Thursday, 6 September 2007

Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup: Alfa Romeo takes first honours, Wild Oats XI dismasted

by Event Media and SailRaceWin

The 18th edition of the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup, organised by the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda, Sardinia, has 38 yachts from 11 countries participating, representing the spectrum of three-quarters of a century of monohull yacht design - maxi style. For 2007, the fleet of colossus congregated in the Marina Nuova will be divided into 4 divisions for a week of competition over a mixture of windward/leeward, coastal and island courses.

In the pressurized surroundings of the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup Racing Division there is no room on the yachts for the less than alert. On racing maxis, the crews have to be athletic and nimble, and no more so than on the two near sisterships from Australasia - Bob Oatley's Wild Oats (AUS) and Neville Crichton's Alfa Romeo (NZL). Both from the drawing board of Reichel-Pugh and launched in 2005, they represent the very latest in racing yacht design and technology. Entirely of carbon-fibre, sporting canting keels, water-ballast and both built by McConaghy yachts in Australia these yachts are at the forefront of the racing supermaxi world. Cutting edges that few others would dare to dream about, these 30-metre greyhounds that weigh in at a mere 26 tonnes are accustomed to sailing their own race at the head of the fleet.

Elsewhere in the Racing Division may be found the 76-foot Titan XII from the USA. More usually witnessed dominating the racing stage in the Caribbean and eastern seaboard of the USA, this is her first sortie into European waters and what a stage to make a debut. Up against Titan XII is George David's 90-foot Rambler (USA). Formerly owned by Neville Crichton, she was launched in 2002 before canting keels became 'de rigueur' on yachts of this size. Rambler recently proved that 'old technology' is not necessarily 'bad technology' finishing second on the water in the 608 mile Rolex Fastnet Race only 45 minutes behind Leopard 3, the latest 30-metre canting-keeler to be launched.

Hasso Plattner's 87-foot Morning Glory (GER) is no slouch either - a maxZ86 - when she was launched in 2003 she heralded a new era in supermaxi design. Despite being superseded in size, by the likes of Oats & Alfa, last year she kept pace with another 100-footer (Maximus) over the 607-mile Rolex Middle Sea Race course. And, whilst they may have little prospect of winning the race for real time victory, Roel Pieper's Swan 80 Favonius (NED) and Stephen Ainsworth's 66-foot Loki (AUS) are extremely well sailed and should not be discounted in the battle for handicap honours where, lest it be forgotten in the dash to be home first, the overall trophies are decided.

The Cruising Division boasts ten yachts and provides a cross-reference of design, style and technology. Velsheda (USA) and Ranger (USA) are from the 1930s school - the J-Class. The mere mention of these names is enough to send shivers down the spine of yacht-racing cognoscenti. The Velsheda sailing today is the product of a rebuild conducted at Southampton Yacht Services in 1997, whilst Ranger is a 'new-build', a replica of the successful Cup Defender from 1937, she was built and launched in 2003, by Danish Yachts. The original Ranger was launched too late to meet Velsheda when she was in her pomp and one of the most feared yachts in the world. Now, though, these iterations meet regularly on the circuit and readily invoke images of the glory days of yacht racing even with their simplified, yet still massive, sail plans. At the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup expect some spectacular contests between these two 40-metre 'cruising' yachts.

Just over 50 years ago, in 1954, the 35-metre Aschanti IV was launched by Burmester and how the world has changed since that time. Racing in the Cruising Division, Aschanti IV represents the antithesis of modern yacht design - all beautiful lines, gleaming varnish and polished brasswork. A rebuild in 1994 has done nothing to lessen the charm of this supreme classic, which has won 'most photogenic yacht awards' at Antigua Classic Week on more than one occasion. Under sail, the sense of power is undoubtedly just as immense as onboard a lightweight racer, albeit in a wholly different way. Aschanti IV will have her work cut out to gain revenge on Heitaros, a winner her last year. Launched in 1993 - a full forty years after Aschanti - Heitaros was designed by Bruce King and built by Abeking and Rasmussen. She too is unashamedly about traditional values and luxury under sail. Last year she proved that she is well sailed too, winning her Division with three wins in five races.

