A spectacular fleet of the world's finest super-sailing yachts raced in Palma Bay yesterday as the Superyacht Cup Ulysse Nardin got underway

Brad Butterworth, Simon Daubney, Kenny Read – no we’re not in Valencia at the America’s Cup but sailing aboard the magnificent schooner Meteor in Palma de Majorca where The Superyacht Cup Ulysses Nardin got underway yesterday in spectacular fashion.

I’ll come to my day out with Meteor in a moment but first a little background. This quite extraordinary event, which has attracted more than 50 of the world’s finest super-sailing yachts and their owners, followed by a vast phalanx of press and photographers, has surprised even the organisers, such is the scale and popularity of the regatta.

Normally the Superyacht Cup is a Mediterranean season-closer held in October with 10 to 15 boats, but this year it was moved to sit between the Louis Vuitton challenger series for the America’s Cup and the Cup match itself which starts in Valencia on Saturday.

Trouble is, there’s no room in Valencia for the world’s rapidly growing fleet of super-sailing yachts so Palma is hosting this mouth-watering and prestigious event. For any city it’s quite a catch and when the 55 yachts or so lined up on the dock last Saturday it became quite clear that the Superyacht Cup Ulysse Nardin really meant business.

A month ago the Dique del Oeste commercial dock in the south of Palma de Mallorca was just that – a rather grubby shipping dock. Now it’s a remarkable and vast regatta site lying beneath the magnificent San Carlos Castle and equipped with all the paraphernalia of a big international sporting event.

Yesterday’s racing got off to a slow start in very light airs – probably just as well because as the mighty Maltese Falcon eased up to the line at 1300, the first yacht away in the Fortis sponsored day one pursuit rally, one realised that the potential for things going wrong were on the high side.

In the event the yachts, divided into two divisions to keep the performance boats clear of the more sedate, got away safely in an hour-long starting sequence that had the fleet spread right across the Bay of Palma. Despite the light conditions – the first beat took us four hours! – it was an extraordinary sight.

This is not racing as we know it – the use of bow thrusters to tack and a 30 second period of grace at the start typifies the organisers’ determination to keep things safe and, above all fun. It was good to see people take the whole thing in the spirit intended.

It was not, however, a day for schooners. Meteor, brand spanking new from the Royal Huisman yard in Holland and dripping with America’s Cup personnel including the aforementioned Butterworth and Daubney, struggled to get going until the breeze did eventually fill in and we swept home on the final downwind leg.

Brad Butterworth was having a week end away with his family from the Cup razamatazz, totally relaxed and looking forward to next Saturday. “It been a long grind,” admitted Brad who was clearly enjoying his superyacht experience and predicting a big future for large yacht racing.
Meteor’s owner also owns Numbers, the race boat (there’s a new 66 about to be launched) and he was there with an impressive array of talent including Kenny Read calling many of the shots and the likes of Jerry Kirby on the bow, Bob Campbell navigating and other legends like Johnny Mac and Joe ‘Jeerilla’ Fanel.
But it wasn’t our day although we did manage to beat sister-ship Borkumriff 1V who also struggled in the light.

Bob Oatley’s Wild Oats beat Neville Crichton’s Alfa Romeo in the hot division both chased home by Claus Peter Offen’s Y3K and John Williams aboard the J Class Ranger showed that recent modification has made her more of a match for Ronald de Waal’s Velsheda, which was more than two minutes adrift at the finish.

In the ‘sedate’ class Anny got home ahead of the glorious looking Bruce King ketch Hetairos and Patient Falcon, a Nelson/Marek design owned by Don Smith.
Racing continues today and tomorrow, the final race being for the Millennium Cup which has been ‘exported’ from New Zealand specially for this remarkable event.
Watch this space?

The picture shows Brad Butterworth taking it easy on Meteor’s bowsprit chatting to one of the yacht’s co-owners.