TEAM NIKA BACK ON FORM AS 44CUP OMAN GETS UNDERWAY

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After a light World Championship back in October in Portorož, Slovenia, the nine teams competing today off Muscat’s Al Mouj Marina at the 44Cup Oman were well dialled in for the opening day of the 2022 44Cup’s grand finale.

However today it was not the turn of Nico Poons’ Charisma, with her newly installed season leader’s golden wheels, to come out on top, nor past 44Cup season winners and World Champions Chris Bake’s Team Aqua but Team Nika, which, across today’s three races, posted a nearly immaculate 2-1-2. And this was despite having a new tactician.

With Team Nika’s regular tactician Francesco Bruni tied up with the Italian challenger for the America’s Cup, his shoes are being filled by British two time 470 World Champion turned pro tactician Nic Asher. According to Asher the secret today was down to “very good communication. We had a lot of gear changing and it was quite tough out there. So it was our communication and we were fast – that was the secret.

“It was definitely tough out there, although I quite enjoy the light and shifty stuff. It was a case of keeping everyone calm – a lot can go right, but a lot can go wrong quite quickly. You just had to keep everyone calm and keep doing the right things.”

Still being relatively green to the RC44, Asher was impressed with the high performance owner-driver one-design’s ability to race well even in the lightest conditions: “It’s incredible: At times we had 4-5 knots [of wind] and the boats are still powered up and going – you can race them well in next to nothing. With this class there is a lot of chat about how you get a lot of racing in. I don’t think a lot of the other classes would have raced today, so there was a lot of learning in those light conditions.”

In the first race, Chris Bake’s Team Aqua did well out on the left of the first beat, leading into the top with Team Nika on her transom, then defending well to take the event’s first bullet. This was followed by Team Nika’s win in the second, again from a good start and claiming the left.

With the afternoon wearing on and shadows getting longer, the third race was claimed by Hugues Lepic’s Aleph Racing, on which Steve Howe, an American former Farr 40 skipper is steering this week. The French team’s tactician Michele Ivaldi explained: “It was pretty tricky – in the first race we struggled a bit. In the second we had a good start and were launched but then when we got to the left side of the course there was a massive split breeze and fell out of the rightie, so we were then playing catch up. The third race was the same set-up, but we managed to go all the way to the left with speed and then we tacked and crossed all of the fleet and led from then on – which wasn’t easy…”

Given the lightness of the conditions, the day was tricky with the northwesterly gradient fighting with the northerly sea breeze that would occasionally kick in. For most it was a high scoring day. Local fans were thrilled that the Oman Sail crew on board Team Asyad Shipping, sailing their first ever 44Cup were in the mix – huge testament to the progress Oman Sail has made since it was established in 2008 by the order of the then Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said to rekindle Oman’s maritime heritage.

“It was good to catch up with this strong fleet for the first time,” explained helmsman, Musab Al Hadi, Oman’s 49er helm, who is otherwise currently attempting to gain Oman its first Olympic berth.“It should be a good finale regatta. We are just trying to learn as much as we can because it is an opportunity.” So does being the local boat help? “It gives us some tricks, but once again you can have the best tactician but if you don’t have the best helmsman then you can’t go anywhere,” continues Al Hadi. “You need everything – good helmsman, tactician and a good reading for the wind and there you go…”

As a local weather expert, Al Hadi is forecasting more wind tomorrow, perhaps 11-13 knots.

Once again racing is scheduled to have its first warning signal at 12:30 local time (UTC -4 hours). Follow live from www.44cup.org.