The key to success at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup is similar to that in most other sporting events: precision in execution. Get everything absolutely right and you leave the opposition with no weakness to exploit and you magnify the impact of their errors however small. The yachts exhibiting the highest level of accuracy at the 2018 Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup were:Topaz in Supermaxi, Grande Orazio in Maxi, MOMO in the Rolex Maxi 72 Worlds, Lyra in Wally and SuperNikka and H2O in Mini Maxi Group 1 and Group 2.
The five racing days at the 29th edition of the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup provided the examination of preparation, skill and determination to which the sailing world has become accustomed over the regatta’s near 40-year history. The pinnacle event in the Maxi yacht calendar is run by the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda (YCCS), in conjunction with the International Maxi Association and in partnership with Rolex, title sponsor since 1985. The winds were varied, topping out at 20 knots, and the sea state ranged from flat to a sharp chop. The combination of elements allowed crews to put their skills to the test, without ever putting them on the edge of control.
Comprising yachts in excess of 30.5 metres (100 feet), the Supermaxi class was an exhibition of both tradition and modernity. It placed the elegant and classic 1930s lines of the three J Class yachts – Topaz, Svea and Velsheda - in confrontation with the power and sophistication of My Song and Viriella, both example of 21st century design-thinking. The week of racing went the way of the J Class, with Topaz getting the better of her siblings and her modern rivals. Her worst results, from five coastal races, which ranged in distance from 22 to 35 nm and took in most of the scenic Maddalena Archipelago, were two second-places.
Nacho Postigo, the experienced navigator on Topaz, gave due credit to the crew’s meticulous approach to the week: “With boats so close in speed it is about precision. Precision in the pre-start, making sure you are right on time at full speed and then precision in the manoeuvres. Tactics have to be right in predicting what is going to happen and navigation, too, going as close to the rocks as possible without hitting them.”
Crew work is often likened to the orchestration of a ballet or a symphony. Every dancer or musician has to meet their cue perfectly to achieve the composer’s desired effect. Postigo chose to use the analogy of a timepiece to explain the complexity of the challenge at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup: “You have a watch made by 40 people and each one of the pieces has to work precisely.”
The Maxi class featured another contrasting segment of the world of behemoth yacht racing. George David’s Rambler has a single-purpose: to go fast, using all the latest technological innovations in materials, equipment and sail design to achieve that goal. There is no compromise. Rambler is a weapon on the water. Up against a group of dual–purpose yachts, designed to both race and cruise, carrying the weight of interior comfort within their performance-oriented hulls, Rambler’s highly-professional crew needed some luck with the conditions and courses to gain an advantage from her powerful set up.
In the end, Rambler was outperformed by Massimiliano Florio’s Grande Orazio from Italy, whose weakest result in five races at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup was a third place. Second overall would go to Vera, with Rambler in third. Lorenzo Bortolotti, tactician on the Italian yacht, felt the nature of their pre-race effort had played a great part in their success on the water: “It is fundamental to have every single detail sorted out. It is essential to focus on preparation for this kind of event.”
According to Bortolotti, that process included consolidating a very strong team: “This is the fourth season we have been sailing together.” On its own, this is not enough, and he explained how the team also values practice to ensure precision in everything they do: “Training beforehand is important with these big boats. We take time over every manoeuvre. We really stretch every single second when we change a sail. Not losing a single metre is key. You see the results when you lose or win by a few seconds.”
Rolex Maxi 72 World Championship
Another team that exemplified the significance of precision this week was German yacht MOMO, the defending champion in the Maxi 72 class and aiming for a second world title. Little was left to chance, on this lightning fast racer, at a championship where the schedule comprised both coastal and windward/leeward courses. An external coach monitored both training and racing, using a multitude of tools and resources to record performance data, manoeuvres and even tactical decisions. This information was analysed after each racing day or training session to help focus debrief meetings onto both successful and less successful executions. Learning from both positive and negative lessons ensured the crew’s potential kept moving forward.
Over the seven-race Rolex Maxi 72 World Championship, MOMO dropped only one point, scoring six bullets/first places and one second place, to build a commanding lead over Dario Ferrari’s Cannonball. MOMO’s owner, Dieter Schön, had this to say: “Perhaps it looked easy, but it wasn’t easy. The competition is quite tough. You have to work together as a team in a perfect way. Whether we are sailing or discussing what we are doing, whether on the water or in preparation, whatever we are doing we do it as a team. For sure the boat was really well-prepared for this event, but we also had the best boat-handling.”
With six yachts, including three stunning Wallycentos, the Wally class provided a demonstration of current yacht design. Sleek lines, sublime teak decks and powerful sail plans, combined with sophisticated interiors, put Wally yachts at the forefront of the performance maxi cruiser world. While most expected the battle to be played out between the three 30.5m (100ft) contenders, Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones’ two-time winner Magic Carpet Cubed, David Leuschen’s defending class champion Galateia and Charif Souki’s Tango, making her Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup debut, it was the 23.98m (77.4ft) Lyra that stole the show.
Lyra was yet another class winner whose scoreline reveals only two off-moments, with five wins from seven, and two second places. A late charge by Tango was enough to dislodge Magic Carpet Cubed from second in the standings, but not sufficient to challenge Lyra. Four-time Olympian Hamish Pepper was tactician for the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup: “Our crew work has been outstanding, we’ve got a great bunch of guys [who] have done many miles of changing sails and getting the timing right. That helped put us in good spaces, good lanes, which made it easy for my part.”
For Pepper, attention to getting the smallest element right pays dividends and ultimately led to Lyra’s success: “A lot of this racing comes down to the details, getting sails up and down at the correct time. This gains that little half metre here and there, and some of these races are only won by seconds so every little inch counts. The team [did] a great job to fight for every inch.”
The 19-boat Mini Maxi class reserved for the smallest boats competing at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup, was divided into two groups. Both groups were won convincingly by boats defending their titles from 2017. In Group 1, Roberto Lacorte’s SuperNikka let their grip slip on only two occasions, finishing first in five races and second in two. In Group 2, Riccardo De Michele’s H2O put in the performance of the week winning every one of seven races, that mixed coastal and windward/leeward courses.
The tactician on H2O was former-Olympian Lorenzo Bodini. He, too, supports the notion that precision is critical to doing well at an event of this calibre: “Timing is 100% important, especially at the start. This is a heavy boat, so it is impossible to accelerate in a few seconds. Ten minutes before the start we begin our preparation, working out our time on distance (time to the line) and the position we want on the line.”
Mini Maxis are dual-purpose yachts designed for both cruising and racing. Despite their compromise, once on the racecourse there is no doubt the crews are seeking to do their very best, to get everything right and to beat the opposition. Bodini, again: “A crew that is working well onboard has nice boat speed, so the strategy is always aimed at that. It is fundamental in the sport of sailing. Looking at our results it looks easy, but believe me it is not. We are just a few seconds in front sometimes. We have worked for three or four years and this makes the difference.”
The final prize giving on the Piazza Azzurra in front of the YCCS clubhouse allows the competing crews to celebrate the achievements of the winners. For those whose precision in preparation and in execution hit the required mark over the past week, the rewards at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup are cherished. The respect of one’s peers, the trophies awarded to class winners and, of course, the Rolex timepieces, recognized emblems of excellence.
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