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Artemis rule the waves in Malta

Close race: Artemis skipper Bruni led from the front

Artemis Racing were crowned RC44 Match Race champions in Malta yesterday.

The Swedish challenger of the 35th America’s Cup beat Team Nika, the defending champions, in the last race of the final flight at the RC44 Valletta Cup.

Tied heading into the last race, the two teams had everything to play for in the 10-14 knot breezes on offer in the magnificent setting of the Maltese capital’s Grand Harbour.

Artemis, helmed by Francesco Bruni, the 2013 King Edward VII Gold Cup winner, led off the start line and maintained their advantage in a tacking duel up the first beat.

Team Nika, whose crew included former America’s Cup helmsman Ed Baird, took the lead on the next leg after Artemis encountered difficulty hoisting their kite.

“We had a problem with the old spinnaker sheet having a knot in it,” Bruni, who beat Olympic great Sir Ben Ainslie at the 2013 Gold Cup in Hamilton Harbour, said. “Then we overcomplicated things at the gate and made a bad drop, so we were a little bit on the back foot.”

Bruni and his colleagues regained the lead heading up the second beat after nailing a favourable shift, which they defended the rest of the way to clinch the championship with an unblemished 4-0 record.

“It was great to have such a close match with Team Nika in the last race,” Bruni said. “It was really intense, like how match racing should be: Very close, lead changes all the time, really good fun.

“Vladimir [Prosikhin] and the Team Nika crew did a really good job. They sailed well until the end.”

Artemis are among a trio of America’s Cup syndicates already based in Bermuda and won the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series in the Great Sound in October last year.

The RC44 is high-performance monohull racing yacht named after the boat’s co-designer Sir Russell Coutts, a five-times America’s Cup winner and the most decorated King Edward VII Gold Cup skipper with an unprecedented seven victories between 1990 and 2004.

The annual RC44 Championship involves both fleet racing and match racing formats and is regarded as a “key series” to compete on in the international yacht racing circuit and features 12 teams.

Bermuda hosted the 2016 RC44 Championship Tour opener in March, with Mustafa Ingham, the Bermuda Red Bull Youth America’s Cup sailor and Hamilton Parish footballer, among the crew of Team Aqua that won the match racing title.