Normally 44Cup events are decided in the final gybes of the last leg of the last race after four days of competition. But at the 44Cup Cascais, the second of the 2022 series for the high-performance owner-driver one designs, the opposite was true. Charisma of Monaco-based Dutchman Nico Poons, set the benchmark high after scoring three bullets on the opening day. Their advantage since Thursday may have gone up and down, but they ended the weekend having won five out of 11 races sailed, including today’s third, concluding one. They finished the 44Cup Cascais a massive 12 points ahead of Igor Lah’s Ceeref powered by Hrastnik 1860. Charisma’s result was especially unusual since at the 44Cup Lanzarote in February they were last.
Wind conditions were similar to yesterday with a 10 knot southerly and cloud cover giving way to blue sky. PRO Maria Torrijo today moved the race area to due south of Cascais, protecting it from the worst of the northwesterly Atlantic swell. However instead there was a confused sea – swell coming from two directions plus wind driven waves from the south.
Today, as on Friday, Chris Bake’s Team Aqua was fastest out of the blocks, winning the opening race. However they finishing last in the next race and looked set to repeat this when they were OCS in the last race, salvaging a fifth – but this ultimately cost the 2021 44Cup champions third place here.
“It was a bit more open and it was about getting the boat settled in and set up well,” said tactician Cameron Appleton of today’s conditions. Of their first race win he added: “We went to the right side and chased a bit more pressure and the current was favourable. We have been sailing well all week. The guys have done a good job. We have had a lot of great moments. We have had good starts, but not capitalised on them.”
Going into the final race Charisma only had to finish to win the event. Nonetheless undeterred they won this in emphatic style. Of their overall victory, skipper Nico Poons mused: “It is a good feeling – we won! I am amazed, especially since last time we didn’t do well in Lanzarote and now we have won with such a big advantage. The first day with three bullets – that was a cracker, insane! The driver needs his focus but it is the team that is making or breaking things.”
Contributing to Charisma’s success this week was employing the local knowledge of professional Portugese sailor Álvaro Marinho.
Even a man usually full of theories, Charisma’s mainsheet trimmer Chris Hosking was at a loss to explain their success: “I wish I knew! Sometimes it just goes your way. It doesn’t feel like we did anything particularly different to what we did in Lanzarote when we finished eighth.” Certainly the Charisma team usually performs well in breeze.
Going into the last race, Ceeref had already secured at least second overall. Their ultimately doing so provided no surprises for Igor Lah. “It is the curse of Cascais for us. We ALWAYS finish second here! I have to congratulate Charisma – they sailed extremely well. But we are happy – we have kept our golden wheels,” he concluded referring to the 44Cup’s equivalent of the Tour de France leader’s yellow jersey.
While second was secure, this was far from the case for third overall. Team Aqua held this going into the final race, but tenuously with Aleph Racing and Artemis Racing both a point behind and Team Nika a further two back.
While Charisma was the stand-out team here, in fact today’s winner in terms of scoring lowest points was Team Nika which won today’s second race and followed this up chasing Charisma home to claim second in the last race. These results propelled them up the leaderboard from sixth to third, albeit only decided on countback from Aleph Racing and Artemis Racing.
“We had a great start and we picked the first two shifts in the right way – we didn’t just hit the corner,” explained Team Nika’s tactician Francesco Bruni of their race win. “We were very excited that we still had a chance to finish in the top three after that. Then we were a little bit lucky to finish on the same points as Artemis and Aleph and win on countback. We are happy and coming third is important for the season’s points.” As to Charisma’s performance, the Italian America’s Cup helmsman explained: “That is typical of the 44Cup. One day you are zero and then you are the hero.”
44Cup newbies Black Star Sailing Team enjoyed a brief moment of glory when in today’s second race they reached the top mark in second, ultimately ending up sixth in this race. “It was a great event with a lot of learning,” said skipper Christian Zuerrer of their first 44Cup event. “It is always nice to be in the pack. In these conditions it was challenging to steer and with our old jib we couldn’t sail upwind like the others. But it was much better today than yesterday.”
