The 19th Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup kicked off Tuesday in a building breeze from the north-west and clear blue skies in the waters off Porto Cervo, Sardinia.
Top spots in the fleets went to the Ernesto Bertarelli-chartered Numbers in the Mini Maxis, Ranger in Cruising, Alfa Romeo in Racing and Lindsay Owen-Jones Magic Carpet 2 in Wally.
The Cruising Division raced nine miles less than the other three, which all undertook a 39 nautical mile course that must have been strength sapping in the burning sun.
All yachts took on a windward leg from the start off Porto Cervo towards the Island of Caprera. A hard left turn took the fleet into the passage between mainland Sardina and the Maddelena Archipelago. The shorter course for the Cruising Division saw them turn North at Punta Sardegna to Isola Baretinelli, where they turned south-east for a spinnaker run to a final mark in Golfo Pevero and on to the finish off Porto Cervo.
The other three divisions continued northwest at Punta Sardegna and made their turn back towards the East at Ecueil de Lavezzi of the southern tip of Corsica.
We'll let Ed Baird - AC winning helm and ISAF Rolex Sailor of the Year on the Mini Maxi Numbers - sum up the day's proceedings: 'It was a classic Porto Cervo race, it just was beautiful: 12-20 knots from the west, up through the straits and around the islands. We had good close racing, lots of boats in the hunt, short tacking up the rocks, followed by a run and a reach with gennakers back to the mark and then to the finish. A fabulous day, there wasn't a cloud anywhere!' Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup - Day 1 Leading positions
1. ALFA ROMEO Neville Crichton NZL, 1-1.0
2. RAMBLER George David USA, 2-2.0
1. RANGER, RSV Ltd USA, 1-1.0
2. SALPERTON, Primero Maritime Ltd CAY, 2-2.0
3. VELSHEDA, Tarbat Inv. Ltd GBR, 3-3.0
1. NUMBERS, Meyers/Bertarelli USA, 1-1.0
2. MONEYPENNY, Jim Swartz USA, 2-2.0
3. ROSEBUD/TEAM DYT, Roger Sturgeon USA, 3-3.0
1. MAGIC CARPET, 2 Lindsay Owen-Jones GBR, 1-1.0
2. HIGHLAND FLING X, Irvine Laidlaw GBR, 2-2.0
3. GENIE, Charles de Bourbon MON, 3-3.0 The Racing Report - Day 1 Without doubt one of the best views in the house at the 19th Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup is that of the helicopter pilot tasked with positioning the film and photographic teams recording events unfolding. It is an enviable job and an addictive one too.
Forty of the biggest, fastest, best-looking yachts on the planet and you get to see them from a perspective most only dream about. As the racing got underway today in a building breeze from the north-west and clear blue skies, the eye in the sky had the perfect view. The Racing Division
The Racing Division comprising Alfa Romeo and Rambler was scheduled to start at 11:40, but a broken runner on Rambler saw the gentlemanly conduct of the day award go to Neville Crichton as he agreed to a delayed start for these two boats that put them to the back of the list. That was the last merciful act from the canting-keeled Alfa as she scorched around the course in 3 hours 26 minutes to correct out over a minute ahead of Rambler. Wally division
The 8-boat Wally division witnessed the racing debut of the 143-foot Esense. She is quite a sight. The crew's day-glow green shirts are a striking contrast to the dark hull and teak deck. She is 40 feet longer than the next largest in the class, Dark Shadow, which at 100-feet is impressive enough, but from above looks like a dinghy compared to her big sister.
Just as David showed Goliath a thing or two about speed and agility versus size and power, the relatively smaller Wallys: Magic Carpet, Y3K and Open Season (all between 95 and the 100-foot mark) slipped away from Esense on the first windward leg and led her around the course. Irvine Laidlaw's Highland Fling X is one of the smallest in the class, but did well enough to finish second on handicap, ahead of Genie.
Royal Ocean Racing Club CEO, Eddie Warden Owen is on board Highland Fling X as tactician this week and described the race today as one as the best day's racing he has had in Porto Cervo,
'it was just great going up between the islands today. We were close with some of the others all the way, just wonderful'. Warden Owen admitted to taking advantage of being behind the leading boats at the top mark of the course, 'we knew as we turned the corner at the top that the wind would follow us around. Just to make sure we looked through the binoculars at the boats ahead and could see those that had taken a high line were having to gybe to keep on course. So we stayed low, took a longer route but with more speed.' Cruising Division
A similar story unfolded in the Cruising Division, where the Ed Dubois designed, 144-foot, Salperton was making her competitive debut in the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup. Another Briton, Andy Green, is on the helm and thoroughly enjoyed his day steering the biggest yacht in the fleet around the 30-mile course. Green, too, took a lower route at their top turning mark, 'we did really well today. We held our time up between the islands and really took it out of the fleet on the way back.'
Salperton finished second on the water and on handicap, barely a minute behind the J Class, Ranger. 'Ranger is so well sailed it's hard to get close. But we did well,' commented Green, who is clearly in awe of the machine he has control of this week, 'it's as big as it gets' he added. And it is.
From the dock, Salperton is impressively long, the bow stretching away into the distance. It must look that way from the helm. From the water, in a small RIB, she is enormous, spreading her huge shadow across the water. From the air she is something else, words failing to adequately describe the magnificent sight of her in full flight.
It takes nerves of steel to stand at the helm of one of these maxis on the start line. Millions of dollars of boat and equipment at stake. Not to mention the egos. Spare a thought for Tom Burnham at the helm of the 125-foot Ghost. For the first time.
Burnham is an experienced yachtsman, an America's Cup sailor and full-time pro on the grand-prix circuit. When he signed up to race on Ghost it was as tactician and crew boss. Tom Whidden normally drives the silver wraith. But Whidden was unexpectedly unable to attend this week's event and Burnham was asked to step up to the plate.
'It was a little nerve-wracking out there. But it was also very exciting and a lot of fun to be helming such a fantastic boat. We had a great start which owed a lot to the teamwork. The guys had me in the right position, which made it easy.' By all accounts, Ghost did have great start. Andy Green (on Salperton) certainly felt they had the best start of the fleet.
Unfortunately, despite leading the Cruising Division around the course on the water, Ghost lost ground on the run towards home. The tack line on the spinnaker broke as they reached down the back of the islands and although the crew had the replacement spinnaker up and drawing in a couple of minutes she was relegated to eighth on corrected time. The second J Class Velsheda rounded out the top three on handicap. Mini Maxi division
The anticipated dogfight in the Mini Maxi division duly came. Torben Grael, skippering the brand-new, Reichel-Pugh 69 Alfa Romeo 3 in its first competitive outing brought her home first on the water finishing 14 seconds ahead of Numbers. The lead could have been more but for problems with some sail changes towards the finish, which Grael felt had slowed them up. And although Alfa 3 finished fifth on corrected, Grael was very pleased with the day.
The start was best seen from the air as Numbers, Alfa 3 and the two STP 65s Rosebud/Team DYT and Moneypenny seemed to hit the line in a bunch at the Committee Boat end