RC44 round up

The US initiative, less match racing in 2011 - Team Aqua's Chris Bake, Terry Hutchinson and Francesco Bruni shares their views on the Coutts one design

Tuesday December 7th 2010, Author: James Boyd, Location: none selected

One design classes come and go but one on the ascent at the moment remains the RC44. Today Russell Coutts’ black day sailers begin their first ever event in the US, out of Miami with a record 14 boats taking part.

14 boats might sound small compared with say the Farr 40 in its heyday, but one of the self-inflicted constraints of the RC44 class is its unique race format that combines match racing and fleet racing. Finding the time to carry out a meaningful match racing event over two days is verging on the impossible which is why this is to be changed from next season on.

In fact to date 24 RC44s have been built (the last being Synergy) while hull #23 is sailing its first regatta this week with the class’ first US-based owner David Murphy.

“Over the last few weeks there has been a lot of interest,” says Russell Coutts. “We have 14 teams in Miami and around half are interested in doing Key West Race Week, which is good. We have got quite a few potential owners looking at coming in. It looks like it is going to grow.”

According to Coutts the match racing component isn’t the only constraint on fleet size. Once you get beyond 16-18 teams, each having its own container, this limits the choice of venues the circuit can visit. Already the travelling road show is compact as it can be, the RC44s having their unique container-isation system for easy shipping, while the class operate shared facilities for the teams.

However the class is likely to be more attractive to owners when the match racing element is scaled back next year. For the match racing a pro helmsman is allowed, while it is strictly amateur drivers for the fleet racing. The new regatta format will feature one day of match racing to four days of fleet racing. “At the end of the day, the owners want to drive their boats,” explains RC44 Class Manager, Bertrand Favre. “I don’t think we will quit match racing, but that part of it is getting smaller. Some of the owners see the match racing as a warm-up for their crew, others say ‘we want to sail our boats’, so we need to balance that. I am pretty sure that with this new format where you don’t have to do the match racing, we may have some new teams joining only for the fleet racing part of the championship.”

But how is one day of match racing going to work? The match racing and fleet racing results will be scored separately. The individual days of match racing will form part of a rolling round robin that operates throughout the year for the duration of the Championship. “We will have a cut off time but we won’t have any pressure with a format where we have to get so many flights sailed,” says Favre. The organisers will simply work through the pairing list from regatta to regatta, the end result being the number of wins over the course of the season.

With BMW Oracle and James Spithill’s 17, Artemis, Mascalzone Latino and most recently Synergy, many of the potential and already up-and-running America’s Cup teams seem to be competing on the RC44 circuit. This has had the effect of upping the game this season with more coaching this season and pre-events practice.

At this stage it is not entirely clear what the involvement of these teams will be once the AC World Series kicks off next year. One wonders if there will be any clashing dates for example? We do know that 17 won’t be racing in 2011, as the BMW Oracle Racing skipper James Spithill focuses on racing two hulls.

“I think we will go back to more of an owner thing next year with less trainers gym, sail makers etc, which I think is a good thing for us,” says Bertrand Favre. He echoes what we have also heard this year from the Audi MedCup’s organisers - that their circuit relies not on Cup teams, but on individual owners. “I don’t think the AC teams represent the future of the class even if it was going to be in the monohulls,” says Favre. He holds up Peninsula Petroleum’s John Bassadone as a perfect example of an RC44 owner. “He is enjoying sailing and driving his boat. He steers in the match racing himself. So he has the profile of the owner we are looking for.”

According to Russell Coutts even the boat itself was designed specifically to be owner-driven, as he says: “Driving is one of the easier parts of this boat to be honest, because it is pretty well balanced and it is relatively easy - not that easy, but relatively so. It is the crew work that is demanding. The hiking looks harder than it is and just the layout of the boat - everyone is busy: You have got two people trimming the genoa upwind, you have a guy on the car pulling constantly and a guy trimming the sheet and it is the same with the pit area and a tack – both the bowman and the pitman are occupied and then you have the central grinder and the mainsheet guy has got plenty to do. I would say it is a demanding boat from a crew standpoint but the opportunity for some of these owners to come in and drive a boat with a relatively good team and do well is quite good and we’ve seen that.”

