Carnage at the Giraglia Rolex Cup

Boats on the rocks, the committee boat rammed - it's all in a day's work in Saint-Tropez

Wednesday June 20th 2001, Author: Peter Bentley, Location: Mediterranean
You spend millions getting your hi-tech Maxi on the water, pay some of the world’s best sailors to get every last ounce of speed out of her, and then you run aground just three weeks after launching her. That is the nightmare scenario facing one distraught owner at the Giraglia Rolex Cup.

Idea is the 82-foot, Reichel-Pugh designed pride and joy of Italian business tycoon Raffaele Raiola. On Monday, in the first race of the Giraglia Rolex Cup in Saint-Tropez, he shrugged off the shredding of a $40,000 genoa as the wind took the sail above its safe working range. "We have good insurance," he joked.

Whether or not he has been able to put such a brave face on Tuesday’s disaster is not so clear. Idea was fast off the blocks and led the Maxi fleet towards the first windward mark. But she committed the premier sin of navigation - passing to the south of a northerly cardinal mark - which was there to warn of treacherous waters less than two metres deep.

Local sailors and observers looked on in horror as Idea passed to windward of the navigation buoy, seemingly oblivious to the disaster about to strike. When she hit, she was travelling at over nine knots, but it can’t have been a full-on strike. If it had, someone would have got hurt. As it was, the crew looked more likely to hurt each other as the post-grounding recriminations began.

Idea relinquished her lead to the American Maxi Sagamore and Loro Piana, the Italian Maxi owned by Loro Piana Pierluigi. Despite doing most of his racing in the USA, Jim Dolan was not fazed by the sometimes treacherous waters around Saint-Tropez. The owner of Sagamore said: "We’ve got such an international crew on board that we’ve nearly always got someone who’s sailed the waters before, no matter where we might be in the world." Whilst pleased with Sagamore’s performance today, a dramatic wind shift soon after the start turned the race into something of a procession. "It was a drag race all around the course but we did pretty well today," he said.

With the breeze picking up slightly towards the end of the race, it was again the smaller boats that took the glory on corrected time. Puri Negri Carlo’s old C&C 61, Grampus, beat the gleaming new Maxis in Class 0, despite some hairy manoeuvres that saw the crew in considerable disarray at times. Another less-than-glamorous contender in Class 0, the ageing Whitbread round-the-world race winner Entreprendre, proved that her race win yesterday was no flash in the pan, adding a solid third place to her score.

Whilst the big boats got away relatively cleanly on the first start off Saint-Tropez, the veering wind resulted in a very biased start line for the smaller boats in the fleet. With the 30- and 40-footers jostling for position, there were a number of collisions and one boat even smashed into the committee boat. The protest committee is likely to be in for a late evening as competitors submitted a flurry of protest forms after racing.

Flash, the Farr 39 which won yesterday’s race, got away cleanly amidst all the carnage, although crew member Roberto Tamburelli said the boatspeed-oriented race did not suit them. "Our sails are very old and we needed a more tactical race to be able to keep our early position in the race." Flash could only manage 24th in the combined results of all the classes. One of the smallest boats in the whole fleet of 71, Laurent Francois’s First 32 called Sietel, won today’s race overall, ahead of two First 40.7s, Paul & Shark and Scacco Matto.

Today sees the last of the inshore racing take place before the main event begins on Thursday. More boats continue to arrive in Saint-Tropez for the beginning of the Giraglia Race, the offshore classic now in its 49th year. The 2001 edition of the 243-mile race from Saint-Tropez to Genoa - via the Giraglia rock off the coast of Corsica - looks set to be the biggest ever, with over 120 yachts expected to fill the one-kilometre-long start line on Thursday at midday.

A number of extreme boats such as the swing-keeled Open 60s and Mini Transat boats are entering the race, along with a brand new Volvo 60 skippered by top round-the-world sailor Grant Dalton. The Kiwi will be racing his Nautor Challenge yacht for the first time since it was launched last Thursday in Marseilles, so he will be anxious to avoid trouble on a busy start line that will see yachts ranging from 21 to almost 100 feet in length. Another boat to watch is the Wally 77 Vae Victis. Talented match racer Markus Wieser leads a crew of German America’s Cup sailors aboard the luxury yacht formerly known as Carrera.

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