September 11, 2017: PORTO CERVO, SARDINIA - At the biggest Maxi yacht event of the Mediterranean season the stakes are high. For those with half an eye on the main prize in their class, there are few opportunities left to forge a final, immoveable grip. Organised by the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda (YCCS) in conjunction with the International Maxi Association and with the support of title sponsor Rolex, the 28th Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup continues until Saturday, 9 September.
As the event approaches its climax, the Supermaxi class has seen newcomer Ribelle so far get the better of three-time winner Nilaya and last year’s debutant winner Win Win; Galateia is battling with Nahita for the lead in the Wally class; and, Momo is putting in an exceptional performance in the Rolex Maxi 72 World Championship.
Elsewhere, in the Maxi class, the Racers - Rambler and Highland Fling XI – are engaged in a battle of equals, as are the Racer-Cruisers - Nefertiti and Sorceress. Jethou has proven unbeatable in the early racing in Mini Maxi Racer. Supernikka and H20 lead their respective Mini Maxi Racing Cruising Groups, but by slender margins.
The Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup started life in 1980 as the Maxi World Championship. It was conceived by the YCCS as an opportunity for the biggest, fastest monohull racing yachts in the sailing world to congregate for a week of serious competition. Porto Cervo itself is a natural rendezvous point. It has a harbour big enough and deep enough to accommodate serious beam and draft in sufficient numbers; the sailing area offers a multitude of courses that are technically and tactically demanding. And, in the YCCS celebrating its 50th anniversary, it has a yacht club dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in a manner understood by the owners who bring their yachts and the crew that deliver aboard them.
Vasco Vascotto, the effervescent tactician on Cannonball, is extensive in his praise for Port Cervo as a Maxi racing destination: “Just look around. It’s just fantastic. You can have very good windward/leeward and the very best coastal races in the world. This place is perfect for sailing. You can have strong winds like the Mistral or light airs that are very tricky with good shifts. There are lots of rocks and shallow water. It is the perfect place for navigators … even to make mistakes!”
LESSONS IN DEVELOPMENT
With a level of competition widely regarded as one of the highest in the sport, the list of sailors here this week is a who’s who of Olympic medallists, Volvo Ocean Race winners and America’s Cup legends - both made and in the making. It takes a particular type of owner willing to put his boat on the line in this contest of goliaths. Clearly, you have to be competitive. The Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup is the only event dedicated to yachts over 60-feet where boats in the same class start at the same time. That alone requires nerve. You also have to be willing to improve your skills and understanding each time you race, particularly if you wish to succeed.
Cannonball’s owner, Dario Ferrari, is one such owner according to Vascotto: “Dario is an important person for the sailing community. He has done a lot and the most important thing for him is to improve his skills and to feel he is a better sailor at the end of every day. Results are important, but first he wants to know why we did something and to understand the strategy.
As well as being prepared to improve oneself, one has to be just as ready to develop the boat and equipment. Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones is a six-time winner at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup with his Magic Carpet team, and is here at the 28th edition with his latest yacht, the Wallycento, Magic Carpet Cubed. “I love racing boats precisely because there is an interface between man and machine against another man and machine,” explains Owen-Jones, continuing: “As soon as you introduce a machine, part of the competition is making the machine better and better and better, just in the same way that you try to improve yourself, and your team in everything they do.”
The rewards for the successful pursuit of excellence at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup are both tangible and intangible, and in all ways appreciable. “The reason we are here is for competition and always there is a thrill to be better than your peers,” says Hap Fauth, the owner of the Maxi 72 Bella Mente, and a three-time winner of the Rolex Maxi 72 Worlds. “The satisfaction of having my peers shake my hand and say outstanding, makes me feel good. Bella mente … beautiful mind … that’s how I feel when I’m on the boat and, definitely, that’s how I feel when my team is winning!”
At Saturday’s prize-giving, the winners’ selection will be known. The endorsement of their fellow competitors will be discernible in the applause and cheers that envelop the announcement of the names. Along with the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cups presented to the major class winners, each will receive a specially engraved Rolex timepiece that over close to 60 years has come to represent achievement at the highest level of the sport and, especially, here.
Owen-Jones again: “This is the regatta everyone wants to win in the year. This is the regatta for which you try to get your boat to a state of perfection. It’s addictive, as long as [I] have the strength to do it I think I will still be coming back”. In his view, over the years, the prize has become as much a part of the draw as the location and competition: “There are many things that make [this event] totally unique. Geographically it’s just the most stunning place, with natural challenges and things of huge beauty. I think it true that Rolex has helped make it what it is. This was one of the first events they were behind. For many years, we used to call it ‘the Rolex’. It made it more important to win, more magical.”
Fauth is equally clear on the part played by the rewards for success: “It’s a wonderful event. You couldn’t have better conditions or better environment or a more exciting place to sail. The pride of having a Rolex from the winners’ circle is absolutely the top of the sport.”