Photos Rolex / Carlo Borlenghi (except Firefly)
Tuesday marks the start of racing at the eagerly-anticipated 2011 Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup. A typically extravagant week is in store: the 47-strong multinational fleet present at this year’s regatta is the second largest in the event’s history. These multifarious crews arrive on the back of some starkly contrasting seasons. Having tackled offshore endurance events such as the Giraglia Rolex Cup and the Rolex Fastnet Race, the campaign has been intense and, at times, gruelling for certain crews. For others, the build up to the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup has been less strenuous and the sole focus has been to arrive in Porto Cervo in prime condition. One common theme unites all sailors in attendance: the desire to totally immerse themselves in the tantalising courses and scenery that penetrate the Costa Smeralda.
Racing takes place from 6-10 September and the 47 expected entrants is just shy of last year’s record of 49 yachts. Another impressive gathering for the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda (YCCS), event organiser, in conjunction with the International Maxi Association (IMA). The Mini Maxis (yachts from 18.29-24.08 metres) make up 17 of this year’s fleet and will compete in the second running of the Mini Maxi Rolex World Championship. This Championship comprises a maximum of eight races, with a scheduled minimum of four windward/leeward races and two coastal races of no more than 70-nautical miles.
The other Maxi categories are equally well represented, comprising 21 Maxi yachts (those from 24.09-30.5m) and nine Supermaxis (yachts in excess of 30.5m). Included in these figures, is a healthy array of 14 Wally yachts. For these classes the maximum number of races is seven, featuring a selection of coastal and windward/leeward courses.
The 72-foot Shockwave (USA) finished third at the inaugural Mini Maxi Rolex Worlds. That was under previous owner Neville Crichton. New owner, George Sakellaris, took possession shortly after and the handover was seamless as Reggie Cole, the boat captain, explains: “No major changes have taken place since last year aside from a change in sail makers and reconfiguring our sail plan somewhat. Many of our crew have participated at the Maxis before (including Sakellaris) and we maintain a core group who have done many events on this boat, including Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez, Key West Race Week, the New York Yacht Club Annual Regatta and recently the Copa del Rey. We are anticipating a strong field and may the best team win.” At last year’s Rolex-sponsored Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez, Shockwave competed against both Rán (GBR) and Jethou (GBR), opponents in this year’s Mini Maxi Rolex Worlds.
Rán arrives in confident mood. Niklas Zennström’s 72-footeris fresh from claiming the overall prize at the Rolex Fastnet Race. No mean feat in itself: only Rán’s triumph marked a first back-to-back success at the event in over fifty years. What is more, as defending Mini Maxi Rolex World Champion, Rán starts off the coming week as the yacht to beat.
In 2010 Rán narrowly ousted Andres Soriano’s Alegre (GBR). A year on, the Mills 68 remains a highly competitive opponent. Alegre claimed a clean sweep of prizes at May’s Rolex Volcano Race. These two crews are likely to be run close by Sir Peter Ogden’s 60-ft Jethou (GBR), another crew well-versed in the Porto Cervo sailing scene. Long-serving afterguard member, Ian Budgen, explains the crew’s approach to the event: “Preparations have been going well, and as a crew we feel completely ready to give our best. This regatta is the highlight of the racing season, so the earlier events are used to continually improve Jethou's performance.”
It is often said that the Costa Smeralda offers the ‘perfect sailing package’ and Budgen is in agreement: “Porto Cervo is a fantastic place to sail and rated as one of the best in the world, with a mix of wind speeds, hot climate, crystal clear waters and stunning scenery. Unique are the coastal courses which comprise many islands to race around and through, making it very difficult for tacticians and navigators to plan the most efficient route coping with the diversity of the changing wind and rocky shorelines.” Jethou clearly mean business. In a rare turn up for this usually British crew, Brad Butterworth of New Zealand is onboard as tactician. Only two yachts in attendance are smaller than Jethou, the Italian pair Good Job Guys and OPS5 and the rest of the field has a certain Italian flavour with another six ‘homegrown’ crews in attendance. Additional overseas presence is provided by Allsmoke (GBR), Arobas (FRA), Caol Ila (USA), Vertical Smile (DEN) and Whisper (IRL).
At the more powerful end of the scale, this year’s event boasts two magnificent and gigantic craft: Albert Buell’s 148-ft Saudade (GER) is an arm’s length larger than compatriot Hasso Plattner’s 147-ft Visione. They enjoyed a fascinating tussle last year. Meanwhile, competing for the first time is the F-class, one-design Firefly (NED), a 114-ft Supermaxi designed to perform in both heavy and light winds. She made her on-the-water debut at the recent Superyacht Cup in Palma, but has had little time to apply the lessons learnt, as Mark van Gelderen takes up: “We made some changes and improvements to the boat following the Superyacht Cup. No real training has taken place with the whole crew before our arrival in Porto Cervo, sothe three days leading up to the event will be used for training, crew work and sail testing.”
The Firefly crew is divided between those who will be competing in Sardinia for the first time and more experienced members, well-acquainted with the waters off Porto Cervo. “The Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup is our first chance to line up with comparable boats and to see what Firefly is capable of,” continues van Gelderen, “we will not be 100%, as we need more sailing hours, but we will have a good idea of Firefly's performance when the event is over. Besides that we will be enjoying the high level of sailing in one of the most beautiful waters of the world.”
Italian eyes will be cast on the brand-new 101-ft Comet Shadow (ITA), another Supermaxi competitor. Shadow, with a hull and deck designed for fast cruising, comprises twin cockpits, one for sail-control handling and the second for guests to relax. And, whilst her rigging is traditional stainless steel rod, her mast is a racier carbon-fibre structure.
The 100-ft Esimit Europa 2 (SLO) is strong favourite to defend the Maxi crown. As owner Igor Simčič reveals, the yacht’s pan-European team have been studying hard for the event: “The crew have been getting ready for the Maxis by taking their time to discuss tactics and strategy together: the coastal races are all very specific and need proper preparation. We have carefully checked all courses, sea levels and weather specifics for this region. The crew went through all the list of competitors, analysing their strengths and weaknesses.” It is the sort of meticulous preparation that exemplifies Esimit Europa 2’s year of sustained success.
The Giraglia Rolex Cup line honours winners are already training in Porto Cervo. “The crew will be practicing specific manoeuvres and testing technical features that they might be using for the first time at this regatta,” continues Simčič, “a peculiar feature of racing in Porto Cervo is the wind, which is often very strong. In addition, the sea level varies very much and can thus be very tricky and even dangerous – that’s one of the main reasons why manoeuvres need to be very accurate and very fast.