x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Plunged in at the deep end

The story of Chris Bake, who fell in love with an RC44 yacht at first sight and has worked against odds to foot his own financial bill than be at the mercy of sponsors.

The Team Aqua crew in Dubai.
The Team Aqua crew in Dubai.

DUBAI // When Chris Bake saw pictures of an RC44 yacht being introduced to the sailing world three years ago, he immediately fell in love with it and hatched a plan to acquire one for recreational activities off the coast near his Dubai home. That is easier said than done. Even though Bake, who runs an oil business in the region, possessed the ?400,000 (Dh2.2m) to buy one of the new vessels and had enough funds in reserve to keep it on the water, he was unceremoniously sent packing by its designer Russell Coutts. Coutts, the New Zealand sailor who has three America's Cup victories to his credit, told Bake that the only way he could buy an RC44 was to commit it to the series of six international regattas held annually around the world.

"At first I thought there was no way I could compete against the likes of Russell and other top international sailors in the class," said Bake. "But gradually the idea grew on me. "Russell told me that he would help me to put together a strong team and he even offered to find the men to sail with me. Sure enough, he did just that." Having recruited Cameron Appleton, a compatriot of Coutts, as his key helmsman and tactician, Bake was ready to appoint the rest of a Team Aqua crew that was in place for the 2007 series in which they ended up taking overall honours.

The competition strengthened last year and Aqua finished fourth - a position they occupied again after the completion of this year's six-race series, the Sea Dubai Gold Cup, at the weekend. Bake prefers to foot the financial bill himself rather than "sell my soul" to sponsors and end up having the terms of the agreement dictated to him. "It is more fun this way," he said. Bake was disappointed with Aqua's performance on home waters. The team arrived in Dubai holding a narrow lead in the overall standings but failed to perform to the level that they had in the previous five meetings. "When things go wrong in this sport, they can go wrong big time," Blake reflected. "We suffered two collisions and ended up with negative points. That killed us."

Tomorrow is another day, however. Blake is looking forward to renewing rivalry with the growing number of RC44 crews. "I haven't defined yet my objectives for next year but I am 100 per cent committed to the class," he said. "It is great fun." @Email:wjohnson@thenational.ae