Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup : Unmissable week of prestige and endeavour in Porto Cervo
Monday, 10 September 2012
Arresting, challenging, engaging and propelled by a constant evolution in design and technology, the 23rd edition of the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup, held in Porto Cervo, Sardinia, provided a timely confirmation of the regatta’s status as one of the forefront events of the yachting world. The 2012 edition will pass as both vintage and challenging, marked by tight competition and ever changing wind conditions.
Inaugurated in 1980 and the jewel in Rolex’s international yachting portfolio since 1985, the event, organized by the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda (YCCS) and the International Maxi Association (IMA), attracted 34 international Maxi yachts – measuring upwards of 18.29 metres (60 feet) – for a week of top quality racing.
For owners and crews alike, the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup is the unmissable fixture in the international sailing calendar. American Hap Fauth certainly felt it was the perfect setting for his brand new 21.94m Mini Maxi Bella Mente: “It’s spectacular. This is probably the finest place to sail in the Mediterranean. We love being here, the hospitality is fantastic and the International Maxi Association does a great job in conducting racing. The competition is superior, who wouldn’t want to be here?” “I’ve been here about ten, eleven times,” commented Brian Benjamin, owner of the 25.08m Maxi Racer/Cruiser Aegir (GBR). “And it’s the first thing we put on our calendar every year. When God invented sailing, he built this little area for us to play in. It is always windy, the island courses and the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda are great.”
Likewise, for sailors, the diversity of the racecourses, often featuring rocky outcrops and shifting winds, provide numerous enthralling and unexpected tactical challenges. “Taking part in the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup is about the great boats, scenery, blue waters, challenging weather conditions. It’s always different,” said Mike Broughton, navigator on the classic-lined 39.5m J-Class Velsheda (GBR).
A view echoed by Mike Sanderson, ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year in 2006, afterguard on Bella Mente. “For me the highlight of coming to the Maxis is seeing the hardware, a collection of amazing boats. It is a wonderful event, I am always so impressed with the boats both in terms of power and sail.”
Indeed, the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup provides a window into the current trends prevalent in Maxi yacht design. Established in 1980, the event was born of a desire to provide the Maxi class of yacht – first prevalent during the 1970s – with an opportunity to engage in a direct competition, in a suitably challenging environment. Ever since, it has been an unforgiving and breathtaking proving ground for ambitious, breakthrough Maxi yacht designs.
Three of this year’s 34 entries were new launches, heralding some significant shifts in the Maxi yacht world. Bella Mente and Alessandro Rombelli’s Stig (ITA) bolstered an evolving and competitive Mini Maxi fleet, competing in the third running of the Mini Maxi Rolex World Championship. The two new 72-foot designs arrived with the mandate of challenging a class dominated in recent years by Niklas Zennström’s all-conquering and two-time Mini Maxi Rolex World champion Rán 2 (GBR).
It is a prolific class in terms of project activity, reflecting the desire of a highly competitive crop of owners that enjoy intense racing against similar size boats. The trend has delighted Mini Maxi owners. Zennström welcomed the upsurge in competition: “Having four very similar 72-footers creates much more boat on boat racing, everyone has to sail better, leading to more tactical situations. That is what we love to do. This is the world championship. It should be really hard to win and this is the way we want it.”
Meanwhile, the new Wally Cento is intended as a template design, and its first iteration, Charles Dunstone’s Hamilton (GBR), made its debut this week. “The idea is to have boats of a certain size, that are dual purpose, which means they are able to be used as a cruiser as well as a racer but with the maximum potential they can get out of this compromise,” explained leading yacht designer Rolf Vrolijk of Judel/Vrolijk.
Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones, in attendance with his 28.53m Wally Magic Carpet 2 (GBR), and San Diego-based yacht designers Reichel/Pugh are currently working on the second Wally Cento launch in Magic Carpet 3, ready for 2013. “It is a very exciting project,” explained Pugh, President and co-founder of the renowned studio. “It is not an absolute full race design but has to reach the class rules of considerable accommodation.”
Drive and determination
The weeklong competition witnessed four days of racing and two days wiped out because of the weather – Day 2 was lost to thunderstorms and torrential rain, the final day owing to benign conditions. It has been a constant challenge for the crews. Winning on the waters off Porto Cervo is complex and requires nerve, solid tactics, harmonious teamwork, dedication and sometimes extreme patience.
On the first day of competition both the 21.80m Mini Maxi Shockwave (USA) and Lord Irvine Laidlaw’s 25.25m Highland Fling (MON), a Maxi racer, separately collided with uncharted rocks. Overnight repairs were needed for the yachts to return to the fray. Proof that sailing a myriad of coastal courses through the Maddalena Archipelago is not always as idyllic as it appears to the naked eye.
