Shaking off the winter hibernation in style, the RC44 Bermuda Cup was a glamorous start to 2016 season. The four days of fleet racing on Bermuda’s Great Sound produced fickle conditions which meant the pressure was on the the team coaches to analyse the performance at the end of each day to see where gains could be made.
We caught up with 1984 Los Angeles Olympic gold medallist and team Katusha’s coach, Steve Erickson, to get the lowdown on the Bermudan race track.
“It was a pretty exciting season opener for most of the teams as a lot of us have sailed here before and it brings back great memories. For the likes of Ed Baird [tactician on board Team Nika], Andy Horton [tactician onboard Katusha] and some of the other match racing boys, this is where they come year-after-year for the Gold Cup,” explained Erickson. “But what the RC44 Class delivered was a race course that none of us had sailed before.”
Rather than racing on Hamilton Harbour in front of the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club, the RC44 fleet were sent out on to the Great Sound, to test the stretch of water that will host the 35th America’s Cup in 2017.
“I’m big on first impressions,” Erickson reflected. “And day one of practice racing really delivered. It was a ‘wow this is pretty cool’ moment.”
The Great Sound is a neat little venue, windy yet fairly protected and very accessible. It creates an amphitheatre for sailing, with a constrained race track in the middle. Perfect dimensions for Principle Race Officer, Peter ‘Luigi’ Reggio, to set a course regardless of the wind direction.
Over the four days of fleet racing the wind ranged from 0 knots - with limp flags and the teams held ashore, to a blustery - hold on to your hats - 25 knots with a short sharp chop that was brutal for the crews hiking the physical RC44 boats.
“Our analogy of Bermuda was it is a lot like lake sailing. The wind comes from a different direction each day, you can’t really take on the lessons from the day before and the water is relatively flat but with a shoreline that bends the wind. This all combined makes the sailing fun and dynamic.”
The only opportunity for reflection came in the final few days of racing, when the teams had been in Bermuda for eight days, and the wind finally settled into a direction they had seen before.
“It was shifty, head out of the boat sailing,” Erickson noticed, “and as a coach it was a really hard venue to make any sort strategy for the day, other then just deal with what’s thrown at you in the moment.
“One thing I observed from the coach boat was the teams would often get a good start. But if they were corralled by the five or six other boats who also had a good start, they tended to miss the first shift or two in the opening moments of the race, trying to out-do one another on boat speed.
“Opening the door for a team to get off the line with an average start, hit the early shift of their choice and end up ahead,” he added.
“The more dynamic the race course, the more you see the experienced teams in the fleet really show their best face. I mean Team Aqua is on their 10th season and their tactician Cameron Appleton has been there from day one. Bronenosec have invested a lot of time into their sailing over the last couple of years and it’s really starting to show on this type of racecourse.”
Team Aqua and Bronenosec Sailing Team finished the RC44 Bermuda Cup in first and second respectively.
“The challenge for us on Katusha is having two owners that take turns in helming throughout the event. It’s great because they are really enjoying the sailing, but over the course of a week in a new venue, it is hard to build up the experience needed for such a dynamic racing.”
And the challenge only gets harder for the developing Katusha team as the depth of experience in the fleet grows year-on-year.
“On the dock I overheard Vasco [Vascotto] say to the press: “Yeah it’s really shifty here, I love that,” and I thought to myself classic Vasco. Thats what we are up against. He will jump on any opportunity thrown his way and in this fleet there are a lot of experienced tacticians that can capitalise on any advantage.
The RC44 Championship Tour now looks ahead to the 2016 World Championship event in Sotogrande Spain from the 11 - 15 May.