Mediterranean offshore racing kicks off
Rolex Capri Sailing Week sets sail tomorrow for the Maxis with the start of the Volcano Race. The 12 strong fleet, currently gathered in Capri’s Marina Grande, ranges from the Hungarian Mini Maxi Wild Joe at 18.2m (60ft) to the 30.5m (100ft) maxi Esimit Europa 2 of Slovenian Igor Simčič. The event, run by the International Maxi Association in collaboration with the Yacht Club Capri, is scheduled to start at 1000 local time tomorrow (Monday).
For Principal Race Officer Peter ‘Luigi’ Reggio, there is still much head scratching going on regarding the course the boats will sail. This afternoon the forecast was showing enough wind to allow competitors to sail the full course. This would take the boats from Capri south, down to and then along the south side of the Aeolian Islands, located north of Sicily, before returning to Capri. Many of the Aeolian Islands, such as Stromboli, are active volcanoes – hence the name of the race. This course is around 310-320 miles long and the latest routing has the boats finishing it late on Tuesday afternoon/early evening.
But as Reggio observes “Everything can change tonight.” As a result he is calling in some heavyweight meteorological expertise to help him make a final call by 0900 tomorrow.
Gunning for line honours, and very much favourite given the forecast, is the Maxi Esimit Europa 2. Owner Igor Simčič arrived in Capri this afternoon and was immediately smitten with the Italian paradise island. “It is a fantastic place and there is a very positive energy I feel here. I think it will be a nice week here - probably not the last time we come!”
While no course record exists for the Volcano Race - as this could be the first time in the race’s four year history that course hasn’t been shortened - Simčič and the Esimit Europa 2 crew, led by America’s Cup winner and multiple Olympic medallist Jochen Schuemann, are keen to establish one.
Simčič also says he likes the sound of the race track. “This course around the Volcanoes is one of the most interesting I’ve done with the boat. We have a fast boat in all conditions, so we hope to win.”
Standing in for Esimit Europe 2’s normal navigator, Juan Vila, who is sailing at Rolex Capri Sailing Week, but on board 52 Super Series defending champion, Quantum Racing, is German doublehanded round the world sailor, Boris Herrmann. Herrmann’s forecast is showing six knots tomorrow morning, more in the afternoon, when it could gust up to as much as 15 knots, before going very light overnight, as the boats pass through the Aeolian Islands, and then remaining light for the run home. On the giant i this is less of a problem than it is on some of her competitors. “Six knots for this boat is okay. But it is very hard to predict what will happen,” advises Herrmann.
One team unlikely to be relishing the forecast will be that of Villa Saxe Eiffel, the VO70 campaigned in the last round the world race as Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, and now skippered by a former winner of that race, Frenchman Lionel Pean.
“This Volvo-style boat is okay for offshores not short regattas - the big gear is too much for that,” admits Pean. This is the first season of racing for the boat, which will normally be called Team SFS after the team’s insurance broker backer, who has signed up for three years. For this event the team has an additional naming rights sponsor.
While Alexander Schaerer’s Mills 68 Caol Ila R has not returned to defend her title after winning the event last year, the team’s Irish tactician, Gordon Maguire, is back, but this time aboard Jeremy Pilkington’s Baltic 78 Lupa of London, the largest yacht in the Mini Maxi Racer-Cruiser class.
“I have done the last two Volcano races, which were both, quite different,” recalls Maguire. “Last year it was full-on, thunder and lightning storms, and lots of rain. I was glad to finish that one! And the year before that it was windy down to the bottom and then it went light and weird. It is always a hard race, because where do you stop if you are racing down and back?” Fortunately this time, the race committee has the option to shorten the course at a virtual mark.
Maguire remains intrigued by the race course. “It is a pretty extraordinary part of the world. How much more drama do you need in a yacht race?” he says, referring to the active volcanoes the race skirts. “The concept of sitting becalmed off Stromboli was great, but by day break when we were still sitting there, I realised I was over the whole volcano thing! But it is cool to see.”
According to Maguire, Lupa of London’s owner as frequently cruises with his yacht as he does race it. Coming to regattas like Rolex Capri Sailing Week and being on the same course as the slick Mini Maxi Racing crews such as those on Sir Peter Ogden’s Jethou and Roberto Tomasini Grinover’s Robertissima III, provides a good demonstration of how these boats should be sailed.
After the Volcano Race, the Maxi fleet has a layday on Wednesday before joining the 52 Super Series boats with windward-leeward racing off Capri for three days, starting on Thursday.