Lumpy Porto Cervo

Awkward sea state takes its toll on the opening day of the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup

Tuesday September 8th 2009, Author: Giles Pearman, Location: United Kingdom
There was a twinkle in the eye of Poseidon this morning. The current crop of sailing gods may have gathered in Porto Cervo for the 2009 Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup, but the lord of the sea was about to prove mastery of the waves does not come easily even to the gifted. This was to be a testing day for all competitors. Not everyone was overawed, as Volvo Ocean Race winner Torben Grael and Olympic maestro Robert Scheidt conspired to bring Luna Rossa (ITA) home first amongst the Racing Mini Maxis, although not without their moment. Jean-Charles Decaud's J One (FRA) was the fortunate one in the Wallys, while Velsheda (GBR) and tradition got the better of modernity in Cruising. The luck of the Irish was evidenced in the Racing/Cruising Mini Maxis as Whisper (IRL) quietly went about her business and in the combined Racing/Cruising division, Karl Kwok's Beau Geste (HKG) wrapped up the race win in indecent haste.

The journey from Porto Cervo harbour to the start line was enough to set the nerves jangling this morning as a 3-metre sea and 20-25 knots of northeasterly wind greeted competitors. The conditions were more than manageable for Maxi yachts, but there were traps in the waves and gusts that would catch those unwary, unlucky or unprepared. The Race Committee chose a 35 nautical mile course, that took the fleet on a beat to a windward mark, followed by a fetch to the rocks at Monaci, where the yachts bore off onto a run down into the main channel between the Maddalena Islands and mainland Sardinia. At Secca di Tre Monti the fleet hardened up for some upwind work in flat water to the top mark of the course at Barrettinelli di Fuori. Then it was back out into the lump and bump of the open sea and a fast reach down to the finish off Porto Cervo.

The Racing Mini Maxis got proceedings underway. Neville Crichton all but confirmed his worst fears about preparation with a distinctly second row start that saw Alfa Romeo (NZL) forced to tack off onto port straight after the gun. The division split in two with half favouring the right and half the left. The right paid. By first mark, Crichton's crew, with Ben Ainslie in the strategist's role, had regained composure and position to take a slender lead over Niklas Zennstrom's Ràn 2 (GBR). Luna Rossa was in third and the biggest surprise was the 60ft Jethou getting the better of the STP65 Container (GER). It was at this point that Poseidon played his first trump card. Andres Soriano and Alegre (GBR) suffered sail damage that was considered enough to warrant the crew taking an early bath. One down.

The next three classes got away without incident making the best of the difficult conditions. The fifth and final start was the most dramatic. Poseidon's humour was black at this point, perhaps frustrated at the fleet's apparent nonchalant regard for the conditions. The Polish crew on Intuition were thrown the unhittable curve ball. Two bangs announced the Racing/Cruising Mini Maxi's entrance into the arena. The one from the Committee boat was expected. The one from the from Intuition was gut wrenching as the top three metres of her mast separated leaving her mortally-wounded on the line, a sorry sight for the fast departing fleet. Two down.

In the Wallys, Lindsay Owen Jones and Magic Carpet had looked to be settled into the groove early holding a good lead over Open Season and the longer Y3K. It was a lead they would hold all the way to Barrettinelli when the trident of bad fortune chose to strike Owen Jones, not for the first time in the history of this event. Twice in quick succession the head sail appeared to blow out of the foil, leaving the Magic Carpet looking a little thread bare as she was forced to finish race under main alone. Not quite three down, but in the context of this race she would no longer play a serious role.

On Luna Rossa, Robert Scheidt and Torben Grael were understandably happy with the way the day's events unfolded. “It was a good day for us,” commented Grael, “we had a nice start, read the course well, made some nice moves and even got to the finish line ahead, which is good for a small boat in a class like ours.” Grael admitted that it had not been straightforward describing how shortly after watching Ràn suffer her moment of misfortune when the jib tack broke tearing the sail out of the headfoil, the Luna Rossa crew took the lead and promptly lost control of the inner staysail during the hoist. Fortunately for Luna Rossa they were reaching at this point and the issue was no more than an irritation. Ràn's problems cost them second if not the race, according to tactician Adrian Stead. The remaining podium positions in Luna Rossa's class were taken by Hap Fauth's Bella Mente (USA) and Alfa Romeo.

In the second tier group of Mini Maxis, comprising the less race-oriented boats, the Irish yacht, Whisper, sailed an exemplary race to correct out seven minutes ahead of Massimillano Florio's Grande Orazio and Massimo Violati's OPS 5. Mick Cotter, the owner, was a happy man as he climbed ashore, “we had big breeze, which helps a big heavy boat like ours! We had no problems either, which some of the other boats seemed to have.” For Cotter the biggest problem of the day was which sail to put up; a decision-making question-mark echoed by tactician Andy Beadsworth, who described how on the reach back to the finish they were torn between sticking with the sail combination that had almost got them to the top of the course first on the water or changing up a gear. In the end, conservatism won through. “We had a few concerns about hoisting the kite. We'd been going well till that point, though we might have been better off reefed. Putting the spinnaker up might have opened us to more problems and, to be honest, we were in such a good position we didn't need to gain anything, so we held off,” Beadsworth explained. Wise choice.

For some crews the end of racing today could not come soon enough. The prospect of more of the same tomorrow will probably be unnerving a few. By contrast, for Mick Cotter, tomorrow can't come soon enough and he is hoping for another dose of the medicine, “I don't think there is a better place to sail, you are nearly always going to get a breeze and it's warm so it does not matter if the sea comes over you.” When Irish eyes are smiling…

Racing continues tomorrow, with the first signal scheduled for 11.30 CEST.Ouch.

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