Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup sets sail tomorrow

Clash of the titans and the first Mini Maxi World Championship sets sail tomorrow

Sunday September 5th 2010, Author: Giles Pearman/James Boyd, Location: Italy

Racing at the 21st Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup gets underway tomorrow, Monday, 6 September. A record fleet of 49 yachts are registered. Aside from the burgeoning Mini Maxi Division, comprising yachts between 18 and 24-metres, there are 25 yachts exceeding 24m, with 16 over 30m including Albert Buell’s Saudade (MLT) as the biggest at 45.19m, a whisker under 150-feet. Salperton IV (CAY) has grounds to be aggrieved - she misses out on top spot by a mere 19cm. Some comfort will be her maximum beam, which at 9.34m is the biggest in the fleet.

Event host, the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda is organising the event in conjunction with the International Maxi Association, which has been instrumental in restructuring formal classifications for maxi-yachts, the largest monohulls on the racing scene.

The fastest maxi-yacht racing in Europe is undoubtedly the blue streak, the 30m Esimit Europa 2. Formerly Alfa Romeo II, she is now in the hands of Igor Simcic and his racing skipper, Flavio Favini (read more about her here). Whereas in the past this canting keeled state-of-the-art yacht has been oft referred to as a supermaxi, that, she is no longer according to the size bands and terminology defined by the IMA. Simcic is unbothered and is looking forward to the racing ahead: “I like Porto Cervo very much. I like sailing around here because the conditions and scenery are very nice. Today we went out and checked the last things before the regatta starts tomorrow and I am very satisfied with our preparation. I hope that we will be fast, tomorrow we will see much better than today!”

Yachts of 24-30.5m (78.7-100ft) are now just maxis. It is strange to reflect that when the term maxi was first coiled back in the 1980s, the yachts concerned were rarely bigger than 24m - a reflection of how this exclusive market and both yacht design and the equipment used on these yachts has progressed over the last 30 years. A supermaxi is now over 30.5-metres whatever speed you are capable of. There are ten such behemoths in Porto Cervo this week: The smallest of which is the 32m Gliss (SUI), owned by Marco Vogele and sporting its trademark strikingly aquamarine hull colour. Vying for the honours on looks as well as on the racecourse are the two J-Class classics, Velsheda and Ranger, back again to continue a long-running on-the-water rivalry. Only the ketch Hetairos comes close if classic lines appeal.

The Wally fleet is perennially strong and this year is no exception. There are nine examples competing in their own division including the recently launched 30.5-metre Indio (ITA) that cut such a dash at the Giraglia Rolex Cup in June. There are three past division winners present: Jean-Charles Decaux’s J One (FRA), Sir Lindsay Owen Jones’ Magic Carpet 2 (GBR) and Claus Peter Offen’s Y3K (GER). The two Wally 80s, Bagheera (MON) and Inti (ITA) prop up the competitive fold.

Aside from Esimit, the Racing & Racing/Cruising Maxi Division comprises two Swan 90s, the well-travelled DSK Pioneer Investments (ITA) and the always impeccably turned-out Solleone (ITA). Alessandro Rinaldi’s Southern Wind-built Farewell (ITA) is the heavyweight in the category just squeezing inside the maxi tape at 30.21-metres.

Many eyes will be on the match between two yachts making their Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup debuts: the 24.5-metre Singularity (GBR) may be the smallest in the class, but she expects to punch well above her weight with former Volvo Ocean Race skipper Bouwe Bekking running the show. “we’re very excited because really it is the first time we have raced with this boat," said Bekking. "The owner is really looking forward to seeing how his boat is performing against other competitors. Practice has been going well, we’ve got a good crew on board, but so has everybody here!” Irvine Laidlaw’s 25m Highland Fling (GBR) has already displayed her competitive credentials finishing second in class at Key West Race Week earlier this year. Highland Fling was to have competed in the Wally class but owners in the class deemed the boat to be too quick and they were unwilling to accept the 8% rating penalty on offer.

