Evoking a sense of history and enchantment, the most recent edition of the Giraglia Rolex Cup, which ran from 14-22 June, also reserved dramatic action. Attracting an eye-catching mix of new designs and historic entrants, yachts measuring from 30 to 100-feet, fully Corinthian and professional crews, the 61st running of this Mediterranean classic was defined by intense competition throughout the fleet.
Following three days of engaging inshore racing in Saint-Tropez, a fleet of 184 international crews from 14 countries graced the famous 243-nm offshore race running from Saint-Tropez to Genoa via the Giraglia rock. The race’s two winners were forced to work hard for their moment in the sun. Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones’s new Wally Cento Magic Carpet 3 from the United Kingdom sealed line honours as the race’s fastest boat but only after resisting determined competition from a potent group of smaller Mini Maxis. The recipient of the Giraglia Rolex Cup Trophy as overall race winner on handicap was the XP44 Alizée from France. Likewise, she had to defeat resilient rivals.
It has been a few years since Owen-Jones last sailed at the Giraglia Rolex Cup. Arriving in 2013 with his brand new 100-ft Magic Carpet 3 he remarked: “For me the passion of sailing is the competition. I like going fast and faster than the others!” Magic Carpet 3 began the offshore race as the marginal favourite for line honours.
Heading offshore would provide a stern test of her potential although with Jochen Schümann – line honours winner in 2011 and 2012 with Esimit Europa 2 – calling tactics, Owen-Jones and his crew were in skilled hands. “We have proven that we can beat the Mini Maxis in the inshore racing under reasonably fair conditions,” said Schümann shortly before the offshore race start, “we should be the ones fighting for line honours”.
With Andres Soriano’s brand new Alegre (GBR) – Class winner in the inshore racing series, Alessandro Rombelli’s Stig (ITA), George Sakellaris’s Shockwave (USA), Sir Peter Ogden’s Jethou (GBR) and Alex Schaerer’s Caol Ila R (USA) – the former Alegre and Giraglia Rolex Cup line honours winner in 2009 – completing the Mini Maxi line-up, the forecast was for an intense contest.
Owen-Jones and Schümann were all too aware that the slightest tactical error in an offshore race regularly characterized by spells of light winds would be punished by the impressive cluster of 60 to 72-ft Mini Maxis. Niklas Zennström’s 72-ft Rán 2 – twice winner of the Rolex Fastnet Race – while now one of the older Mini Maxis boasts great pedigree and an expert team. She was predicted to push Magic Carpet 3 close. “The great thing about the Mini Maxi fleet is that it is getting tighter and tighter,” commented Zennström. “Everyone has the potential to win. You can’t look out for one boat but the whole fleet.” Zennström’s tactician Adrian Stead added: “It’s going to be tricky. Normally the breeze in this race is light. Each boat has a sweet spot depending on the conditions. At the end of the race, we need to say we’ve sailed the boat as best we can.” Mike Sanderson, tactician on American Hap Fauth’s 2012 launch Bella Mente, another 72-ft Mini Maxi, was equally excited by the level of competition: “It doesn’t seem to matter where we are sailing, the Mini Maxi class is hard to beat and getting stronger. Bella Mente enjoys a bit of breeze and loves reaching and we are set up for this. The boat is going well and we tend to get it right when it matters.”
So it proved. Leaving Saint-Tropez under a ten-knot breeze at midday on Wednesday 19 June, the leading boats made steady progress to the Giraglia rock, the halfway point on the northern tip of Corsica. Magic Carpet 3 rounded the emblematic landmark first, at 07:00 CEST the following morning. She was in good company with the group of chasing Mini Maxis all rounding within the hour. It was there and on the upwind stretch to Genoa, that the key strategic decisions were made. Benefitting from Schümann’s tactical nous, Magic Carpet 3 hugged the rhumb line forcing the Mini Maxis to make their own tactical gambles if they wanted to find the breeze that would propel them past the Wally Cento.
