Alfa Romeo versus Bella Mente

Almighty dust-up for the Mini Maxi crown on the final day of the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup

Sunday September 13th 2009, Author: Giles Pearman, Location: United Kingdom

Final day at the 20th Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup dawned with blue sky and a gentle northeasterly breeze between 8 and 10 knots. One more opportunity for those already at the top of the standings to prove themselves worthy of winning. Good news also for those yachts still within touching distance of the top. A race would mean opportunity and in yacht-racing opportunity is everything, but only if you are prepared to take it. Getting your name inscribed on the trophies at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup is no easy feat. Only those most deserving achieve the feat. At close of play those truly in clover were: Ronald de Waal and Velsheda (GBR); Claus Peter Offen and Y3K (GER); Mick Cotter and Whisper (IRL); Filippo Faruffini and Roma-Aniene (ITA), and, Neville Crichton and Alfa Romeo (NZL). Flush with victory and the spoils associated - the Maxi Yacht Cup and a Rolex Yacht-master Chronometer.

If only it were so simple. In Cruising/Spirit of Tradition, Velsheda had wrapped up her division a day early by virtue of winning every race to that point. In Wally, Y3K was also impregnable, by virtue of having scored more firsts than her closest rival, Open Season (GER), which could only match Y3K's score however badly Offen's crew sailed the last race; a situation where count-back would favour Offen.

In Racing/Cruising, Roma-Aniene never seemed likely to be overtaken by DSK Pioneer Investments, but the door was still open if DSK could repeat yesterday's result and finish ahead of Roma. The chances of this seemed slim given Roma had not given DSK a sniff all week until her mainsail issues of yesterday. The same scenario existed in Mini Maxi Racing/Cruising, where both Aegir (GBR) and OPS 5 (ITA) had a mathematical chance to overtake Whisper, should she finish seventh or worse, something Whisper had not done all week. She had had problems yesterday, though, finishing fifth. So a glimmer of hope flickered on. In both cases you had to think lightning does not strike twice.

The classification where the duelling would go closest to the wire looked to be Mini Maxi Racing. Tight battles looked likely in both Mini Maxi Racing (Owner/Driver) and the larger overall Mini Maxi Racing 00 group. The Owner/Driver contest was between Neville Crichton's Alfa Romeo 3 (NZL) and Hap Fauth's Bella Mente (USA). The stakes were high; the pressure was on. The maths were simple for Bella Mente, she had to come first. Anything less would not be enough. For Alfa, if she could win or prevent the American crew from winning she would prevail.

The 00 group was also a two-way tussle and also involved Alfa Romeo, with the likes of triple Olympic Gold medallist Ben Ainslie in the crew roster, along with Niklas Zennström's Rán (GBR). With a three-point separation, the onus was on Alfa to win and hope Rán would finish no better than fourth. Heading out to the start there was every possibility that Crichton might be distracted by his battle with Fauth, since that was where the major prize would be awarded. At the beginning of the week, though, Crichton had stated his aim was to win both groups. Given his competitive streak is longer and wider than most, no one would bet against the New Zealander attempting to win outright from the front.

In the end, the excitement came in only one spot. Velsheda confirmed her supremacy in Cruising/Spirit of Tradition winning the final race. Hasso Plattner's Visione (GER) did enough to beat Charles Dunstone's Hamilton II (GBR) in the race today and to take second on the podium. Roma-Aniene confirmed yesterday's problems were no more than a blip by adding a fourth bullet to her Racing/Cruising scoreline. Danilo Salsi's second place in the race and the overall standing will be some compensation. Whisper, too, asserted herself once more adding a fourth bullet to her Mini Maxi Racing/Cruising record and securing the class by 10-points over Brian Benjamin's Aegir.

Ronald de Waal skipper and helmsman of Velsheda attributed his victory in Cruising/Spirit of Tradition to his crew: "The team we sail with has been together for a long time, some have been with us for eight years. Of course, we sail with some of the very best in the world and that helps." This is de Waal's first overall win at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup; he has sailed several times before and really enjoys the competition and the location, "it's a combination of nature, the area, we always have beautiful wind, really beautiful surroundings and always a very good fleet."

Claus Peter Offen sealed his Wally Division victory with another win. Not bad for a yacht launched in July this year. Sailing with designer Mani Frers on board as a guest, Offen was understandably delighted with his yacht and the win, "we thought we could get in the top three, but to win with a brand-new boat is unexpected. You usually will have some technical problems, but in all six races we were always first over the line and never had any problems." Offen paid tribute to his crew, particularly acknowledging the work on the first two days when conditions were at their most difficult.

Filippo Faruffini came, saw and conquered for the second time; Roma confirming her superiority over the series in Racing/Cruising. Faruffini was surprised given how they had come into the competition, "this is sport and you can leave nothing to chance. We only decided only one month ago to race and were really under-prepared. Our sails are old and we broke many, many things." A number of his crew, from the Circolo Canottieri Aniene (a sporting club in Rome), were new to sailing and to turn them into a team capable of holding their own against the likes of DSK is a true achievement, as tactician Vascotto explains, "all the guys made a real effort today. We pushed hard. We had 22 guys that are not professional at all, but at the end of the week we look to be doing the same manoeuvres as we do with professional guys. Everyone has improved and they can see this, which is our aim."

