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The 44CUP comes to the Bay of Gibraltar

by ICARUS Sports & Hamish Risso / Pics by Nico Martinez and Roberto Pecino

• Local boat Peninsula comes 4th after being in contention to win the overall up to the last race.
• Ceeref comes from behind to win the 44Cup in a dramatic final day’s racing.

The 44Cup – one of the most prestigious and competitive sailing tours in the world – came to the Bay of Gibraltar this weekend for the Alcaidesa Cup hosted by the Alcaidesa Marina in La Linea.
Since its launch in 2007, the RC44 Championship Tour has established itself as a key series to compete on in the international yacht racing scene, allowing amateur owner drivers to race high performance one-design yachts with some of the best sailors in the world on board including multiple Olympic Gold medallists, renown Americas Cup sailors and numerous World and European champions.
Gibraltar is represented on this tour by local businessman John Bassadone, who competes on board his yacht Peninsula Racing and which boasts Vasco Vascotto (the famed 25+ time World Champion) as tactician, and Jordi Calafat (1992 Olympic Gold medallist) as part of the crew.
On the practice day, sailing students from the RGYC were lucky enough to get on board the boats and be part of the crew sailing them around the bay – an unforgettable experience for these youngsters and, if their smiles as they came off the boats were anything to go by, one that they thoroughly enjoyed.
The first day of competition racing was unfortunately cancelled due to the high winds, with the second day managing to get 4 races started but only 3 finished as one of the races had to be abandoned when a massive squall hit the yachts with winds closing in on 40 knots and the driving rain making it a painfully difficult for the skippers and crew to see where they were going.
The third day was also expected to be a write off – this time due to a lack of win rather than too much – but fortunately a southerly sea breeze filled the bay and allowed all three planned races to be completed, leaving the positions as follows: (see table 1)

Unlike the previous 3 days of racing, the wind on this fourth and final day had turned to a strong 20+ knots of Easterly blowing across the Bay with the rain, beneath an ominously dark sky, adding to drama on what was already the most exciting of sailing days.
In the first race of the final day, and the 7th race of the series, Team Nika took the win but the drama was further down the field with the top two boats in the overall up to that point, Black Star Sailing Team and Peninsula Racing, coming 7th and 9th respectively and allowing Ceeref powered by Hrastnik 1860, to make up points on them and jump into contention on the same points as Peninsula Racing and just one behind leaders Black Star Sailing Team.
The second race of the day, and the penultimate race of the series, resulted in a win for the French boat Aleph Racing, and with Black Star, Peninsula Racing and Cerref powered by Hrastnik 1860 all performing relatively badly, the scene was set for the final race with the overall standings as follows: (see table 2)

Therefore, as is typical in this high-performance owner-drive one design, just two points separated the top four boats going into the final race of the final day of the 44Cup Alcaidesa Marina and, with nine points on the table, mathematically any of the top six could still win including local boat Peninsula Racing who at the start of that final race were in second place, just one point off the overall lead.
Leading by one point going into this race, life was made easy for owner Igor Lah, tactician Adrian Stead and the crew of Team Ceeref powered by Hrastnik 1860 as their most threatening rivals tied themselves up. Ceeref won the pin, claimed the left and returning on port screeched into the starboard layline and from there rounded the top mark just ahead of Team Nika and Chris Bake’s Team Aqua. At this point their top four rivals were not featuring: leader going into the final day and generous host of the 44Cup Alcaidesa Marina, John Bassadone and his Peninsula Racing and star of the first two days – Christian Zuerrer’s Black Star Sailing Team – were eighth and ninth respectively both having committed to the unfavoured right. The closest of Ceeref’s rivals was Aleph Racing in sixth.
From here Lah’s Slovenian team clung on and even extended over Team Aqua and Team Nika. At the finish, the nearest of the ‘top four’ was Aleph Racing who now up to fourth, leaving Ceeref powered by Hrastnik 1860 ahead of her by four points with Black Star Sailing Team and Peninsula Racing tied on points, a further three adrift in third and fourth.
Crossing the line, the Ceeref team was ecstatic complete with fist pumping and high-fiving. This was the first event win for the 2017 and 2019 44Cup Champions since Oman in February.
“I am happy!” said a delighted Lah shortly before he was ‘encouraged’ by RC44 Class President Chris Bake into a victor’s dunking in Marina Alcaidesa. “We were struggling for a few regattas, but now we are finally back, and everything is fine.” As to going into the last race which such major competition so close behind him, Lah continued: “We wanted to extend it a little bit! So it was successful. It is always nerve-wracking, but every race is a new development.”
His tactician Adrian Stead added: “It is good that we have got Ceeref back on track a little bit. We are always trying to be the best, but this fleet is bloody tough. In Cowes we had one difference in the team and we didn’t start as well. On our last day we could have been second but ended up fifth. Here the whole regatta has been tight, so it was all about just chipping away. Today there were three windy races in building breeze, so being in control was key, avoiding the top mark incidents and getting settled downwind.”
The top scoring boat of the final day, having won the second race of the day, was in fact Hugues Lepic’s Aleph Racing which this week has had Pietro Loro Piana on helm. Loro Piana comes from a well-known sailing family, his uncle Pier Luigi campaigning a series of maxi yachts called My Song.
Pietro has been racing smaller sports boats and was enthusiastic about his introduction this week to the RC44. “It has been an adrenalin rush - it is a crazy nice boat. The crew were astonishing. It is the first time I have sailed to such a level. To be brutally honest I enjoyed it like it was my first time sailing. Michele [Ivaldi] is a great tactician and the entire crew did an amazing job. They made me do some amazing starts. I have to thank everyone who sailed with me.”
Third top scoring boat today was Team Nika, winner of the opening race, their first bullet of the event. “We have been struggling a little bit with some of our crew being sick,” admitted tactician Nick Asher. “Our pitman and grinder got sick, so we had to swap them out, which wasn’t ideal. Today we sorted ourselves out and we were starting better and going well upwind.” So, with no warning one of their shorecrew, Vid Jeranko, found himself taking on the difficult and exacting job of operating an RC44’s pit for the last two days.
With two breezy days and one light, and wind from the west/northwest, south and east and currents that were hard to predict, the 44Cup’s first ever event in the shadow of Gibraltar was considered a great success. This was especially so given the first-class hospitality offered by John Bassadone’s Peninsula Racing team, including a gala dinner at the Hacienda Links Golf Resort.

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