Wednesday 8 September 2010

Maxi Yacht Rolex Worlds: The Right Stuff

RAN, Niklas Zennstrom. Image copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

by Jill Campbell

Day 2 of the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup had epic written all over it from the break of dawn. The promised southeasterly winds were on schedule; a building sea-state, plenty of sunshine and forty-seven maxi yachts champing at the bit to enjoy Porto Cervo at its best. Racing started as programmed at 1130 CEST in 18 knots from the southeast. Some crews were forced into unplanned pit stops as conditions took their toll; others kept their focus on the sought-after appointment with destiny scheduled for the end of the week. Winners for the day comprised: Highland Fling (MON) in Maxi, Hetairos (CAY) in Supermaxi with Ranger (CAY) winning the J match, and, Magic Carpet (GBR) in Wally. In the Mini Maxi Rolex Worlds, British yacht Rán’s score line of 1,2,2 made her top dog, but Alegre’s (GBR) 4,1,1 keeps her in overall control.

Peter Craig, the Principal Race Officer of the week is ex-Navy. There was a touch of the swashbuckler in his efforts today. Three windward-leeward races in four hours for the Mini Maxis looked a tall order at the best of times; with the breeze hovering around 20 knots and upwards during the afternoon added to a lumpy seaway, it took a herculean effort on the part of the race committee to keep it clean and fair. The three races were similar in length: 8.8-nautical miles for the first and 8-nm for the second and third, all over four-legs.

STIG, Alessandro Rombelli. Image copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

Rán’s results from the day looked excellent to an outsider. On board the feeling was ‘could do better, must do better’. Andres Soriano’s Alegre is on fire. Rán’s strategist, Tim Powell, emphasized though that there is plenty of racing left in the Mini Maxi Rolex Worlds, after dissecting today’s endeavours, “the conditions were challenging. We had twenty knots most of the day, piping up to 24 knots for the last race. The sea state got progressively bumpier; the races were short and, to be honest, it was pretty frantic. We had a reasonable day; we won the first race and then had two seconds. I think the feeling on the boat is that we would have liked to have done a bit better, but to be boat of the day is always good.”

Rán is one of the biggest Racing mini maxis competing here; only the Bill Koch chartered Titan XV (USA) is longer. Powell feels short sharp windward-leeward courses are harder on boats of her size than some of her smaller sisters, “it is tough on the crew and quite demanding on a boat like Rán with the sail hoists and changes. We used the same jib and spinnaker all day, but we are talking big bits of gear to get up and down at each mark rounding.” A coastal course is scheduled for tomorrow and Powell is hopeful that that will advantage Rán in her quest to reel in Alegre, “we are looking at anything between 10 and 30 knots tomorrow according to the forecasts, but we’ll be going up through the islands, I expect. That will give us a chance to stretch her legs a little bit and boat speed may pay out for us.” Given Alegre has proved herself previously over long distances (she was overall winner at Rolex Middle Sea Race in 2009) and clearly has the bit between her teeth this week that may be wishful thinking.

HIGHLAND FLING, Irvine Laidlaw. Image copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

The best of the Cruiser/Racer mini maxis looks to have been Adriano Calvini’s Felci 61 Itacentodue (ITA), whose score line of 9,10,7 in the Worlds fleet was by far the most aggressive of the day amongst the less race-oriented group of contenders. With a 9, 6 in the second and third races, Allsmoke (MLT) might reasonably have hoped for better things had a damaged mainsail ahead of the start not wrecked their first race and led to a trip back to the marina for a replacement. Allsmoke were not alone in having problems. Michael Cotter, division winner here in 2009, had his racing curtailed completely, also before the off, with a forestay problem. Work is underway to get Whisper (IRL) back out on the course for tomorrow. Idea (ITA) had a crew injury during the first race that cut short their day. H20 (ITA) and Lupa of London (ITA) failed to finish the last race of the day.

On the coastal course, it was screecher. 36-nautical miles are meat and drink to the maxi yachts. Igor Simcic’s Esimit Europa 2 (SLO) was fastest around the track, which took them to a windward mark, followed by a run to Monaci and a fast reach past alongside Caprera as they dived into the channel. It was downwind all the way to Barrettinelli di Fuori, where the fleet barrelled out of the ‘Alley’ into the building seaway and an upwind slog to the finish off Porto Cervo.