13 May 2022
44Cup Cascais: Hat Trick for Nico Poons’ Charisma
Traditionally a team of black or white results, Charisma of Monaco-based Dutchman Nico Poons was very much in the latter phase when his team defied the odds to win all three races on the opening day of the 44Cup Cascais. This annihilation of his ultra-competitive opposition comes after Charisma was on the ‘receiving end’, having suffered an eighth-placed finish at the 2022 44Cup’s first event in Puerto Calero, Lanzarote back in February.
With the wind blowing down the Portuguese coast from the northwest, the forecast was for 13-15 knots, gradually increasing over the afternoon. In fact, the increase did not materialize with the wind only briefly hitting the teens, albeit enough for the eight RC44 teams to enjoy surfing down the Atlantic swell in blazing sunshine.
From the results, it may appear Charisma had it all her way, but this was far from true.
Due to the geography here, the right typically pays on upwind legs and it was usually those who bet hardest on this side of the course from the outset that prevailed.
In race one, it was Team Aqua that led for the first lap but Charisma cleverly put in a hitch at the end of the first run enabling her to split from Chris Bake’s team and take the starboard gate mark as Team Aqua went left. Continuing right allowed Charisma to pull ahead and then go on to take the first bullet from Team Aqua with Igor Lah’s Ceeref powered by Hrastnik 1860 fending off Hugues Lepic’s advancing Team Aleph.
Race two saw Torbjörn Törnqvist’s Artemis Racing prevail up the first beat to lead round the weather mark ahead of Team Nika with Charisma third. Once again persevering with the right more than the rest on the second upwind saw Charisma nose in front of Team Aleph at the top mark with the Swedish team falling back to third. Good covering down the run enabled Poons’ team to score their second race win, helped when Team Nika was crippled with a broken port runner.
With adrenalin rising, in the third race Team Aleph and John Bassadone’s Peninsula Racing were over early and had to restart. Meanwhile, Charisma and Team Nika, now fixed after her breakage, led the charge out to the right. Approaching the top mark Charisma had nosed in front with five other boats fighting to claim the water immediately astern. Charisma then sailed fast and safe to secure her third bullet ahead of Ceeref and Team Nika.
So after her poor performance in the Canaries, how did this turnabout happen? “I don’t know – maybe it is just a bit more focus or whatever,” said Nico Poons, careful not to presume too much with three days of racing to go. “In Lanzarote, we hardly had any wind but here we have a good breeze and that makes a big difference. And we had good starts which help. It felt good.”
Tactician and former America’s Cup and Olympic Laser and Star sailor Hamish Pepper was less committal about their success: “Nico and the guys sailed the boat extremely well around the track. We had some good starts and luck went our way: Like in the last race, Aleph and Peninsula were over early and it opened up our lane to go right – unfortunate for them, lucky for us. It was an extremely good day.”
As to the slightly one-sided race track in these conditions, Pepper observed: “As you get up to the top of the course there is a bend to the right in this wind direction but Maria (Torrijo, the 44Cup PRO) knows that and she favors the pin to make it a bit more challenging. But it does change from race to race and it is not a must to go right. It just depends on how filled-in the breeze is.”
Going into day two Ceeref is second overall, three points clear of Team Aqua with the 44Cup’s typical ultra-tight point score tying up the mid-fleet immediately behind her.
“Overall it was a good day,” commented Team Aleph’s Michele Ivaldi, who has former Rolex Farr 40 World Champion Alex Roepers helming this week standing in for Hugues Lepic. “In the first race we made two mistakes with our maneuvers, but we came out with a solid fourth. The second race was really good because we were in fifth and our boat speed was good up the top of the second beat and we came out second. In the third we made an unforced error (OCS) – we did everything very well until 20 seconds to go, defended our position, got the position we wanted but just pulled the trigger two or three seconds too early. Once you are in the back it is difficult to get back.”