Giants amass in Porto Cervo

Battle lines drawn for the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup

Monday September 5th 2011, Author: Giles Pearman, Location: Italy

47 crews from 12 countries and territories present at the 2011 Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup are keeping a close eye on the weather forecast ahead of tomorrow’s scheduled start.

The outlook is lively. After a potent and contrasting cocktail of thunderstorms and benign winds was served over the weekend, predictions are for gusts of up to 30-35 knots for tomorrow’s racing. Hitting the ground running will be the order of the day for what promises to be a closely-contested and dramatic week of on-the-water action. Crews were busy training this morning, testing sails and practicing manoeuvres. With the wind speed increasing after lunch, and to avoid any unwanted hitches, most crews sat out the afternoon. The regatta is scheduled to start at 11:30 CEST with coastal racing for all categories.

16 of the 47 crews will take part in the second Mini Maxi Rolex World Championship, open to yachts of 18.29 - 20.48m LOA. Many of these crews have significant miles on the clock after an arduous season of racing. Eight yachts will compete in the Supermaxi category, those in excess of 30.5m. The largest competing is Albert Buell’s Saudade (GER), at 148ft.

Elsewhere 23 Maxi yachts will lock horns in the racing category dedicated for yachts of 24.09-30.5m. The fastest of these is Igor Simčič’s R-P 100 Esimit Europa 2 (SLO). Sir Irvine Laidlaw’s 82ft Wally hybrid Highland Fling (MON) is expected to be her closest rival. In terms of nationalities, the largest contingent is unsurprisingly from Italy, with 16 of the 47 crews. 12 British-flagged yachts represent the most significant foreign collection.

Peter Craig retursn as Principal Race Officer. He and the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda Race Committee are prepared for an intense week. “As usual it is a terrific fleet broken into four different classes,” enthuses Craig, “the Wallys are as strong as ever, with 11 boats for a very close competition. Then there are the Mini Maxis going for the Rolex World Championship and there’s no telling how that is going to end up. Plus there will be some excellent racing in the Maxi racer/cruiser and the Supermaxi classes.”

Finding the balance is an important part of the race committee’s mission. “There’s four starts every day, a lot of action and some of the best talent you will find anywhere in the world,” explains Craig. “Every day we hope two classes will compete in windward/leewards with multiple races and the other two classes in a coastal race. It is a real challenge for the race management team to get it done and get it done right, making sure the coastal race is taken care of whilst giving real quality windward/leewards.” Admittedly, the role of Principal Race Officer is not always an easy one. “In any sport if the competitors are talking about race officials or referees you are not doing your job well,” continues Craig, “so hopefully you won’t hear my name spoken very much! We are looking to give everyone fair racing and just the amount of racing they want.”

The conditions for the first few days look attractive, a forecast which has brought a smile to those looking for a bit of adventure: “The weather looks challenging and is going to produce big breezes early in the week and then taper off. We may have some upper end breeze on Tuesday and Wednesday, right on the edge inside the strait of Bonifacio, so that will be interesting.”

As crews around the resplendent marina unload equipment, conduct training debriefs and discuss tactics, Craig closes: "What stands out is the talent, just look at the afterguards across the board in all four classes. It is like a who’s who and that raises the game for everybody. The best people in the world are sailing here this week…

“What stands out is the talent, just look at the afterguards across the board in all four classes. It is like a who’s who and that raises the game for everybody. The best people in the world are sailing here this week…”

Craig’s eulogy undoubtedly includes Francesco de Angelis and Juan Vila, two men who have ticked almost every box in the sport. De Angelis is part of the afterguard on Andres Soriano's Mills 68 Alegre: “We have had two days of practice just to get familiar again with the place, go through the sail inventory and make sure everything is ready to go. The wind is expected to build for tomorrow, the weather in this part of the world is variable though and we will see how strong it is.”

Alegre has had a busy campaign of offshore racing and the transition to five intense days of competition has to be a considered one: “It is a different game, from long offshores to the windward/leewards,” says de Angelis. “However, the team is very experienced and you just have to change your frame of mind and practices. Certainly in these races, you have less leisure to perform manoeuvres.”

The Alegre team, which finished in second in the 2010 Mini Maxi Rolex Worlds, are expecting some tough racing this week: “Rán are definitely strong competitors,” closes de Angelis. “We have to be consistent, make no mistakes as we face strong competition. However, we are not just two boats competing, you have to deal with the other fourteen as well.”

As navigator on the 100ft Esimit Europa 2 (SLO), America's Cup and Volvo Ocean Race winner Juan Vila has been focusing on the potential weather forecast and diverse course options: “The first days promise fresh breeze and exciting racing, which with our boat means we have to be careful as we will be reaching fast speeds. We’ve taken some heavy weather jibs onboard and the offshore mainsail, in case we race in strong weather. It is good to have some different configurations.”

Profound knowledge of the courses is not always enough as Vila continues: “Most of us have sailed here many times, which will help, but you can never say that you know all the rocks, which makes it very tricky sometimes especially as so many can stick out.”

Also taking part are Jochen Schümann, three-time Olympic Gold medallist, who is calling tactics on Sir Lindsay Owen Jones’ 94ft Wally Magic Carpet (GBR), Adrian Stead is part of the afterguard on Niklas Zennström’s Rán (GBR), defending Mini Maxi Rolex Worlds champion, and America’s Cup legend Brad Butterworth is a new addition as tactician on the Mini Maxi Jethou (GBR).

For Peter Lerbrandt, owner/skipper of the 62ft Vertical Smile (DEN), hitting the speeds of some of his Mini Maxi Rolex World rivals, is not on the agenda: “We are prepared but not expecting to win, we are more a cruiser and here to enjoy ourselves as well. We like the shorter courses after all the offshore racing (Vertical Smile competed at both the Rolex Volcano Race and the Giraglia Rolex Cup) and for me it is the first time sailing here.”

Maxi Progress

Gianfranco Alberini has served as Secretary General of the International Maxi Association (IMA) since its foundation 30 years ago on the back of the first Maxi regatta in Porto Cervo. He was also former Commodore of event organisers, the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda (YCCS). Perhaps better than anybody he is in the position to judge the outstanding progress made in the Maxi class during that period.

“As in the other yachting classes there has been strong change from the beginning,” explains Alberini, “at the beginning of the 1980s the Maxi fleet was limited in numbers and in dimensions. To have Maxi boats of 100ft was not even considered at the beginning. The changes in technology and the characteristics of the boats are greater than could have been imagined. The Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup represents the top annual event of the calendar as it is the event where we have largest number of Maxis present.”

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