The appeal of the Mini Maxi Rolex World Championship is clear. Cutting-edge racing yachts crewed by skilled professional sailors, driven by the energy and passion of their owners. Races decided by fine margins. Nothing left to chance on the water. A sailing environment rated as the best in the world and competition in its truest sense: all seven competing yachts in this year’s Championship are in contention for victory.
The Mini Maxi Class is in the ascendancy; interest is high, enthusiasm palpable and new designs in the offing. Principally featuring 72-ft length boats, the fifth running of the championship is one of the standout features of this year’s Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup, sailing’s annual rendezvous for Maxi yachts in Porto Cervo, Sardinia organized by the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda (YCCS) and the International Maxi Association (IMA) and sponsored by Rolex since 1985.
'The 72-footers are simply the top boats that exist in monohull racing,' reveals Vasco Vascotto, calling tactics on Robertissima III. 'The boats are powerful, great to sail, versatile and the owner/driver rule allows the owners to go out and win,' explains Niklas Zennström whose Rán crew is the defending champion, winner of three of the four titles to date. The team to beat.
Leaving nothing to chance on water requires dedicated preparation. The working day for the Mini Maxi crews begins in earnest as the sun rises; physical conditioning and mental wellbeing are treated seriously. All teams have their own approach; whether it be hours in the gym, cycling northeast Sardinia’s mountain bike trails or swimming lengths in the sea.
Alex Schaerer’s Caol Ila R have their own personal trainer to ensure the crew are in shape to face the demands of each day’s racing. 'Exercises and a stretching class help the boys wake up ready for the day’s sailing,' explains the crew’s Swiss fitness coach Andre Winterfield, who runs a beach session each morning. 'On the boat you have to sprint quickly in different directions, lift heavy sails, be flexible when the boat is moving. We do a lot of group exercises: this improves spirit, creates trust between teammates.'
The emphasis on physical preparation is embraced by Caol Ila R’s rivals. 'It's a heavy boat so everything you do is loaded, especially for the grinders,' explains Terry Hutchinson, a key member of the afterguard on 2012 champion Bella Mente. 'These guys train hard, go to the gym every day. It's a balance between physical and cardiovascular strength.'
The Mini Maxi fleet arrived in Porto Cervo in the week ahead of the event, allowing themselves crucial training days. The Costa Smeralda is a sailing paradise, but a challenging one. 'Time on the water and on the boat is the most valuable thing,' reveals Alegre bowman Matt Cornwell. 'The ethos of our team is to keep guys together year on year and build on it. It’s a strength of ours.'
'You need a well-honed crew of professionals, we are racing and practicing for up to 75 days a year,' reveals Bella Mente’s American owner Hap Fauth. 'It's a big programme, we move with 2-3 containers, our travelling crew now is 30, 22 sailing and the rest support crew: cooks, carbon fibre and winch guys, sailmakers. It’s not for the fainthearted, it needs to be organised and orchestrated a year ahead.'
Each training session and race is closely analysed, the boat’s performances assessed, data crunched and analysed, the results shared with the team. The quest is continual improvement. 'We have a full time data analysis person who collects information and debriefs on the boat’s performance,' says Hutchinson. 'When you get to 100% of the boat’s performance and you still get someone going faster than you that’s when you scratch your head and see what you can do in specific situations to race the boat better. It’s the pinnacle of our sport, you fight for every single inch.' 'Each day we will make mistakes,' admits Vascotto, 'but every day we try to improve, this is the important part.'
There is widespread belief that this is the toughest Mini Maxi Rolex World Championship to date. Last year’s runner up Alegre, owned by Andres Soriano, appears to have found her ‘sailing legs’ having been the new entry in the 2013 Championship. Meanwhile Zennström is helming a new boat having launched Rán 5 earlier this year. Zennström’s crew can rely on the latest thinking in Mini Maxi design including a wider hull and narrower waterline, but have had little time to adapt; Bella Mente is hungry to regain her crown after disappointment in 2013; Robertissima III and Jethou are consistent performers; Caol Ila R and Shockwave may be the two smaller, older boats but remain highly competitive especially in light air.