The modern end of the cruising stable features Arne Glimcher's Ghost (USA) and Vittorio Moretti's Viriella (ITA), both returning for another tilt at overall honours in this usually competitive class. They are joined in the 34-metre plus bracket by Francis Rooney's Perini-Navi, Gitana (USA). Small is a relative term in this gathering of maxis, but Aglaya (ITA) and H2O (ITA) are both under 30-metres. Read nothing into this though when looking for a possible winner on handicap.

The largest yacht at the event is Salperton; launched this year she is probably the newest too. At 44-metres (145-feet) this Ed Dubois design is twice the length of some the yachts here and, at 207 tonnes, is more than 10 times the displacement of lightweight flier such as Titan XII.

The Mini Maxi Division is the largest class of the fleet, comprising 13 yachts ranging from the 18-metre Out of Reach (MON) and Carige (ITA) up to the 23.9-metre Ikaika (SMR). Even this Division features a spread of design style and technology. Annagine (NED) designed by Gerry Dijkstra - who oversaw the refit of Velsheda - and launched in 2004 is a modern classic exuding elegance and a bygone era with beautifully polished brightwork. Her lines are perhaps misleading because whilst she was designed to be comfortable, part of the brief was to make her fast too. By contrast, Carlo Puri Negri's Atalanta II - overall winner of the Rolex Middle Sea Race in 2005 - is from the modern school.

Day One – Alfa Romeo wins the Down Under ‘match race’

All four divisions started on time in 10-12 knots of westerly and a gentle sea state. The course took the crews straight into 'Bomb Alley' at Capo Ferro and gave them a long beat up to the turning mark - the Island of Spargi, which the yachts rounded to starboard. From there it was a long run back to the finish off Porto Cervo. Gybe reaching all the way home in 20 - 22 knots, the fleet set a spectacular scene for the onlookers on the water and shore. There can be few better sights than following a maxi at full pelt downwind - if you can keep up.

In the Racing Division, the expected head to head between Neville Crichton's Alfa Romeo (NZL) and Bob Oatley's Wild Oats (AUS) let no one down. Stuck together for much of the race in a primeval match-race with their carbon black sails glinting in the sunshine, first blood on the water went to the slightly lower rated Alfa, which finished 30 seconds ahead of her rival. The key moment came one minute before the start when Oats apparently suffered an engine failure and was unable to power up the hydraulics. Whilst the Oats' crew was occupied sorting out the problem, Alfa was free to choose their favoured end of the line and take the opportunity to grab a lead that she would not relinquish despite the best efforts of Oatley's crew. The downwind duel between these two was something special and Murray Spence, the Team Manager on Alfa, happily described conditions, "good winds today. We're very happy that it started out with a nice breeze, (that was) pretty consistent. It freshened a little in the second half of the race, which probably favoured the little boats a bit but it was a good breeze to start off the regatta."

Of the contest at the head of the fleet, Spence continued, "we had a good tight tussle with Wild Oats today. They're our main competition and it was very close racing, so quite exciting especially coming back under the spinnaker."

Overall victor on handicap in the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup Racing Division was Hasso Plattner's Morning Glory (GER). She too put on a display of downwind prowess, completing the course in 2 hours 28 minutes only 6 minutes behind her larger competitors. Tactician, Morgan Larson, reflected on an enjoyable day, “it was a great coastal race. Tacking around the rocks and the islands was very challenging for the crew with a lot of sail changes. Everything went very well on board, with no particular difficulty. We very much enjoyed the race, the wind and the fabulous scenery of the Costa Smeralda. If the Mistral blows in tomorrow it's going to be a lot of fun.”

Day Two – “The Breeze” Sets In

The Mistral wind of the Mediterranean can be somewhat on a par with Wellington’s “Breeze”, and so it proved on Day Two of the Maxi Rolex Cup. The wind rose abruptly during the night and continued a steady rise to 40, gusting 60, knots leading to abandonment of all racing for the day.

STOP PRESS: Day Three – Australia’s Wild Oats XI dismasted

Just after the start, in only 11 knots of breeze, Wild Oats’ mast broke into three pieces, tumbling down around the boat and crew. At time of writing it is not known what caused the failure.

Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup 2007

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