x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

High hopes for home team in season finale

Aqua crew told to stick to basics as they take a narrow lead into the championship decider when the showdown strats today off the Dubai coast.

DUBAIi // A protracted battle for supremacy on the high seas promises to reach a nerve-wracking conclusion over the next five days off the coast of Dubai and there is every chance that local sailing enthusiasts will be cheering a home team to victory.

Team Aqua, based in the UAE and owned by Canadian Chris Bake with New Zealand's Cameron Appleton at the helm, carry a narrow lead over their closest rivals Artemis into the final RC44 Championship regatta of a busy season which has seen competitive match racing and fleet racing at five other international venues. The class which was introduced by Russell Coutts, a three-time America's Cup winning skipper, here in Dubai three years ago has steadily grown in stature.

Two boats competed in that initial event, now there are 21 registered, 10 of which are moored off Dubai International Marine Club ready to burst into action when the Sea Dubai Gold Cup gets under way this morning. Providing Aqua finish what is likely to be an exhausting programme with a better record than that of Artemis, they will be confirmed champions of their class. There is a possibility the overall title could be snatched by No Way Back, currently third, or fourth-placed Oracle, but organisers regard such an outcome as unlikely.

Appleton and his fellow crew members have profited from their tremendous consistency all season but have seen a healthy early lead erode away to only three points going into the Gold Cup finale, which offers double points. His message to his crew going into the deciding regatta was to keep doing the basics well. Curiously Artemis, who have a Swedish skipper in Torbjorn Tornqvist and a New Zealand helmsman in Dean Barker, lead all three categories - match racing, fleet racing and DHL Trophy (long distance) - yet cannot claim pole position overall going into the deciding regatta.

"That's a little strange, it's a complicated scoring system but it rewards consistency," said Barker. "We didn't start the season very well but we've improved as the season has developed." "We have managed to close the gap on Cameron. The fact that we are racing for double points here means that none of the current rankings are safe . This is our last event. We are not required to be back next year but we want to close it off with a good result."

Asked for his strategy in the round-robin series of nine match races and the maximum of 12 fleet races, he responded: "We are hoping to be lucky out there. It's better to be lucky than good." Sadly for the prestige of the event, Coutts has changed his plans to compete because of the priority of preparing his Oracle team for the much-delayed America's Cup challenge to the Swiss catamaran Alinghi. Several of the likely America's Cup crew members have travelled from their San Diego base to take part against the other nine teams which include a second home representation in Sea Dubai.

They occupy eighth position of 15 teams who have taken part at the various venues and have an Emirati owner in Yousef Lahej. He has Germany's Markus Wieser at the helm. Wieser said: "We have been playing catch up for most of the campaign and it is not easy to make up ground because all the other guys are getting better and better in this class." @Email:wjohnson@thenational.ae