At the ready in San Diego
The RC44 Championship Tour is less than 24 hours from bringing European-style, spectator-friendly, short course racing to Broadway Pier and San Diego Bay.
Opening with one day of match racing before switching to a fleet race format through to the close of play on Sunday 6 March, the Oracle RC44 Cup San Diego has a strong line-up.
Top of that list will be the defending champions - Larry Ellison and his Oracle Racing team. They will open the defence of their 2010 title on what’s been a happy hunting ground for the class’s co-designer and originator; Russell Coutts won the first of his four America’s Cup victories in San Diego in 1995. Coutts will once again be joining Ellison to lead their crew into the new campaign.
The rest of the fleet are working hard to unseat the champions. Team Aqua, winner of the 2010 Match Racing is back, with a new boat due for the next event in Austria. The new boat’s sail number GBR 2041 was chosen in recognition of the campaign to renew the environmental protections of the Antarctic Treaty, which would otherwise expire in 2041. The treaty’s renewal is a focus of Chris Bake, Team Aqua’s owner, already running the boat as a carbon neutral campaign.
After the early practice sessions, Team Aqua’s tactician Cameron Appleton was predicting a tight regatta, with the winner counting solid finishes rather than a string of bullets. The racing will be starting right in front of the spectators on Broadway Pier, with the courses packed inside the harbour. The water will be flat and the forecast westerly could be shifting erratically as it crosses the land between the harbour and the Pacific. And just to catch out anyone not paying full attention there will be some current, and perhaps even the occasional ship, to add to the tactical and strategic mix.
There have been several changes to the rosters of the other top teams ahead of the new season. No Way Back was third last year, but with their Kiwi tactician Ray Davies now focusing on boats with two hulls rather than one, his compatriot Rod Dawson has replaced him. Dawson wasn’t expecting it to be easy to improve on last year’s result, citing a fleet with ‘few if any weak teams’ – and the tricky conditions in the harbour are not going to make it any easier for Dawson to settle into his new role.
Another new tactician in the fleet is Morgan Larson, who has stepped into Terry Hutchinson’s shoes aboard Artemis. Top performers, but never winners over the past couple of years, Artemis’ America’s Cup commitments mean that Hutchinson has - like Ray Davies - shifted his focus to catamarans. So Morgan Larson finds himself in the hot seat at a regatta where, "everyone is going to have bad races". Larson has at least sailed in the harbour before, training here in the 49er and doing some round-the-cans races, but he was smart enough not to claim any useful prior knowledge... even if he had it.
The returning fleet with its glittering cast has also been swelled by new additions. David Murphy’s Ironbound joined the class when it came to America at the end of last year, and will going back to Europe for the rest of the Tour. David Murphy is a busy man right now - he’s in the energy business and the turmoil in the Middle East means turmoil in the markets. Murphy has an office in San Diego and has been setting his alarm early to fit the sailing into his day, but he wasn’t having trouble refocusing on the water: "Once you’re out there, it’s a great distraction."
Aboard Ironbound, David Murphy’s tactician is Olympic 470 gold and silver medallist, Kevin Burnham. His wife Elizabeth is now on the Olympic trail herself, sailing with Sally Barkow and Alana O’Reilly in the Women’s Match Racing, and placing second at the 2010 ISAF World Championship. Elizabeth Kratzig Burnham will be steering the starts for Ironbound during tomorrow’s match racing.