42 competitors get off to a flying start in very testing conditions

The Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup got off to a flying start yesterday as 42 participating yachts stormed around a 35-mile course in 20 to 25 knots of northeasterly wind.

It was to be a testing day for all competitors. Not everyone was overawed, as ocean ace Torben Grael and Olympian Robert Scheidt conspired to bring Luna Rossa (ITA) home first amongst the Racing Mini Maxis – although not without their problems.

Jean-Charles Decaud’s J One (FRA) was the fortunate one in the Wallys, while Velsheda (GBR) and tradition got the better of the modern crafts in Cruising. The luck of the Irish was evidenced in the Racing/Cruising Mini Maxis as Whisper (IRL) had the best of the day, and in the combined Racing/Cruising division, Karl Kwok’s Beau Geste (HKG) wrapped up the racing with a first.

The journey from Porto Cervo harbour to the start line introduced competitors immediately to the 3-metre seas and 20-25 knots of northeasterly breeze.

The Racing Mini Maxis got proceedings underway. Neville Crichton all but confirmed his worst fears about preparation with a distinctly second row start that saw Alfa Romeo (NZL) forced to tack off onto port straight after the gun. The division split in two with half favouring the right and half the left. The right paid. By first mark, Crichton’s crew, with Ben Ainslie as strategist, had regained composure and position to take a slender lead over Niklas Zennstrom’s Ràn (GBR). Luna Rossa was in third and the biggest surprise was the 60-foot Jethou getting the better of the STP65 Container (GER). It was at this point that Poseidon played his first trump card. Andres Soriano and Alegre (GBR) suffered sail damage that was considered enough to warrant the crew taking an early bath.

The next three classes got away without incident. However, the fifth and final start was the most dramatic. The Polish crew on Intuition saw the top three metres of its mast separate, leaving her mortally-wounded on the line as the rest of the fleet took off.

In the Wallys, Lindsay Owen Jones and Magic Carpet had looked to be settled early, holding a good lead over Open Season and the longer Y3K. It was a lead they would hold all the way to Barrettinelli, but then twice in quick succession the head sail appeared to blow out of the foil, leaving Magic Carpet to finish race under main alone.

On Luna Rossa, Robert Scheidt and Torben Grael were understandably happy with the way the day’s events unfolded. “It was a good day for us,” commented Grael, “we had a nice start, read the course well, made some nice moves and even got to the finish line ahead, which is good for a small boat in a class like ours.” Grael admitted that it had not been straightforward describing how shortly after watching Ràn suffer her moment of misfortune when the jib tack broke tearing the sail out of the headfoil, the Luna Rossa crew took the lead and promptly lost control of the inner staysail during the hoist. Fortunately for Luna Rossa they were reaching at this point and the issue was no more than an irritation. Ràn’s problems cost them second if not the race, according to tactician Adrian Stead. The remaining podium positions in Luna Rossa’s class were taken by Hap Fauth’s Bella Mente (USA) and Alfa Romeo.

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Racing continues today at 11.30 CEST for the Mini Maxi Racing division. 12 to 15 knots of wind from the northeast is forecast.