The shifting elements were embraced by some crews more than others. Tom Whidden, tactical advisor on Magic Carpet 2, explained that being able to adapt to constant changes in weather and course is essential: “With the racing around the islands it is very important to know what is coming because the boat performs with a given sail, a given [wind] range and a given angle and if you pick the wrong sail the boat is so big that to make a sail change is very difficult for the crew.”
For all crews efficient communication is crucial in decision-making and in performing key tactical manoeuvres. In the past, communication on large boats involved crew passing instructions along the length of the boat. In the intensity of a race, this was hardly efficient and could occasionally result in chaos. “On Velsheda, it takes a lot of people to coordinate even a spinnaker drop,” added Broughton. “The size of the sails and rig are huge. Communication is one of our biggest challenges but by using [wireless] headsets it works very well.”
Simply having the most high-tech, state-of-the-art boat is not enough to ensure victory at a demanding event like the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup. Teamwork is an equally key component in success. Steve Hayles, navigator on Rán 2, believes the crew’s togetherness was key to its impressive week, culminating in a second place in the Mini Maxi Rolex Worlds. “We are a team that has sailed together now for five years. It’s a tight group, we work for each other.”
During a week of contrasting conditions and courses presented by the Race Committee, the winning crews were those most adept at adapting to the ever-changing environment.
The Mini Maxi Rolex World Championship provided a fantastic 12-boat contest. A dramatic competition ensued between Zennström’s Rán 2 and Hap Fauth’s Bella Mente. The latter led all week before Rán 2 drew level on the penultimate day. Unfortunately, the expected ‘match race’ on the final day fell victim of the weather. Both crews had won three races but by virtue of a second place to Rán’s fourth on countback, Bella Mente ended Zennström’s domination of the competition since its inauguration in 2010.
“It was a great week, we had tremendous sailing, and are delighted with the outcome. It is an honour to be on a racecourse with these guys. The gentlemen sailing is fantastic. It is as close racing as I’ve ever done,” explained Fauth who paid tribute to his crew’s tight bond during a topsy-turvy week. “We live together in every way. We’ve got a 30-man travelling team so you get to know the guys very well. We win together, we lose together and hopefully we have learnt how to do both.”
In the diverse Maxi Racing class, contested by four very contrasting yachts, Igor Simcic’s 30.48m Esimit Europa 2 was the fastest boat on the water throughout the week. On corrected time she had to share the spotlight with Highland Fling and Velsheda. With all three crews finishing on eight points, victory on the penultimate day of racing was enough to hand the title to Simcic’s pan-European crew. “We have been winning from beginning of the season,” said Simcic, who won the class in 2010. “This is not the ideal type of racing for our boat especially in the strong winds. The team worked very hard, as every second counts.”
In the Maxi Racing/Cruising class open to yachts dually designed to sail at speed and with comfort, Benjamin’s Aegir reclaimed the title he won in 2010 with his previous boat, this time emphatically winning all four races. “The competition was at about the same level as in the previous years,” said Benjamin. “We were cruising two weeks ago and return to cruise mode next week so what pays is the hard work that goes into preparing the boat.”
In the Wally class, Magic Carpet 2 probably made her last appearance at the event before her owner upgrades to a new Wally Cento, Magic Carpet 3. Claiming three victories in five races, Magic Carpet saw off a spirited challenge from Thomas Bscher’s 28.60m Open Season (GBR). It is a third success in Porto Cervo for Owen-Jones, following victories in 2006 and 2008.
“It is always extremely exciting and uncertain until the last moment. There is always seconds between us as the boats are very equally handicapped and at any given moment it can all go wrong,” said Owen-Jones. Like Fauth, Owen-Jones put the week’s success down to the team’s longstanding collaboration: “I try to choose the very best people and I’m not afraid of having people who are more talented than I am around me!”
Filip Balcaen’s 34.13m Nilaya made short work of the Supermaxi class – the division for the week’s largest yachts. Nilaya was the smallest of the Supermaxis, dwarfed by the likes of the 66m Hetairos (CY), which is the largest boat ever to appear at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup. However, size is not everything as Nilaya, the only Supermaxi equipped with racing sails, took advantage of being able to perform tight manoeuvres much quicker than her rivals, thanks also to teamwork honed by a crew that has been together for over a decade.
A captivating week on the water was concluded with the customary prizegiving on Piazza Azzurra in front of the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda. The winning crews were presented with Rolex timepieces, the ultimate reward for their endeavour throughout a high-class competition whose star continues to ascend.
See Rolex Cup images :Giles Pearman & Jill Campbell
Last Updated ( Monday, 10 September 2012 )