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Wicklow's Simon Johnson Onboard Improved 'Black Star' at 44Cup Spain

22nd October 2023
Christian Zuerrer’s Black Star Sailing Team (right) with Ireland's Simon johnson in the pit competing in Spain
Christian Zuerrer’s Black Star Sailing Team (right) with Ireland's Simon johnson in the pit competing in Spain Credit: Nico Martinez

Christian Zuerrer’s Black Star Sailing Team, which includes County Wicklow pitman Simon Johnson in its crew lineup, scored just their second-ever bullet and ended the day as top scoring boat at the 44Cup in Spain.

The Bay of Algeciras had a complete change of complexion for the penultimate day of racing at the 44Cup Alcaidesa Marina, with the southerly wind initially non-existent, then slowly filling into 8-10 knots. Thus, the race course was set up in the opposite direction to the second day, with competitors sailing towards the entrance of the Bay, with the formidable Rock of Gibraltar off to port.

Yesterday was well forecast as being light – the Bay of Algeciras laying on the complete test – so PRO Maria Torrijo announced a one-hour postponement to 1300. The first warning signal eventually was at 1320.

The lighter conditions seemed to the liking of one team that has been having a surprisingly sub-standard year. Igor Lah’s Ceeref, powered by Hrastnik 1860, finally found her form, winning the first race.

As the previous day, Zuerrer’s Black Star Sailing Team went out to the right on their own, benefitting greatly on a lifting tack. But coming into the top mark, the wind went weird. Tactician Cameron Dunn described it: “It was radical - we were 25-30° higher than the boats coming in on our hip.”

Nonetheless, the Swiss team managed to continue leading around the top mark, with Ceeref and Aleph behind. On the run Ceeref’s tactician Adrian Stead did a better job reading the shifts and the Slovenian team led round the leeward gate. They then hung on to claim what, surprisingly, was their first bullet at a 44Cup event since Oman in February.

“The team work was brilliant and the guys did a brilliant job and Ado did good tactics today,” said Lah. “We were a little worried but I think the boat speed is back to what it was.”

Ceeref followed this coming second in the next race and even an OCS in the final race saw them salvage a seventh. This left them second top scoring boat of the day.

As on Friday, the drama-laden race of the day was the second. Yesterday it was one boat’s performance that shocked. At 44Cup events, teams from outside can charter the RC44 trial boat. This week was the turn of the Santander-based Noticia team of Luis Martín Cabiedes, well-known from the Soto 40, J/70 and J/80 classes.

Trial boat teams are not expected to win, but no one told this to Cabiedes, his tactician Rayco Tabares and their crew. In race two, they went right up the first beat and, to gasps from spectators, rounded the top mark first. Surely they couldn’t survive the run? They did. And despite being challenged up the second beat also led there. In fact they seemed to race to the bag until Black Star split left in the closing stages of the final run as Ceeref tackled them from the right. Ultimately Black Star was first over, and a better gybe by Ceeref on the line left Noticia third – still an exceptional result.

“Being in front of this incredible fleet has given us the confidence that with more time, we can be in front, and we can do it,” said Cabiedes. “It was a great call from the tactician to go right. From there we were able to sail on our own. We have still a lot to improve in our manoeuvres, but we have only been here three days. It was incredible to be up there. Some of these crews have been sailing these boats for 10+ years so you cannot expect to come here and win races. We have ladders to climb, but we are on our way.”

Meanwhile, Noticia’s loss was Black Star’s gain, scoring just their second-ever bullet and ending the day top top-scoring boat. “It is a combination of a lot of things,” explained Kiwi tactician Cameron Dunn, no doubt fired up by his nation’s rugby victory over Argentina last night. “We think we have made a jump in our speed. We talk a lot before the races about strategy.” Black Star is getting on top of their ‘speed loop’ allowing Dunn to concentrate on tactics.

After two lacklustre races, the final race went to Chris Bake’s Team Aqua. The Class President didn’t have much good to say about his first races, but of his final bullet commented: “We got a good start, got the right side of the course. We were slightly resigned we couldn’t do any worse, so we could only go up from there! It was fairly tricky. There were definitely big ‘sides’.”

However, despite all these names being up in lights, still hanging on to the overall lead of the 44Cup Alcaidesa Marina is John Bassadone and his Peninsula Petroleum. The event host posted three results in the top half of the fleet yesterday and hangs onto the lead by one slender point from Black Star Sailing Team, in turn four ahead of Ceeref.

In an attempt to recover the schedule, racing is due to start one hour earlier today at 1100 CEST with up to four races possible. Big winds are forecast!

Published in 44Cup Team

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About RC44

The RC44 is a light displacement, high performance one-design racing yacht competing in the 44Cup, a five-stop international racing tour. Co-designed by five-time America’s Cup winner Russell Coutts with naval architect Andrej Justin, the RC44 boats are strictly identical in terms of construction, shape of hull, appendages and weight/weight distribution, as well as a 50-50 split between amateurs and professionals in each eight-person crew. With everything, from the keel to the tip of the mast, made entirely from carbon, and with a powerful sail plan, the RC44 is rapid downwind, commanding upwind and performs exceptionally in both light winds and heavier breezes. The RC44’s innovative and technical design present an exciting new hybrid sailing challenge, with the crews expected to hike like a sports boat and grind as you would on a keelboat.

At a Glance - 44Cup 2023 Calendar

  • 1 - 5 March - 44Cup Oman, Muscat

  • 28 June - 2 July - 44Cup Marstrand, Sweden

  • 9 - 13 August - 44Cup Cowes, UK

  • 18 - 22 October - 44Cup Alcaidesa Marina, Gibraltar Straight

  • 22 - 26 November - 44Cup Calero Marinas, Canary Islands

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