US bound

As a class the focus for 2011 is on maintaining the program in Europe, with a big initiative in the USA. Racing in Miami starts today and some of the boats will be competing in Key West Race Week in January. Next year the season will start with a regatta in San Diego during the first week in March. Then the fleet will return to Europe for another event on Lake Traunsee, Austria, before heading for somewhere yet to be announced in Italy in June, then Sweden, probably Marstrand over the last week in July, then ending up in Marseille/Valencia/Cascais in September before the Worlds once again in Puerto Calero, Lanzarote in November. From there the fleet will once again be put on a ship, either one heading to the USA or back to Dubai.

The ultimate plan is to have individual RC44 circuits in Europe, the USA and eventually the Far East, all coming together for a annual World Championship. While Hong Kong-based Frank Pong has in the past owned two RC44s (one is now James Spithill’s 17) and still owns hull #16, and Japan’s Isao Mita previously campaigned Beecom, Favre reckons moving into Asia could be premature. “I think the Asian market isn’t mature enough for this type of boat right now. Maybe I am wrong. It will be a longer process. Maybe have one event or two there at some point, but what we want to do is to have our owners happy and go to places where we can sell boats and grow the fleet. So our focus is on the USA in the next two years.”

Ideally the US circuit will comprise annually two events on both the east and west coast and possibly one of the Great Lakes. “With the container system you can move them around easily - trucking in the States is pretty cheap. We had a test event in Newport in June last year and the interest was pretty big, but I think the US owners need to see the fleet and see the boats. I am pretty confident that after Miami, Key West will be important for us and hopefully after San Diego we can put together something in the US.”

At present the class represents good value. The price of a boat is 425,000 Euros, while annual running costs are 500,000. “At the end of the day you can’t spend more,” says Favre. “We are running all the logistics, we know how much that is going to cost, you have a fixed number of sails. So there is a limit. Obviously if some teams have a coach, etc. There are differences in the budget.”

Boat tweaks

On the technical side there is little change to the boats. Over the course of this season the redundant no3 fore and aft jib tracks have been removed. For next season the boats will sport a new heavy genniker. “The idea is to increase the range so they can sail in 20 knots safely,” says Favre. “At the moment we can race in up to 25, but then it starts getting expensive!”

So the sail wardrobe for 2011 will be main, three jibs and three rather than the present two gennikers. Sails can still be built by different lofts and evident on the boats this season has been a mix of North 3DL and 3Di, while with Synergy joining the circuit, Quantum is now represented as well.

We attended the RC44 World Championship in Puerto Calero, Lanzarote in the Canary Islands in the same week as we had been to the TP52 Worlds (effectively an extension of the Audi MedCup, same organisers, etc) and the Extreme Sailing Series concluding event in Almeria, and with less commercial influence, the atmosphere at the regatta seem more laid back, more akin to Farr 40 regattas. The owners – including Torbjorn Tornqvist and his Russian partner in Geneva-based oil traders Gunvor International, Guennadi Timtchenko, who’s boat Katusha is skippered by Paul Cayard – one night attended an evening hosted by the local Calero family where they had a ping pong and snooker contest, presumably something that doesn’t happen often in their day to day lives.

Among them was Team Aqua owner Chris Bake, who in the real world is Managing Director of Vitol Dubai, an oil marketing company and commodities trader.

Bake has been involved in the RC44 class pretty much from the outset. “I hadn’t sailed for a long time and certain things happened that I said ‘life’s too short’, you have to do what you’ve always wanted to do,” he says of why he signed up to this rather than any other class. “I looked around and I did a mental check list in terms of transportability, feasibility, cost, profile and looked at the boats and the first time I saw the boat it seemed a kick-ass boat. Then you add it all up - this can sit in a container, you ship it to different parts of the world, you have the amateur-pro interface, which is fairly important I think. It gives me a chance to go off and sail against some of the best sailors in the world and sometimes beat them, which is a fairly good high and you go from there. So all-in-all it is really good. So I had made the decision to get back into sailing but I hadn’t made the decision to get back into racing but then Russell said, you are going to buy this boat, I am not going to give you a choice.”

Bake says he got good support from the class and they put him together with New Zealand former America’s Cup helmsman Cameron Appleton, who has been running Team Aqua ever since. “He has been incredibly supportive and pro-active in the structure of the team and managing the logistics side and it has been phenomenal,” says Bake. “I am one element of it but there are seven or eight other people on the boat that make it go.”

