By Ben Graham
Ben Graham admits Dubai-based Team Aqua never expected to be leading the RC44 racing championships.
Over the last six months, Boat Owner has carried quite a large amount of coverage on the successes of the Dubai-based Team Aqua, the international yacht racing team competing in the RC44 one design World Championship Tour. The team was formed through the months of January and February earlier this year and since then has gone from strength to strength during the season's European regattas. Coming out strongly from the first race, they are currently keeping their first overall lead in the debut season of the RC44 Championship Tour standings, with Russell Coutts' Team Omega trailing by six points. With just one more European regatta to go in Trieste, Team Aqua stand a great chance of rounding off an excellent first season in the class with an overall win if they can keep their form through Italy to the home turf final in Dubai. Not bad for a team that merely set out to dip their toe in and test the waters at the beginning of this season!
Team Aqua was the brainchild of Dubai-based businessman and DOSC sailor Chris Bake. According to Chris "When I first saw pictures of Russell competing the RC 44 in Dubai last year, I almost immediately decided that I would love to get the boat." That was the inaugural RC44 match race at the Dubai International Boat Show 2006, when Coutts won over Jes Gram-Hansen. Following a couple of test regattas sailing with Russell Coutts, Chris was well and truly hooked, ecstatic when he took delivery of one of the first boats from the builder, Pauger Carbon in Hungary, when it arrived in Dubai in mid-December last year.
America's Cup (K-Challenge and Team New Zealand) helm and match race veteran Cameron Appleton, came aboard as team tactician and to manage Chris' program at about the same time as the boat arrived. After two weeks of training and crew selections (which included competing in both the Jumeirah Regatta and the Maktoum Sailing Trophy) the team was settled on and the boat was shipped back to Europe ready for the start of the season that they are currently leading.
The RC44 is a low displacement, high performance, 13.35 metre (44 foot) one design yacht class that is attracting some of the top sailors from around the globe to compete in its seasonal championship. Many of the same world-class sailors will be coming to Dubai for the RC44 Gold Cup (effectively the World Championship for the RC44 class) in December. Some of these sailors will also stick around for the Maktoum Sailing Trophy in late February, which will be followed in Abu Dhabi by the season opening regatta during March. From there the boats will restart the tour circle by returning to Europe.
While out on the water and in line with the class rules, owner Chris helms the boat during the fleet racing and then steps into the middle of the boat to help out with trimming and setting sails during the match racing. Helping Chris get the boat round the course in a good position and ahead of all the other teams, as is often the case for Team Aqua these days, are a core group of professional and amateur sailors. According to Chris, the professional part of the team consists of a base of four world-class sailors and a full time Boat Captain. The professional powerhouse is then backed up by three top amateur sailors. The experience on board the boat includes an America's Cup helmsman and bowman, a Volvo Ocean Race veteran, and a current Melges 24 World Champion. Add a young amateur skiff champion and the two other highly experienced amateurs and you have a pretty formidable team with a mix of focussed talent.
Looking to the future, Team Aqua's major goal for next season is to secure backing from a prestigious Dubai-based company in order to step the campaign up to the next level. While Chris has funded this campaign against the corporate sponsorship of other rivals in the fleet, proving that there is much more to winning than deep pockets alone, any major breakage or equipment failure on the boat can slow down Team Aqua's progress. Having proved the skill, ability and undeniable style of both Team Aqua and the RC44 as an advertising platform, the team has committed to keeping many of its core members in Dubai during the winter season to be on hand to attract a top sponsor. The team feels that it will be ever-more important to have a sponsor as the class grows and more and more top yachting teams and sailors join the class, bringing their major campaigns with them. These new teams will raise the level even higher as the class gains increasing international exposure, as was proved recently at the SLAM Cup Santa Margherita Ligure, when Team Aqua were put under a great amount of pressure, not only by Coutts' Team Omega, but also the new TEAM CEEREF's Luna Rossa helm, James Spithill.
Having designed the RC44 boat and championship, Russell Coutts offers many tips on how to get started in trimming the RC44, but the underlying advice he constantly pushes is that the crew with the slickest teamwork is the one that will round the mark quickest and ahead. While all the crews are learning the eccentricities of the RC44 hull and rig at a similar speed, Team Aqua's consistent winning has been a result of excellent teamwork and a good onboard vibe - something every winning team needs to keep heads high when trailing. Flying the UAE flag at the top of the large roach cut-off main when sailing against the best on the water is one thing, but to also be leading the fleet against the odds is a great morale booster and an amazing advertisement for the UAE.