On rounding the rock, Shockwave, Bella Mente, Stig and Caol Ila R sailed right of the rhumb line while Alegre and Rán 2 switched left. “The first third of the race went to plan but we didn’t do a great job on the approach to the rock,” revealed Will Best, navigator on Alegre. “It left us with few options but to spin the dice once we rounded the rock and move into the area of left pressure. It paid off. We made our gains back.” Rán 2 rolled the same dice and it nearly landed perfectly. At one stage and heading into the final 50-nm, Zennström’s crew led as Magic Carpet 3 parked. However, the larger boat’s resilient tactics ultimately paid dividends. “We had a consistent plan and stuck to it while the Mini Maxi fleet split,” explained Schümann. “We stayed close to the rhumb line looking for the new westerly to come and finally it arrived enabling us to reclaim the lead and win line honours. We made a lot of sail changes, even more than in an inshore race - this proves how changing the conditions were.”
Magic Carpet 3 arrived in Genoa a mere four minutes ahead of Rán 2 with Alegre finishing a further two minutes behind. Her elapsed finish time was 31 hours, 35 minutes and 48 seconds. For the remaining Mini Maxis, the tactical decision to move right after the Giraglia rock did not pay off. “We decided to stay with Bella Mente and Stig,” explained Brett Ellis navigator on Caol Ila R, “but there were some difficult transitions on route to Genoa. It was a tough race, closely fought. We made a lot of sail changes, spinnakers and code zero came up and down. A lot of time was spent formulating our plan to finish.”
Owen-Jones cut a delighted and relieved figure after finishing in Genoa. In 2005 his former Magic Carpet came agonisingly close to success only to lose out to North Sails Sportswear having led until 300 metres from the finish line. “We didn’t do anything radical,” explained Owen-Jones on arrival at the Yacht Club Italiano, “we knew which side of the course we wanted to be on. As the first boat we had to cover all our bets. We stayed pretty central and that played out well. I am very proud of the crew - not just talented people but a nice group.”
The finish times registered by the leading boats - far behind the race record set by the 100-ft Maxi Esimit Europa 2 in 2012 - never threatened to secure outright race victory on handicap. Ultimately, the conditions proved ideal for the smaller boats and in particular the French crew on the XP44 Alizée - a 2012 build - who saw off determined competition, particularly from Swan 42s Natalia (ROU) – inshore race Class winner – and Tixwave (GBR) to claim the Giraglia Rolex Cup.
“It’s a great surprise. At the Giraglia rock we knew we were well placed in Class as we rounded with Natalia,” explained Alizée owner Laurent Camprubi. “After that we made the decision to go west and they went east and the conditions proved more favourable for our arrival into Genoa. We never thought about winning overall. Instead, we concentrated on the race and our direct competition, adapting accordingly to the weather. It is reward for our great team spirit. We are a really nice mix of ages and the 11-strong team includes my son and his friends.” For one member of Alizée’s crew, success was especially poignant. Skipper Richard Sautieux won the race back in 1968 and has waited 45 years for this cherished second success. Magic Carpet 3 and Alizée were rewarded for their hard-fought victories with Rolex timepieces and Alizée the Giraglia Rolex Cup Trophy at the final prizegiving in Genoa.
The Giraglia Rolex Cup – sponsored by Rolex since 1998 – has always enticed. Throughout its history, this democratic competition has been won by both state-of-the art goliaths and Corinthian crews on 30-ft boats. It has forever promoted a spirit of camaraderie and adventure, perhaps best articulated by Luca Pignone of Indomabile Pensiero, a competing yacht owned by organizers the Yacht Club Italiano. “The fantastic thing about the Giraglia is you can see any type of wind condition, any type of boat and any type of competitor.”
For a significant portion of the Giraglia Rolex Cup fleet, offshore racing remains sharply in focus. A number of crews that tackled the famous race from Saint-Tropez to Genoa are now ready to take on the legendary 608-nm Rolex Fastnet Race. The appointment is for 11-16 August.
Line Honours Giraglia Rolex Cup
Magic Carpet 3 (GBR), Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones
31 hours, 35 minutes, 48 seconds
Overall Results Giraglia Rolex Cup
1. Alizée (FRA), Laurent Camprubi
2. Tixwave (GBR), Tixwave
3. Natalia (ROU), KDF Energy SRL
Giraglia Rolex Cup