The RC44 Championship Tour is set to make its UK debut for the first time in its 10 year history next week, bringing some of the biggest names in sailing to race on the iconic waters of The Solent.
The RC44 Portsmouth Cup, from the 13 - 17 July, marks the halfway stage of the 2016 tour and is a milestone event, not only for the competitors looking to make their move as the five stop global circuit moves towards the end of the season, but for the event which will be hosted for the first time by the British challenger to the America's Cup, Land Rover BAR, and will prelude the America's Cup World Series the following week.
With 11 teams and an all star line-up gearing up this week for racing, the spotlight is on home crew Team Aqua who's owner Chris Bake is a key supporter of the Portsmouth event.
"After 10 years racing with the Class this event is real milestone for me," Bake explained. "Historically Portsmouth is iconic when you think of sailing in the UK. The solent is a busy waterway and extremely tidal so will bring its own dimensions into the racing for the tacticians - I'm sure they will relish the challenge. The only hope is that the weather cooperates with what we are trying to achieve to make this a standout event in the 2016 calendar."
Bake is joined on the water by long-term tactician Cameron Appleton, who has lead his team to a mighty five RC44 Championship Tour titles over 10 years - making them the most successful team in RC44 history. On the crew America's Cup sailor Andrew Estcourt as main trim, five time Whitbread/Volvo Ocean Race sailor Jono Swain as trimmer, British grinder Ben Graham and American sailors Mike Kuschner, Sean 'Doogie' Couvreux and Westy Barlow as pitman, bowman and offside trim.
But it wont be easy racing for the home boys, who currently sit in second place tied on points with both third placed Peninsula Petroleum and fourth placed Bronenosec Sailing Team: "The boats are hugely competitive right now and the spread of points between the whole fleet is incredibly tight," Bake continued, only four points separate first and fifth place in the overall rankings.
"The real factor we will have to deal with is the tides and shallows of The Solent, it will keep the teams on their toes and I'm sure we will see a few fall foul as they try to push the boundaries of the racecourse," he said.
At this halfway stage in the competition Igor Lah's Team CEEREF is leading the fleet by a slim two-point margin, after an impressive performance in Sotogrande in May won the Slovenian team their second World Championship title.
In fifth but only two points behind the podium pack is Torbjorn Tornqvist's Artemis Racing, who's crew is lead by America's Cup helmsman Francesco Bruni. The Portsmouth event will serve as a perfect warm up as Tornqvist's America's Cup sailors Christian Kamp and Freddy Loof join the crew ahead of the World Series event.
Another team tied on points is defending RC44 champion Team Nika, of Vladimir Prosikhin and fellow Russian crew Katusha of Alexander Novoselov.
Rounding up the standings: Charisma, Aleph Racing, Artemis Racing Youth and new kids on the block BlackWater Team are all within five points of one another and all capable of winning not only races but the whole Portsmouth event.