With spinnakers blowing up all around them, Torbjörn Törnqvist steered his Artemis Racing through the carnage of the final run of the final race to claim the RC44 Cascais Cup.
At the final top mark rounding, both Chris Bake’s Team Aqua, race leader at the time, and Team CEEREF in third (and regatta leader at this point), suffered kite problems. These incidents helped the Swedish team prevail, winning by just one point in one of the closest finishes ever seen in the RC44’s ten year history, with six points separating first from sixth place after 11 races.
“That is amazing after one week of racing,” enthused Törnqvist, who last won an RC44 regatta in Virgin Gorda last November. “And it all coming down to the last run - it was incredible. Obviously there was a bit of luck involved, but it was our lucky day.”
After two light to moderate days, conditions turned more brutal for today’s final three races. The long Atlantic swell Cascais is famous for wasn’t so much in evidence, but a particularly vicious sea state had been kicked up by the northnorthwesterly breeze that built steadily until it was gusting to 25 knots. For the crews, the downwind legs were sensational, with all the teams getting their boats up on the surf and hitting speeds in excess of 20 knots.
“Obviously it was more challenging with the waves and the wind,” said Törnqvist of today’s sailing. “It was not so much about the shifts as handling the sea state and keeping the boat under control. At all the marks the boats were very close, which is a great tribute to the class.”
Also impressive was Artemis Racing’s turn-around performance this week– winning, despite ending day one in last place.
“We were in last place,” agreed the team’s tactician Francesco Bruni. “We had a very good second day which got us back in the hunt. Yesterday was average. And today our 2-3-1 was probably the best day Artemis Racing has ever had.”
Bruni also attributed their success today to the experience of their crew. “For sure we wouldn’t have won without them - we reacted to problems better than the other teams.”
This was also perhaps the reason why the longest serving RC44 crew also had the best day of their regatta. Chris Bake’s Team Aqua won the opening race and led the final race, until they too had kite issues.
Bake explained: “We were getting the chute out of the hatch and it ripped on a jib shackle putting a big tear in it. So we had to change chutes, which was a fairly rapid deployment situation.
“Apart from that it was a great day and really good racing: This week it has been as tight as I’ve ever seen it in this fleet. Not only were the points so close, but all the teams were capable of coming first. Hats off to BlackWater because to get to where they have got to is a big credit to their team.”
The biggest loss was to Team CEEREF, which led going into today and following their win going into the final race were still ahead with a two point cushion. Going into the final leg of the last race, the Slovenian team was still winning, but then disaster struck as their spinnaker gracefully divided in two splitting across its centre from luff to leech. This caused them to drop from third to seventh and to lose the RC44 Cascais Cup by a mere point.
As British tactician Adrian Stead summarized: “We were totally in control at the top mark and totally out of control about 10 seconds later…”
Of their loss, Team CEEREF owner Igor Lah was most succinct: “Shit happens! We were pretty sure it was done. We tried to recover all we could, but it wasn’t enough.”
Despite this, Lah and Team CEEREF managed to win five out of the 11 races this week and despite losing here in even more dramatic circumstances to how they lost last year, Lah remains is a great fan of the Portugese sailing mecca. “I think it is brilliant - one of the best venues there is, a really great location with nice wind and nice people.”
However there is a significant consolation prize for Team CEEREF. Their performance in Cascais has left them two points ahead of Team Aqua at the top of the 2016 RC44 Fleet Racing Championship leaderboard and they take charge of the leader 'golden wheels'. This will lead to a close finale going into the last event of the RC44 season, in Malta over 23-27 November.