Slog is a relative term. Esimit completed the course in 2 hours 52 minutes. Whilst skipper Flavio Favini was happy enough with that, it was not enough to hold off the relentless challenge of Irvine Laidlaw’s Highland Fling that levelled the series with a four-minute corrected time victory. Favini’s view of the day: “I think we have had a good race. Our manoeuvres were good, but I think we could have done a bit better on the run downwind from Secca di Tre Monti to Palau. We may have made some mistakes regarding wind shifts, but this aside I think we have sailed the boat well today.” Favini is no greenhorn and knows full well that he has a weapon of extraordinary power in his hands, which occasionally reflects in the approach, “considering that the boat is very big and goes very fast, sometimes we may be a bit conservative and try not to take risks in the narrow passages.” Experience shows time and again in these waters that knowing when to reign back can avert a rig loss or worse still, an encounter with the many rocks hidden beneath the surface.

HIGHLAND FLING, Irvine Laidlaw. Image copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

In the Wally Division it was Lindsay Owen Jones’ Magic Carpet’s turn to shine. Second home on the water, a mere thirty seconds behind Y3K (GER), converted to a fourteen second win. Amongst Owen Jones’ crew is Tom Whidden, a veteran of this racing area, having first sailed here in the early 1980s, “of all the venues that I race in, this is probably the best. It is really pretty going through the islands. The sea conditions were nice and the wind strength was really good today. We do not get to sail in a southerly very often here and that was fun, something new. We won today, but only won by 14 seconds. Y3K was nipping at our heels the whole way and actually at the last mark (in Pevero Bay), they just got ahead of us. We had a little better spinnaker set and maybe got a little puff right at the end to beat them by 14 seconds [on corrected]. It doesn't get any closer than that and never gets much more exciting than that!”

The Supermaxi Division saw two of the largest yachts on the course – Hasso Plattner’s Visione (GER) and Albert Buell’s Saudade (MLT) engage in a Teutonic match-race both inside and outside the Maddalena archipelago. Suggesting that the crews threw their 40-plus-metre steeds into tack after tack and gybe after gybe would be to exaggerate. But two owners prepared to race such magnificent craft head-to-head in confined waters deserve some hyperbole. Buell was certainly invigorated by the experience, “it was a great race. We started very well and were first to the windward mark in our class. We were very fast down through the islands and then the leg back was 12-nautical miles upwind. Here we lost our first place to our competitor, Hasso Plattner, but it was an enjoyable and hard race. It is certainly very exciting to match race these two boats through the islands. We enjoy sailing here very, very much.”

VELSHEDA. Image copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

Results did not favour the mighty moderns though. Salperton posted a fourth place that will have cheered owner, Barry Houghton, but it was not enough to prevent a classic looking one-two-three. The ketch, Hetairos (CAY), made hay from the conditions to correct into second, splitting the two J-Class yachts. But it was Ranger’s day once again, as America’s Cup legend Brad Butterworth explained, “we managed to get quite a good start below the big boats. Velsheda was in between, got rolled over quite quickly and so dropped back. That gave us an advantage around the top mark. Then it was a bit of a procession from there on, as Velsheda broke a jib [halfway up the initial beat]. Even though they were not quite in contention to get to us, they stayed close enough to do so if we had a problem.”

Butterworth, who helped with the helming, thought today’s conditions were good for the heavy displacement boats, “[Ranger] is a big heavy boat. I don't think it's that easy to steer all the way around the course, but it's fun to sail. 1936 is when this boat was designed and it is pretty difficult to push it any harder than we did today. Everything is loaded to the max, but we have some good crew on board, who've been with the boat for a long time now.”

Tomorrow will see coastal racing for all divisions. The weather forecast has a degree of uncertainty about it with wind predictions varying from the dull to the unnerving. The racing will never be dull and even if it is at times unnerving, it will always be a thrill to witness the crews at work and these craft in full flight. Racing commences at 1130 CEST.

INDIO, Andrea Recordati. Image copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

The 2010 Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup, organized by the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda in conjunction with the International Maxi Association (IMA), runs from 5 to 11 September. Racing continues tomorrow, Wednesday, and with races scheduled for each following day, save Thursday, the prize giving on Saturday will be the culmination of an intense week of big boat competition. From the most luxurious, through the most traditional, to the most advanced monohulls afloat today, the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup is nothing if not an astonishing line up of sailing power.

Maxi Yacht Rolex Worlds