But story of the week will be among the smallest participants. The Mini Maxis may be the poor relations of the maxi world in terms of size, but for competitive racing they are exceptional. With an inaugural World Championship at stake, the prize for success this week is massive, explaining why such large fleet has gathered. Niklas Zennstrom’s Ran (GBR), overall winner of the 2009 Rolex Fastnet, Andres Soriano’s Alegre (GBR), winner at Rolex Capri Sailing Week this year and Neville Crichton’s Shockwave (NZL), overall winner of Giraglia Rolex Cup offshore race, are without question the three favourites among the racing Mini Maxis. That said, America’s Cup winner Bill Koch has not come out of competitive big-boat retirement just to make up the numbers with the chartered, Titan 15 (USA). Wild Joe (HUN) is the former Wild Oats Admiral’s Cup winner; Peter Ogden’s 60 footer Jethou (GBR) has had her share of success, and American Hap Fauth will expect much of his Bella Mente crew that finished a close second here in division last year and won this year's Key West Race Week.

Among the racer/cruiser Mini Maxis, Whisper (IRL) is a returning division winner, but has no reason to expect an easy time this year with Aegir (GBR) having put in the race-hours over the course of this summer. While all Mini-Maxis fitting within the size limits of the class have been invited to race in the division, only those that comply with the IMA owner-driver rule are eligible for the World Championship title.

Taking everything as seriously as the crews are the YCCS and the IMA. Where practical, participating yachts in the Mini Maxi Rolex Worlds have been weighed as part of the check measurement for handicap certificate compliance. It has been no simple task lifting 24 substantial yachts. A 70-tonne crane has been used with a custom-built rig to cope with those yachts without a single point for lifting. Yachts have had to be put into measurement trim, which in the words of IMA Measurer Peter Lawson means “turning them upside down and shaking out everything that moves”, figuratively of course, but no small task for the crews. A 35-tonne load cell is making the final call and so impressed have been the measurers with its accuracy that the number of lifts was reduced from three per boat to two.

Getting weight sensitive about boats hitting the scales at 20-tonnes or more might seem picky, but this is the Worlds. Mini Maxis found to be heavier or equal to their certificate weight have been released without charge. Those found to be more than 200kg lighter than their declared displacement value have been required to submit a new certificate. “We have a simple accept or reject policy’, says Lawson. Getting through all 24  yachts in three days has been a major task.

Peter Craig is the returning Principal Race Officer, “I’m impressed. Despite everything going on in the world, numbers are up at this, one of the biggest events on the calendar. As usual we have a fantastic array of maxi yachts participating and our overriding aim is to provide good quality, fair racing throughout the week of competition. I’m looking forward to getting it going tomorrow.”

Weather-wise, competitors expect a mixed bag, as Bouwe Bekking indicates: “Everyone pays close attention to the weather forecast in Sardinia because lots of different things can happen, especially with the prospect of the Mistral lurking on the horizon. The first two days should be relatively light, Wednesday looks like good breeze and, then, lay-day a white-out most likely with 40-45 knots predicted.”

The Yacht Club Costa Smeralda will officially greet the competitors tonight with a welcome cocktail at the stunning clubhouse that overlooks Porto Cervo Marina. At the end of each racing day, the yacht club and title sponsor Rolex will provide a lush array of social events: highlights of which include the IMA Dinner at the YCCS Clubhouse on Tuesday and the Rolex Crew Party at the Hotel Colonna Pevero on Friday. The week ends with Saturday's final Prize giving Ceremony, where the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cups and Rolex timepieces will be awarded to the overall winner of each Division and the Mini Maxi Rolex World Championship.

The 2010 Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup, organised by the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda in conjunction with the International Maxi Association (IMA), runs from 5 to 11 September. Racing commences tomorrow, Monday and with races scheduled for each following day, save Thursday, the prize giving on Saturday will be the culmination of an intense week of big boat competition. From the most luxurious, through the most traditional, to the most advanced monohulls afloat today, the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup is nothing if not an astonishing line up of sailing power.

Full entry list here

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