Adrian Stead maintains “we lost it in one race and ended up third. You get a good blend of land effect, waves and sea state – Cascais is a great place to come sailing.”
Generally crews at this stage of the season are fairly fixed. For Cascais the only significant change is American one design specialist Chris Larson taking over as tactician on Nico Poons’ Charisma.
“I am very excited to be here in Cascais,” said Larson. “This is my first time sailing the RC44. I am very pleased to be given this opportunity by Nico and the team. We were out yesterday, in fantastic conditions. Who wouldn’t agree that the RC44 is probably the best fleet in sailing? Anyone would be excited to be here.”
Peninsula Petroleum’s Italian tactician Vasco Vascotto paid homage to Cascais: “It is a place like Kitzbühel for skiing or like Monza for Formula 1 – it is a place every sailor wants to come because here you are sure you will have wind, waves, shifts - everything. It is a fantastic place.
“The Clube Naval de Cascais is doing something very important for the sport, making sailing important for the young people. There are a couple of young guys from this yacht club who are friends of mine on Facebook. They are maybe nine years old. This is an event where young people can gain experience, which is magic.”
Match racing starts tomorrow at 11:30 local time (UTC +1).