'Everyone is strong and has their different modes and conditions they are good in,' adds Cornwell. 'We consider Rán the benchmark in this Class, they have won the championship so any times. However, this year all the teams can win races and the championship.' 'This is the event that these boats are built for,' explains Bella Mente’s Mike Sanderson, ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year in 2006, 'all seven Mini Maxis are slightly different approaches with the same goal. There are some very successful businessmen and multiple world champion sailors racing against each other. Everyone is used to winning.'
'The 2014 Mini Maxi Rolex World Championship is going to be the toughest one ever because competition is getting better every year - we are improving yet so is every team. There’s going to be tight racing,' promises Zennström.
Day two’s evidence suggests this to be the case. The Mini Maxi Rolex World Championship fleet engaged in two 8nm windward/leeward races designed to test short-course racing prowess. Strategy, tactics, timing and fitness were examined in equal measure. Sailed under a clear blue sky, crews found the tight course and shifting wind rewarded advance planning and determination, while punishing hard errors and weakness. Robertissima III proved boat of the day securing a 2,1 scoreline that moved her into second overall 4.5 points behind Alegre, which finished 1,3. Ràn 5 lies in third, a mere half-point back. Robertissima’s owner, Roberto Tomasini Grinover was understandably delighted: 'The racing today was highly competitive. We did very well as the conditions on the racecourse were particularly complicated, and it was very technical racing.'
Both the Wally and J-Class fleets sailed the same courses as the Mini Maxi Racers. With the wind, around 10-12 knots in the first race and 7-9 in the second, swinging up to 40 degrees, it was tough going in the contrasting yachts. Y3K leapt to the top of the Wally standings posting a 2,1 score. Defending champion, Jean Charles Decaux’s J One is in second level on points. Lionheart proved the most adept of the J-Class with a bullet and a second. She is now in second overall, level on points with Ranger, and one point behind class leader Rainbow.
The remaining classes undertook a scenic coastal course that saw the yachts head briefly into the Maddalena channel to round Secca dei Tre Monti, before heading south to Mortoriotto. The Mini Maxi Racer/Cruisers sailed 24.7nm, while the Supermaxis and Maxis sailed a slighter longer 28.8nm version of the course. Lupa of London strengthened her grip on the Mini Maxi Racer/Cruiser class by finishing in first. The two Swans Brononesec and @robas are tied in second after coming in second and fourth respectively. Yesterday’s result was repeated in Supermaxi. Firefly adding a second bullet to lead from Inoui. The same was true of Maxi, where Lord Irvine Laidlaw’s Highland Fling won again.
While the Mini Maxi Rolex World Championship fleet battle out another two windward/leewards tomorrow, the rest of the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup classes will take on a coastal course. 2014 Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup – Provisional Results Day Two Place, Boat Name, Boat Owner, Races- Total Points Mini Maxi Rolex World Championship
1. Alegre (GBR), Alegre Yachting Ltd., 1.5-1-3; 5.5
2. Robertissima (CAY), Roberto Tomasini, 6-2-1; 9
3. Ran 5 (GBR), Niklas Zennstrom 4,5-3-2; 9,5 Mini Maxi R/C
1. Lupa Of London (GBR), Jeremy Pilkington, 1-1; 2
2. Bronenosec (RUS), Alpenberg S.A., 4-2-; 6
3. AROBAS (FRA), Gerard Logel, 2-4; 6 Maxi Racing
1. Highland Fling XI (MON), Irvine Laidlaw, 1-1; 2
2. Odin (CAY), Tom Siebel, 2-2; 4
3. Bristolian (GBR), Bristolian Marine Ltd., 4-4; 8 J-Class
1. Rainbow (NED), SPF JH2, 2-3-1; 6
3. Lionheart (GBR), Stichting Lionheart Syndicate, 4-1-2; 7
3. Ranger (CAY), R.S.V. Ltd., 1-2-4; 7 Supermaxi
1. Firefly (NED), Eric Bijlsma, 1-1; 2
2. Inoui (SUI), Marco Vögele, 2-2; 4
3. Viriella (ITA), Vittorio Moretti, 3-3; 6 Wally
1. Y3K (GER), Claus Peter Offen, 3-2-1; 6
2. J One (GBR), Jean Charles Decaux, 1-3-2; 6
3. Magic Carpet 3 (GBR), Sir Lindsey Owen Jones, 2-1-5; 8
Complete results may be found here