Mick Cotter's emphatic result with Whisper in Mini Maxi Racing/Cruising was a revelation, but had been hinted at last year's Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup when Cotter's crew won a sub-division prize, "it's been a wonderful week, everything went really well. I had a great team and that's what did it for me. We had few mistakes yesterday, but you can't expect to go through a week's regatta and not have a few. The conditions were ideal for us, which helped us considerably in the overall results. The crew know the boat well and the pros have got to know both us and the boat."

As predicted, the true battle came in Mini Maxi Racing and it was fought tooth and nail between two boats - Bella Mente and Alfa Romeo. Fauth's crew knew they had to win. Tactician Dee Smith saw to it that Bella Mente won the start at the pin end, while Alfa went for the committee boat end. As both yachts sailed their own race for the first leg, the first crossing was a critical moment. It went to Bella Mente and she held off her larger rival until the top of the second beat. At this point the Americans were still within a shout of victory. They were sailing so well that within the Owner/Driver category they were undoubtedly winning. With three more legs it was never going to be easy and, unfortunately for them, Alfa had no thoughts of mercy in mind. She forced her way past and then proceeded to match-race Hap Fauth's yacht progressively out of the running. Conceding waterline length and therefore speed it was never going to end happily for Fauth. Bella Mente corrected out ahead of Alfa, but critically Andres Soriano's Alegre (GBR) and Sir Peter Ogden's Jethou (GBR) corrected out ahead of her. Crichton won by one point.

Crichton knew he had been in a scrap and paid due compliment to the tenacity and sailing skills of Fauth and his crew, as did his tactician, Michael Coxon, and relief helm, Ben Ainslie, who knows plenty about the need for ruthlessness in such circumstances. Crichton was thoroughly pleased with the result: "we're delighted. It was pretty tough out there today. We had to do what we had to do, and we got there in the end. They ( Bella Mente) camped on us on the first beat. We finally got them back and then just sat on top of them."

Meanwhile, Zennström and his Rán crew were able to sail their own race with the fight going on far behind. Once again, itook the gun and in doing so walked away with an eight-point victory over Alfa Romeo in the Min Maxi Racing 00 grouping. Zennstrom readily admitted they were flattered by the gap, which had been accentuated by the duel between the Alfa Romeo and Bella Mente.

All in all it has been an enthralling week of competition. The weather has played ball. Each day of racing has produced quality conditions and allowed the crews of the gathered maxis to strut their stuff in style. We'll allow a newcomer to capture the sensation of racing here. Rachel Howe is the sole female navigator competing this week. Not only that, but she did so on Jethou in the intense environment of the Mini Maxi Racing group. Jethou went out on a high today, finishing the race first in Owner/Driver and second in 00. According to Howe: "this is the most prestigious event that I've done, the field that we're racing in is absolutely spectacular. It's an inspirational fleet to be part of. To get the opportunity to race against the people we're racing against is just incredible. It is a real privilege. It's intimidating at first, but once you are out there getting on with your job you realise everyone is pretty normal.once you see past the (Olympic) gold medals and the America's Cups!"

Place, Boat Name, Owner, Nation, R1,R2, R3, R4, R5, R6, R7, Total Points

Mini Maxi Racing (owner/driver)
1. Alfa Romeo, Neville Crichton, NZL, 2-2-1-1-1-3-(4), 10.0 points
2. Bella Mente, Hap Fauth, USA, 1-1-(4)-2-2-2-3, 11.0
3. Jethou, Peter Ogden, GBR, 3-3-2-(4)-4-1-1, 14.0

Mini Maxi (00 Class)
1. Ran, Niklas Zennstrom, GBR, (4)-2-3-2-1-1-1, 10.0 points
2. Alfa Romeo, Neville Crichton, NZL, 3-4-2-1-2-(8), 18.0
3. Luna Rossa, Maestrale Holding, ITA, 1-2-(8)-8-3-2-5, 20.0

Racing - Racing/Cruising
1. Beau Geste, Karl Kwok, HKG, 1-1-1-1-1, 5.0 points
2. Roma - Aniene, C.C. Aniene/F. Faruffini, ITA, 2-2-2-5-2, 13.0
3. DSK Pioneer Investments, Danilo Salsi, ITA, 3-3-3-2-3, 14.0
Mini Maxi Racing/Cruising
1. Whisper, Michael Cotter, IRL, 1-1-1-5-1, 9.0 points
2. Aegir, Brian Benjamin, GBR, 6-2-4-1-6, 19.0
3. Grande Orazio, Massimiliano Florio, ITA, 2-7-5-2-3, 19.0

1. Roma - Aniene, C.C. Aniene/F. Faruffini, ITA, 1-1-1-4-1, 8.0 points
2. DSK Pioneer Investments, Danilo Salsi, ITA, 2-2-2-1-2, 9.0
3. Sagamore Enigma, Nicola Paoleschi, ITA, 3-4-3-2-3, 15.0

1. Y3K, Claus-Peter Offen, GER, (3)-1-1-2-3-1, 8.0 points
2. Open Season, Thomas Bscher, GER, 2-3-2-(6)-2-2, 11.0
3. Magic Carpet 2, Lindsay Owen-Jones, GBR, 7-(8(DSQ))-3-1-1-3, 15.0

Cruising/Spirit of Tradition
1. Velsheda, Tarbat Investment Ltd, GBR, 1-1-1-1-1, 5.0 points
2. Visione, Hasso Plattner, GER, 5-3-2-3-4, 17.0
3. Hamilton II, Lockstock Ltd, GBR, 2-4-5-2-5, 18.0

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