Bake confirms that the circuit has been getting tougher with more boats pitching up on the start line with some formidable crews. He agrees that reducing the emphasis on match racing is good for the class, although he is personally satisfied with the present two day format. “For me the match racing provides a really nice platform for the pros on board to tune their skills and also a chance to show their skills a little bit rather than be subject to the vagaries of giving advice, but not necessary to having their advice put into action. I think it is really important in that respect.”

Another attraction of the RC44s, like any owner driver class, is the opportunity for owners to socialise. Bake, who admits he was knocked out fairly early on in the pingpong contest, says “it is all part of it - you can come off the water and have a beer and conversations with peers that have the same passion and the same interest, but are from different walks of life and all have very interesting stories. We are all fairly type A and live fairly intense lives, so that chance is great.”

A unique feature of the RC44s owners is the number in the oil industry. In addition to Chris Bake there are Tornqvist and Timtchenko, and they were joined at the Worlds last month by Peninsula Petroleum’s John Bassadone.

We featured Bassadone on thedailysail earlier this year when when he joined the Audi MedCup with his Peninsula Petroleum GP42, obviously a boat of a similar length to the RC44. “It is of a similar length, but a different shape,” Bassadone agrees. “It isn’t easier, but the boat has more stability. I have only sailed it in the last few days but you feel you have good control, whereas with the GP42 it is very tricky at times. They are both very good fun boats to sail on. This is a different format with the match racing at the beginning of the week and then the fleet racing.”

Not one to shirk his duties on the helm Bassadone also helmed for the match racing at the recent Worlds. “It was good. It was a bit stressful at time, so definitely a lot more practice needed before Miami.”

Having come from a season on the Audi MedCup (the last for the GP42s), Bassadone says he too noticed how different the flavour was on the RC44 circuit: “It is a lot more about the people here, the owners and the sailors. The Audi MedCup is fantastic as well, but there is more promotion. Here it is more about the people on the dock and there is a friendly atmosphere. I am loving it. It is definitely the way forward.”

From a pro-sailor perspective there have been several new faces join the fleet this season. Artemis America’s Cup helmsman Terry Hutchinson, also the 2008 Audi MedCup winner on Quantum Racing and a past Farr 40 World Champion with Jim Richardson’s Barking Mad, has been racing with Torbjorn Tornqvist on the Artemis RC44 throughout the year. “It is a fairly fast and lively boat,” he says. “They reward people sailing them well and if you don’t do things well you pay a penalty, but it is probably the right amount, so it is a good all-round boat for sure.”

However Hutchinson confirms that the RC44 is not the same animal as the monohulls he is used to. “It is a much different boat from a TP52 or a Farr 40. It is designed for sailing on lakes in Austria and flat water venues and occasionally you get rougher conditions and the boats probably aren’t the best upwind in those conditions, but downwind they are a good ride.”

Being a fan of the Farr 40, Hutchinson likes that it is not only an owner driver boat but also an owner driven class. “They drive what they want to have and the agenda of the class and in that regards it is like the Farr 40, which is a big positive because it keeps guys in the sport and keeps them coming back and much like any other class where you have an owner-driver and professionals on the boat there is always a high level of competition.”

But will it take over from the Farr 40? “No, it is a different boat and they both provide different things.”

Former Team Azzurra America’s Cup skipper, Italian Francesco Bruni is another recent convert, sailing his first RC44 regatta as a tactician for Vincenzo Onorato’s Mascalzone Latino in Puerto Calero. “It is a very nice class - I like the boat and the class, it is a pretty easy going. Vincenzo is a very good helmsman and he’s proved that in the past. For me, for him and for the crew, it is only about knowing the boat a little better and then we have very strong potential,” he says.

Bruni agrees the boat is unique in its size-range. “It is a very unique 44 footer, because it is skinny but very powerful with a lot of stability. You usually don’t have the trim tab in such a small boat. Big genoas and small jibs mean that the boat can sail in a very wide range of wind, so that is a little bit like what they want to do with the America’s Cup as well - that is a strong thing about these boats: We’ve had races in 4-5 knots and the boats were moving quickly through the water. That is a big plus for the boat.”

We look forward to seeing if potential owners in the US agree.


Latest Comments

Add a comment - Members log in

Latest news!

Back to top
    Back to top