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Black Jack scoops 151 Miglia-Trofeo Cetilar line honours

by James Boyd / International Maxi Association 2 Jun 12:08 PDT From 1 June 2023

Under normal circumstances a newer, longer canting keel race boat would comfortably leave a shorter, fixed keel water ballasted race boat as a speck in its rear view mirror. Not so with this year's 151 Miglia-Trofeo Cetilar, from Livorno to Punta Ala via the Giraglia Rock and Elba.

This year's race started and, for the front runners, finished in a modest sea breeze but in between the wind was so light and fickle that it was neither a case of boat size nor technology that prevailed but simply whichever of the 13 maxi yachts competing in the 180 strong fleet, was lucky enough to hunt down the slightest zephyr.

This year's race was as usual the fourth in the International Maxi Association's Mediterranean Maxi Offshore Challenge. Given that the light forecast was well anticipated, the course was shortened for the first time ever. Prior to the start it was announced that the fleet would not have to round the final most southerly turning mark of Formiche di Grosseto and instead were permitted to leave Elba to port and then head directly to the finish. This shortened the course from 151 to 124 miles.

For Australian Peter Harburg and his crew on Black Jack, this was the first experience of racing their 100 footer in the Mediterranean, although several of the team, including tactician and America's Cup legend Brad Butterworth, had in 2019 set the race record on George David's Rambler 88 in livelier conditions. The ultra-light winds this year came as a shock to the crew, more used to their yacht blasting its way south to Hobart.

"It was the lightest race I have done - ever," admitted Black Jack skipper and sailomaker Mark Bradford bluntly. "It was difficult for us because when the breeze was in, or filling, we could get off in front pretty easily but we managed to stop at every corner and then the fleet would catch us again. There were parking lots everywhere..." The worst occurred after Black Jack had made a faster than expected passage to the Giraglia rock and then headed for the Corsican coast, while behind them the 90ft ARCA SGR split, sailing a more easterly course towards Capraia.

"We poked into the gap as we came off the island there and the 90 footer came down with a spinnaker and got to within a mile of us," continued Bradford "Our lead there had been about 8-10 miles and it got chewed up pretty quickly. From there on the boats were pretty close."

This year the fleet was obliged to pass a gate off the southwest side of Elba. En route to this Black Jack was using match race tactics in an attempt to keep ARCA SGR behind her. She passed through the gate just three minutes ahead of her shorter rival.

There was another tedious park up off the south side of Elba before eventually both rounded the corner and were able to point their bows roughly towards the finish. While 10 miles out she was making just 1.5 knots, Black Jack eventually was first to nose into the afternoon sea breeze and, in the best breeze of the race, barely reaching double figures, was able to cross the finish line mid-afternoon at 13:18:40 CEST, 28 minutes ahead of ARCA SGR. Not surprisingly, her provisional elapsed time of 23 hours 13 minutes and 40 seconds, even on the shorter course, was considerably outside Rambler 88's record.

Despite the repeated 'glass-outs', the largely Aussie crew took it on the chin. "We all really enjoyed it," continued Bradford. "When you have the biggest boat usually you get out in front and you're off. With this we had a yacht race - we had our two arms out and had to make sure we got through the corners in good shape. But we all thoroughly enjoyed it. It is a beautiful coastline and it was great to see such a large fleet. It will be known as a small boat race where the smaller boats could catch up the big boats."

In fact the race may have been a rare case where having a water ballasted boat paid over a canting keeler - for in light conditions the former is able to shed weight while the canting keeler cannot. Before setting sail from Livorno yesterday afternoon both Black Jack and Arca SGR offloaded both sails and crew. Arca for example sailed with 14 crew instead of 20 and with only their A1 and a jib as headsails.

Furio Benussi, skipper of Arca SGR, was pleased to be in the race after his own 100ft suffered damage to its canting keel mechanism in last month's Regata dei Tre Golfi. For this race he was able rapidly to acquire the use of another Trieste-based maxi, the 90ft water ballasted, fixed keel Shockwave 3 Prosecco DOC. Benussi's Fast and Furio team is used to racing in the ultra-light conditions frequently experienced in the Med. Benussi was pleased that on the first outing with their replacement yacht they had stayed in the fight.

Black Jack had finally managed to break away on the final leg towards Punta Ala. "In the bay here everything changed because they found some wind from...somewhere!... and they left us. Also we don't have an upwind code 0, we only have an A1 for when it is light. But on handicap we will beat them for sure," mused Benussi whose 100ft he hopes to have repaired and be ready to compete in September's Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup.

The remainder of the 151 Miglia-Trofeo Cetilar's maxi fleet arrived this afternoon and the winner under IRC is to be announced shortly.

For more information about the 151 Miglia-Trofeo Cetilar visit 151miglia.it

For more information on the International Maxi Association visit www.internationalmaxiassociation.com

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