Alexia and Leopard lock horns

James Boyd reports on the costly incident in race two today at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup in Sardinia

Wednesday September 10th 2003, Author: James Boyd, Location: Italy
All eyes have been heavenward now the boats are back in port after the third day of racing at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup, here in Porto Cervo, Sardinia.

Two races were held today for the IMS and IRC divisions racing here and as the multi-million dollars worth of hardware was thundering down towards the pin at the start of race two disaster turned into catastrophic for Argentinian Alberto Roemmers IMS maxi Alexia, a former winner of this event.

With two minutes to go before the start Alexia's jib split along the luff. As the crew struggled to drop the sail and hoist a replacement they bore away in front of Mike Slade's Leopard of London and then headed up again, the boat coming upright bearheaded. At this point - just seconds before the gun - Leopard, with Idea SAI to weather, locked rigs with the Argentian boat.

"They hit our mast with their mast and then with their running backstay they caught the top of our mast and pulled us flat until it breaks," said Postigo Nacho, Alexia's Spanish navigator, giving his version of events. "Our mast broke their main and the top mast got caught on the leeward runner which was eased, so the first tension from the leeward runner pull on the mast, broke the top of the mast and it heeled the boat and pulled a lot of water into the boat through the hatch." The top mast on Alexia broke just above the forestay.

Hugh Agnew, navigator on Leopard gave his account. "We were just to leeward of Idea who was pressing down on us and didn’t keep up and Alexia was skulking around the leeward mark without a headsail up. They were ahead and over the line and they successfully got round our bow and down to leeward of us so it was remarkable there wasn’t a crash at that point, then they righted to come back in again, but without any headsail they just popped back upright. We think they hit the top of our mast and then we hooked them up." From The Daily Sail's vantage point at the other end of the line we saw the alarming sight of Alexia being dragged through the water on her side before the mast finally broke and she popped back upright.

Both boats retired immediately, Leopard with a large hole in the upper reaches of her mainsail and a damaged port runner. Upon inspection back in port Leopard has also damage to her top spreader and skipper Chris Sherlock says they will have to haul the carbon spar out to have it fully checked. They are out of this regatta.

Interestingly the jury boat had a bird's eye view of the incident - more or less between the two boats as it happened. "If the mast had come down they really would have been hurt," said Nacho. This was to have been Alexia's last regatta. She is up for sale and her owner has commissioned a new Wally 100.

As usual today, Neville Crichton's Alfa Romeo was a country mile ahead of the competition the boats sailing windward-leewards as the other divisions - the Wallys, Jongert and Spirit of Tradition boats - were sent on a more convoluted course around the islands between Porto Cervo and the Straits of Bonifacio.

"We’d sooner have heavier air I think," Neville Crichton commented afterwards. "That probably gave us a bit of a disadvantage over the other boats. In lighter air it’s easier for the other boats to do their manoeuvres and stay with us. It just made it too easy to sail out there today for the other boats."

Alfa Romeo's crew work as usual appeared impeccible with the exception of when they blew up their big VMG running kite on the second run of race one. "We probably lost two or three minutes. The kite got caught on a batten," said Crichton, adding that was the only damage they'd done all week. Crichton was disappointed to have little in the way of real competition at this regatta - Bols has not shown (she has been carrying out corporate work in St Petersberg, Russia) nor have any of the other Reichel-Pugh maxis such as Zephyrus or Enigma.

Today there was 14 knots of breeze building to 20 over the course of the afternoon and this was less than the first two days when the wind was regularly over 20 knots. Racing in these conditions have proved a little too lively for many of the Jongerts who have joined the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup for the first time this year, none of whom finished yesterday and a majority of whom stayed at the dock today. Jongert's involvement in the regatta took a dive on the first day when the mast came tumbling down on Inspiration, the boat of the man behind the Jongert brand, German dynamo Herbert Dahm.

The futuristic-looking Wallys however were loving it today. The photos sum up why the Wallys are such special boats with their futuristic styling and their designer's zealous desire to keep the decks free from lines. Their crews are peppered with rocks stars - Peter Holmberg is racing on Carrera, while Knut Frostad is on Morten Bergesen's extraordinary green Norwegian ketch Nariida, Emma Westmacott on L'Oreal boss Lindsay Owen-Jones' Magic Carpet Squared.

Of the 11 Wallys taking part all eyes have been on the new Wally 94 of German shipping magnate Claus-Peter Offen, who has among his crew former match race World Champion Karol Jablonski.

Unlike most of the Wallys which rarely seem to venture out of the Mediterranean, Y3K was entered in this year's DaimlerChrysler Transatlantic Race but was not ready in time. Instead she will compete in the New York YC's Transat in 2005. While many of the Wallys have water ballast or canting keels, Y3K is relatively conservative with a centre cockpit, a conventional keel and no movable ballast. She also has hydraulic winches, but the main winches can also be operated manually as a back-up.

"We arrive here two days before the first race so we went out to practise, because although the crew is the same as on the Swan 68 that we sailed for the last two years, this boat is much bigger with much more load," commented Jablonski. "And we obviously didn't get enough practise because in the first race when it was blowing hard the tack line broke and when we had a problem with the genniker and we almost ended up in Rome by the time we'd fixed it! But yesterday we won and we are really happy with the boat and the crew work."

Full results and the outcome of the protest hearing following the Alexia/Leopard incident follow

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