Day 4 in Costa Smeralda Maxi Paradise

Open Season and Highland Fling (Wally Division) Rolex Maxi Cup 2008

Day four of the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup started late, but did not come up short on excitement or entertainment, especially in the Cruising Division. Today was another day for the holiday-makers in this vacation paradise to witness the impressive array of the big, the beautiful and the fast in the sailing world.

Principal Race Officer Peter Craig and the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda Race Committee faced an awkward moment as ten minutes ahead of the scheduled start time the wind swung wildly right and dropped about 5 knots. It is credit to the team's swift work that they got the four starts off without delay, despite the need to adjust the pin more than once.

The Wallys and Mini Maxis sailed a 27 nautical mile course upwind to Mortoriotto, followed by a long run to Monaci, a fetch to Secca Tre Monti before a beat through Bomb Alley, past Capo Ferro, and up to the mark in Golfo Pevero, before reaching the finish line off the entrance to Porto Cervo.

The Cruising Division went somewhere different, using the islands of Mortorio and Soffi as its upwind turning mark, before rounding the rocks of Mortoriotto and running back to the finish off Porto Cervo, with the now familiar hitch into Golfo Pevero - a 21 nm course. Despite unpromising winds at the start, breeze built quickly peaking out in the high teens. Happy boats today were Rambler (Racing), Highland Fling (Wally), Ranger (Cruising) and Numbers (Mini Maxi).

Rambler (Racing Division) Rolex Maxi Cup 2008
In the Racing Division, the 90-foot Rambler (USA) and her uber-maxi competition, the 100-foot Alfa Romeo (NZL), were given a day off their usual whistle-stop tour of the islands and undertook a windward/leeward course of six legs totalling 17.3 miles.

The start was not straightforward with both yachts over early and George David's Rambler not realizing until she was some way down the track. Neville Crichton's Alfa meanwhile stole a march by going back quickly and it looked game over at this point. But it wouldn't be yacht racing if it were simple. Halfway up the third beat Alfa appeared to encounter real problems with her rig and Rambler was able to close right up to finish only three minutes behind on the water and 10 minutes ahead on handicap.

With honours wholly even in this Division, both having posted two firsts and two seconds, tomorrow is 'Super Saturday' with everything to play for despite a discard coming into the equation.

Moneypenny (Mini Maxi Division) Rolex Maxi Cup 2008
All week the Mini Maxis have been having a tussle on the line. Hardly surprising with eighteen yachts of 60 feet and over, all charged up and raring to go.

As the class approached the start line today, it was clear that a bunch towards the middle was going to find it difficult to avoid being course side when the gun went. The key question for the onlookers was whether this group comprised also-rans or favourites. As the sail numbers were called out by the Race Committee, the stomachs on Rosebud/Team DYT (USA) must have felt the proverbial lump forming as the crew realized they were the only front-runner in the class to be caught.

By the time Roger Sturgeon's crew had cleared the penalty it looked game over here too. But you don't win the Rolex Sydney Hobart by giving up at the first difficult hurdle. Rosebud took the initiative, stormed the first leg and got herself back into the race. In the end it was too much to make total amends and although she finished fifth on the water less than eight minutes behind Numbers (USA), she was fifth on handicap.

Numbers cruised to victory one minute ahead of the Torben Grael-led Alfa Romeo 3 (NZL), having forced the pace in the race from start to finish. Irrespective of whether past performance is any indicator, she looks to have an unassailable lead in the Mini Maxi Division. With a discard coming into play today with five races now completed, the Ernesto Bertarelli-chartered master-blaster has a total points score of four, compared to Rosebud's nine. With her worst score a second, Numbers cannot be beaten even if she self-destructs before the start. Not bad, given she started the week by nudging the rocks.

In the Wally Division the 143-foot Esense came of age and took her first line honours of the week, beating Claus Peter Offen's Y3K (GER) home by six minutes.

Esense clearly enjoyed the long course legs on offer today. Minimum of manoeuvres, maximum straight-line speed - easy. Irvine Laidlaw and Highland Fling X (GBR) posted an excellent first place and Lindsay Owen-Jones' Magic Carpet 2 (GBR) which finished 10 seconds adrift of Y3K took second on handicap. With owner Jean-Charles Decaux unable to take the helm today, J One incurred a 2% time penalty, plus one place under the class rules, which saw them finish a painful sixth on handicap. As a result, it could not be tighter at the top of this division, with the top four boats separated by two points. Trying to work out the discard permutations is a job for a mathematician.

Ranger (Cruiser Division) Rolex maxi Cup 2008
The Cruising Division chose today to put on a great performance. The course looked pretty tame to start with, but held plenty of opportunities for those tacticians in tune with the variations in wind direction and strength present today, not to mention the depth of water available around the rocks.

Viriella put on her best show of the week to lead the fleet around the course from start to finish, despite the best efforts of Charles Dunstone's Hamilton II (GBR) which came in second on the water. Once again the two J Class sloops did their best to steal the show finishing one - two on handicap after a ferocious scrap in the final phases. They finished 21 seconds apart on the water, with Ranger squeezing past just before the turn into Golfo Pevero.

Gerry Dykstra, yacht designer and the man charged with the restoration of Velsheda, was elated coming off the water, 'our start was okay, but we were not helped by a wind shift afterwards, that made the start look different than it really was. After that, things became more lively and I think we raised the shares of the J boats quite a bit today!'

Having been behind Ranger for much of the race, Velsheda (GBR) took advantage of an uncharacteristic error on Ranger to slip past at Soffi. Hamilton II hailed water at Ranger fearful of an unscheduled rendezvous with submerged rocks. Ranger had to overstand the turn and Velsheda managed to squeeze in. Ranger came back at Velsheda and the two fought tooth and nail to the finish.

Although Viriella ended up fourth on handicap Gigio Russo, the helmsman thoroughly enjoyed the day after a difficult start, 'We took the start on the wrong end of the line, but we saw some boats up the course that got a quite an intense right hand shift. We tacked and crossed the fleet between the leaders and the losers and we got the shift. We managed to round the first mark ahead of Ranger and then we stretched away.

We made the right call to round the island of Soffi without using the gennaker for a little bit and that paid off because although we lost some distance to the guys following us, we managed to get around the island under control with just the main and jib.'

The overall standings in the Division see Ranger on top with just 4 points, and discarding a 1 tomorrow. Hetairos (CAY IS) is in second on 15 and Velsheda in third on 19.

On a happily upbeat note, reports from the crew of Andres Soriano's Alegre advise that crewmember Led Pritchard is expected to make a full-recovery from his traumatic lower right-leg fracture suffered during yesterday's racing. The crew are indebted to all those who helped in the transfer of Pritchard from the boat to Olbia Hospital and would like to express their appreciation. It is anticipated that Pritchard will spend a few more days in hospital in Sardinia before returning home to continue his recovery.