Rolex Capri Sailing Week's Volcano Race has a star-studded international fleet for its first edition and was given a rousing send off in the medieval quarter of Gaeta.
This morning, representatives from each of the competing yachts were given a memento of the occasion by the Mayor of Gaeta, Antonio Raimondi. The Marina Militare orchestra entertained the ensemble in the Piazzale Caboto with a recital, including a standing ovation to the Italian National Anthem.
Dockside, the Rolex Volcano Race fleet was a magnificent sight, the flags of Britain, Denmark, France, Hungary, Italy and Portugal where fluttering in the building breeze. Warm sunshine greeted the large crowd lining the dockside and the clouds, high above the surrounding mountains, were a welcome sight to weather experts, as Andrea Casale, tactician on DSK Pioneer Investments, explained.
'Classic sea breeze conditions are developing, the race does not start until later this afternoon and we can expect the sea breeze to have fully set in by the start. It is something that Italian sailors are very used to. We expect to have good wind nearly all the way to Ponza and we expect to be there well before dusk. Our weather models are showing that the wind will continue through the night. We could be passing Capri by midnight.'
As the start of the Rolex Volcano Race drew near, the magnificent fleet of Mini Maxi and Maxi Yachts hoisted their sails and were jostling for position in the starting area. This may be the first ever edition of this new and exciting race, but it was a veteran who was first to cross the line. Ernesto Gismondi’s Wally 65, Edimetra judged the line to perfection.
However, it was not long before the powerful Swan 90, DSK Pioneer Investments, helmed by Danilo Salsi, took an early lead, closely followed by Andres Soriano’s Mills 65, Alegre.
The first mark was positioned just off the old port of Gaeta and it was Alegre that took up the lead, just ahead of DSK Pioneer Investments. Unfurling a colossal Code Zero, Alegre’s sleek silver hull shot past the medieval battlements, accelerating at an alarming speed.
Behind the two leading boats, a close battle was taking place. French Swan 601, aRobas, skippered by Gerard Logel was leading the pack, closely followed by Hungarian Reichel Pugh 60, Wild Joe with the Italian Wally, Edimetra very much in contention.
The wind held steady, as the fleet surged its way past Punta Gaeta, to a turning mark before heading out to sea. Alegre extended their lead on the fleet and after just three and a half hours of racing Alegre were about five nautical miles from Isla di Ponza, the first archipelago of island that mark this spectacular course.
Ponza is the largest of the Pontine Islands, which are the remains of extinct volcanoes, they are an extraordinary group of islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea, noted for the dark and ragged basaltic rocks. The islands also have dramatic Faragliones or giant sea stacks made of solid rock.
As the fleet approach these in fading light, navigators will be keeping a sharp lookout for these dramatic natural hazards.
As the competitors in the Rolex Volcano Race settle into their first night at sea, keeping the yacht in good breeze will be vitally important. By the light of just the moon and stars, the signs of wind are far less visible. Racing at night brings on the importance of teamwork, it becomes harder to see what changes in the wind are ahead, and reacting together becomes vitally important.
Tomorrow marks the start of the inshore regatta, Rolex Capri Sailing Week, an annual fixture on the turquoise waters of Capri, providing spirited competition early in the Mediterranean racing season. Hosted by the Yacht Club Capri, the regatta provides four days of highly competitive racing for a number of classes. The strikingly picturesque island of Capri provides a stunning backdrop to the on-the-water racing action in the Bay of Naples.
Swan 45, Earlybird owned by Henrik Brandis won the World Championship in 2010. Several Italian Swan 45s will be competing with the German entry, including the highly experienced Vittorio Ruggiero who will be helming Swan 45,Talj. Other classes include Comet Yacht and ORC classes.
The Rolex Capri Sailing Week is organised by the Yacht Club Capri in conjunction with the International Maxi Association and the Yacht Club Gaeta for the Rolex Volcano Race. YC Capri website Maxi Class website