While ten teams are muscling up in the RC44 Valletta Cup, the last regatta of the class’ 10th anniversary season, it was not the favourites for the 2016 championship title that prevailed on the opening day of fleet racing here off the coast of Malta. Instead it was Alexander Novoselov’s Katusha, currently seventh on the season’s leaderboard.
As a suitable end of year challenge, Malta laid on brisk conditions today. The wind gusting above 20 knots, plus a choppy sea, tested crews and owner-drivers alike. With the southeasterly blowing down the shore, crews quickly found that the right, coastal side of the course was paying. This slightly one-side race track, resulted in some of the tightest top mark roundings.
In race one Katusha’s crew was among the first to recognise this ‘power in the right’, edging ahead of Vladimir Prosikhin’s Team Nika to take the lead up the first beat. Katusha, under her giant red spinnaker, then tore away down the first run and was not to be caught from then on.
Race two saw a bunching of boats at the committee boat end and once again it was Katusha that got her bow in front of, on this occasion, John Bassadone’s Peninsula Petroleum coming into the top mark. Katusha again showed the way around the race track but with Artemis Racing Youth punching above her weight to clinch second on the final run, ahead of teammates, Torbjörn Törnqvist’s Artemis Racing.
“We are very proud,” said a beaming Novoselov. “We did very good preparation of the boat and it was good team work, with a genius tactician [Andy Horton was standing beside him] and some good luck I guess…”
Horton observed that Novoselov’s performance had been exceptional given that this is only the second time has ever helmed an RC44 in wavy conditions. “Today he went out and did a great job. And the guys did well trimming the sails.”
Horton also attributed their back-to-back bullets choosing the right headsail. The J2 seemed to be a brave call at the start of the first race when it was gusting into the early 20s and the majority of boats opted for the smaller, safer J3. But, as he put it: “We were able to deal with it really well in the windy spots and then, when it was light, we were really fast.”
As to the reason for the right paying, there seemed to be differing opinions between the tacticians. According to Horton there was tide against them on the run but this was as strong inshore as offshore. It was more about the getting some beneficial shifts from the local topography. “There’s a little point there and if you came in under that you got lifted and, as long as you could get out bow ahead, it was all gains.”
For the opening day’s third and final race, the sea state had dropped fractionally and the wind had become lighter and more shifty. In this, it was Team Nika, Artemis Racing and Igor Lah’s Team CEEREF that were jockeying for the lead coming into the top mark with Lah’s Slovenian team just getting her bow in front. The frontrunners continued to play the right side of the course for the remainder of the race with Team CEEREF, the present overall RC44 Fleet Racing Championship leader and custodian of the RC44’s prestigious ‘golden wheels’, hanging on to first place ahead of Artemis Racing and Team Nika.
According to Lah, they won the race coming into the first top mark: “We were able to squeeze Nika a little bit. We had enough room, but they didn’t.” Team CEEREF gybed and made good gains inshore on the run and repeated this on the next lap crossing the line with a comfortable lead.
Lah admitted to find the sailing hard work in the big waves today, but winning the final race made it worthwhile. “There are three more days, so we will do our best.”
Team CEEREF’s British tactician Adrian Stead was content too: “It was a good opening day. We got sailed past layline in the first race on the last downwind which probably cost us a couple of places, but 11 points today was within our target.”
Katusha scored a ninth place finish in the final race dropping her to second overall behind Artemis Racing, yesterday’s RC44 Match Racing Championship winner.
Fleet racing at the RC44 Valletta Cup continues tomorrow in similar 15-20 knot conditions to today but with the wind forecast to veer into the south.