x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Far from plain sailing

Team Aqua and Katusha docked points for crashes as the altered format decreed the five crafts in each group would wage direct, one-on-one duels.

Team Aqua ended day two of the Sea Dubai RC44 Gold Cup on minus one point.
Team Aqua ended day two of the Sea Dubai RC44 Gold Cup on minus one point.

DUBAI // Having succumbed to mother nature on day one, the timely return of a breeze, albeit the merest hint of one, saw the Sea Dubai RC44 Gold Cup hoist its sails off Dubai International Marine Club (DIMC) yesterday. Absent winds may have left the 10 identical RC44 yachts stranded at the DIMC jetty on Wednesday, but the competitive match races finally got up and running in a revised two group round-robin format on the second day of the five-day event.

With the thermal breeze hovering perilously close to the postponement mark (anything below five knots) the altered format decreed the five crafts in each group would wage direct, one-on-one duels. The top ranking vessel from each group would qualify for a first and second place showdown, while the second ranked teams from the groups would contest a third and fourth play-off, third best yachts a fifth and sixth race, and so on.

The miserly wind, however, slowed down the pace of the races and it became clear it would not hold for the knockouts. Thus, the round-robin results were turned into a makeshift championship and with one point going to every flight's winner, the rival RC44 yachts battled for supremacy in four races apiece. Team Ceeref, skippered by Rod Davies, made most of the early running, winning their opening three flights to assume control of the competition. But with the light breeze fading, the BMW Oracle Racing crew, skippered by Morgan Larson, a late stand-in for regular skipper Russell Coutts who is embroiled in the 33rd America's Cup venue saga, began to up their speed. A one-off showdown between Larson's ever-improving San Diego-based team and Ceeref ultimately decided the match race class. But it was not the American's crew who took match honours.

"We lost on the last run by taking a bit of a split with the other boat, which we didn't need to do," said Larson. "We should have stayed between him and the hoop, so to speak. We'd have won the match race with a win over Ceeref, but they beat us, they win and they sailed really well." Crews were forced to up their work-rate to compensate for the lack of breeze, which scraped the minimum requirement for competitive sailing. It was, quite literally, all hands on deck for the yachtsmen and several heavy collisions evidenced their hunger for the fight. Crashes, however, are costly for RC44 teams; two boats were docked two points yesterday, one of whom, series leader Team Aqua, finished the day on minus one points.

"It's certainly been a bad day from the point of view of a couple of collisions," said Aqua skipper Cameron Appleton. "Which in this current situation is more detrimental than losing races. We know what we did wrong, we hit boats, but we're happy with everything else and the way we sailed. It came down to crashes and a lot of minus points. It's really screwed us in the overall rankings." Despite winning three of its four races, Russian-owned Team Katusha was another yacht penalised. The Katusha crew were swiped by Team Puerto Calero in the day's opening flight, but were deemed responsible and docked two points. After mounting a hat-trick of wins to recover the deficit, Katusha skipper Paul Cayard called the penalty "harsh".

"We had a good day on the water, we won three of the four races," said Cayard. "But because of a penalty assessed to us in the first race, it's not been a good day. We had a minus two for the first race, so we've ended up with one point after winning three races. It's harsh. "The other boat even said they were in the wrong, he was surprised we got the penalty, I was too. I couldn't believe it. But it was deemed to be our error on the water, and the rules say that the call made on the water is final, so you have to live with it."