(MENAFN - Muscat Daily) Defending champion Team Aqua of Great Britain remained in contention to bag the top honours in the three-day RC44 Oman Cup fleet-racing competition when it closed the gap with overall leader Katusha of Russia on the penultimate day of the competition at The Wave, Muscat on Saturday.
Team Aqua, owned by Chris Bake, trailed Katusha by 16 points before the start of Saturday's racing. However, with light wind conditions and the Russian team having a mixed day, Team Aqua's skipper Cameron Appleton grabbed the initiative to finish the day just ten points adrift. Katusha now leads the overall standings with 28 points, thanks to a win in the opening race from the American afterguard of Steve Howe and team tactician Andy Horton. Vladimir Prosikhin's Team Nika was consistent yet again to finish second and Synergy Russian Sailing Team made it a Russian top three. With Artemis Racing on fourth and Team Aqua on seventh, the fight for the top honours began on a competitive note on Saturday.
The second race started with breeze of seven knots, which slowly decreased. Team Aqua made a solid comeback as it rounded the windward mark in the lead and left its main rival, Gennadi Timchenko's Katusha, struggling back on tenth. Bake's team continued to sail away from the fleet for an emphatic victory with Valentin Zavadnikov's Synergy finishing second as its tactician Ed Baird's strategy of starting at the committee boat and tacking straight off to get a clean lane paid off.
Artemis Racing added a third to its scoreline to stay in overall contention with a third place after garnering 40 points. Despite the lead reduced to just ten points, Katusha's tactician Horton isn't worried and is looking forward to the final day of racing. He said, ''Today, it was like, from hero to zero.
In the first race, we sailed well, got off the start pretty quick and the guys did a good job of everything. ''In the second race, we had a good start, but didn't go the right way and hit a few bad spots. I'll put my hand up for a bit of that. You would never expect to be in this position at the end of a regatta, but you can always hope for it. We're going in to the last day of sailing with a ten-point lead. We will take that any day'' As the wind died down, RC44 class founder Russell Coutts, on board Team Aegir, was already at the mouth of the marina as race officer Peter Reggio called it a day. With just three points separating second-placed Team Aqua and Team Nika in fourth, it is all to play for on the final day of racing.
With some strong winds expected on Sunday, a close finish is on the cards. Meanwhile, the penultimate day also saw 30 of the top Omani Youth Programme sailors and their coaches visiting the event. The young Optimists, Laser Radials and Laser 4.7 sailors are in the middle of a three-week training camp and there was some fierce competition to earn one of the 13 available ninth-man places aboard the participating boats. David Graham, Oman Sail CEO, said, ''To have the RC44 class here is amazing for us, especially for the children. They have been training so hard and now to sail with the stars, like Russell Coutts, Ed Baird, Paul Goodison, will show the kids what sailing is like at the top end.
''There are some synergies between what Oman Sail are doing and what the class is doing. The class is a Pro-Am event and our guys have got something to look forward to, to inspire them in their own personal sailing.'' Graham added, ''We have so far introduced 10,000 young Omanis to sailing since the programme started nearly five years ago. By the end of 2020, we plan to have eight sailing schools, and introduce 70,000 Omanis to sailing. The ultimate aim of the programme is to win a medal for Oman in the 2024 Olympics