Again a RC44 season has concluded with impossibly close results: Chris Bake's Team Aqua today won the RC44 Valletta Cup by a point from Igor Lah's Team CEEREF, but with a two point advantage going into this final event, Team CEEREF claimed the overall RC44 Fleet Racing Championship title for 2016 by a point from Team Aqua.
The final day of the RC44 Valletta Cup brought sun, but the wind off Malta never filled in sufficiently to allow the final races to be sailed, despite the 10 boat fleet venturing out on to the water. As a result Saturday's positions stand.
"This is a great event," said the RC44 Valletta Cup's victor, Chris Bake. "Conditions were tough, but we did really well and Friday obviously was a huge day." On day two of fleet racing, Team Aqua won three out of three races. "Yesterday was challenging and today unfortunately there was no wind," he continued.
Team Aqua tactician, New Zealander Cameron Appleton added: "We started strong and finished strong. We had to come here and win this to have a chance and hope that Ceeref - maybe - made some mistakes. But they didn't."
Being the longest-standing teams in the RC44 class, it is appropriate that Team Aqua and Team CEEREF should dominate the fleet racing in this 10th anniversary season for the Russell Coutts one designs. As Team Nika managed in 2015, so this year Team CEEREF scored the coveted 'double': Victory in the season's championship as well as the World Championship, this year held in Sotogrande, Spain.
On the dockside, Team CEEREF's Igor Lah was encouraged to take a victor's plunge into the water of the Excelsior Marina by his competitor Chris Bake. Of his reaction to winning, Lah said: "Wet! It was a fantastic season and all the other teams are also really great. It was hard, but our team work was excellent. All the guys were brilliant - they did their jobs and this is the result. We didn't expect it - our goal was only the Worlds, so this is the cream on the cake."
Of Team CEEREF's strengths, tactician Adrian Stead observed: "This is Igor's tenth season in the RC44 class and he knows the boat really well. He steers the boat very well. This week has been painful for him in the waves, because he has a knee operation in two weeks, but he has coped really well with it.
"The boat is going really well with Jon Gundersen and Dirk de Ridder on the speed side and our coaching has been excellent. We feel like we are getting the best out of the boat. We are not the team with the biggest budget, but we make sure we spend it wisely."
Relative newcomer Alexander Novoselov finished third in the RC44 Valletta Cup on his Katusha with American Andy Horton calling tactics. "I am very happy with the result," said Novoselov. "We have been fighting well and working hard. We were very close to the leaders."
However this was not enough to get Katusha on to the 2016 championship podium. This was taken by Torbjörn Törnqvist's Artemis Racing, which also claimed the 2016 RC44 Match Racing Championship title earlier in the week.
Torbjörn Törnqvist commented: "We performed when it mattered, which was good to see and we've definitely made a step forward from the previous season. It's always sad when the season comes to an end, but I'm looking forward to the event in Marstrand next year."
Sadly the Russian teams, Vladimir Liubomirov's Bronenosec Sailing Team and Vladimir Prosikhin's Team Nika didn't manage to repeat the impressive consistency they demonstrated in 2015, when they won the RC44 Match Racing and Fleet Racing titles respectively, although Team Nika claimed this season's RC44 Portsmouth Cup.
This was also true of John Bassadone's usually impeccable Peninsula Petroleum, which only reached the podium once this year, finishing second at their home regatta in Sotogrande.
Just four points separated the fourth to seven placed boats at the final season's tally, demonstrating how close the racing was even in the mid-fleet and how vital it was to achieve a good result here in Malta.
Nico Poons' Charisma was unable to repeat its success from last season here in Malta, while Hugues Lepic's Aleph Racing, showed better consistency and finished within 10 points of fifth place.
At to the end of the RC44's 10th anniversary year, Chris Bake observed: "The boats and the way we are sailing is nothing like 10 years ago. We have all stepped up our programs hugely. The skill level on board all the boats is huge and if you look at the points separations, both in the match racing and the fleet racing, it is a very competitive environment. That said, it comes down to the team, the set-up and consistency. Not all the owners have huge experience, but with the right boat and the right set-up you can really have a lot of fun."
The RC44s return in 2017 with the RC44 Sotogrande Cup over 27-30 April.