Role : Bowman
Other : in charge of security
Role : Bowman
Other : in charge of the hydraulic mechanic and fittings
Role : Helmsman / Trimmer
Other : Vidéo
Role : Watch leader, Helmsman / Trimmer
Other : sails
Role : Watch leader Helmsman / Trimmer
Other : in charge of the video and composite
Role : Watch leader, Helmsman / Trimmer
Other : in charge of the medical
Role : Helmsman / Trimmer
Other : in charge of the electronics
Role : Bowman
Other : in charge of the composite and fitting
Role : Bowman
Other : In charge of the medical and rigging
Role : Helmsman / Trimmer
Other : food on board
Role : Helmsman / Trimmer
Role : Weather Router, Navigator
Final day at the 20th Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup dawned with blue sky and a gentle north-easterly breeze between 8 and 10 knots. One more opportunity for those already at the top of the standings to prove themselves worthy of winning. Good news also for those yachts still within touching distance of the top. A race would mean opportunity and in yacht-racing opportunity is everything, but only if you are prepared to take it. Getting your name inscribed on the trophies at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup is no easy feat. Only those most deserving achieve the feat. At close of play those truly in clover were: Ronald de Waal and Velsheda (GBR); Claus Peter Offen and Y3K (GER); Mick Cotter and Whisper (IRL); Filippo Faruffini and Roma-Aniene (ITA), and, Neville Crichton and Alfa Romeo (NZL). Flush with victory and the spoils associated – the Maxi Yacht Cup and a Rolex Yacht-master Chronometer.
If only it were so simple. In Cruising/Spirit of Tradition, Velsheda had wrapped up her division a day early by virtue of winning every race to that point. In Wally, Y3K was also impregnable, by virtue of having scored more firsts than her closest rival, Open Season (GER), which could only match Y3Ks score however badly Offen’s crew sailed the last race; a situation where count-back would favour Offen.
In Racing/Cruising, Roma-Aniene never seemed likely to be overtaken by DSK Pioneer Investments, but the door was still open if DSK could repeat yesterday’s result and finish ahead of Roma. The chances of this seemed slim given Roma had not given DSK a sniff all week until her mainsail issues of yesterday. The same scenario existed in Mini Maxi Racing/Cruising, where both Aegir (GBR) and OPS 5 (ITA) had a mathematical chance to overtake Whisper, should she finish seventh or worse, something Whisper had not done all week. She had had problems yesterday, though, finishing fifth. So a glimmer of hope flickered on. In both cases you had to think lightning does not strike twice.
The classification where the duelling would go closest to the wire looked to be Mini Maxi Racing. Tight battles looked likely in both Mini Maxi Racing (Owner/Driver) and the larger overall Mini Maxi Racing 00 group. The Owner/Driver contest was between Neville Crichton’s Alfa Romeo 3 (NZL) and Hap Fauth’s Bella Mente (USA). The stakes were high; the pressure was on. The maths were simple for Bella Mente, she had to come first. Anything less would not be enough. For Alfa, if she could win or prevent the American crew from winning she would prevail.
The 00 group was also a two-way tussle and also involved Alfa Romeo, with the likes of triple Olympic Gold medallist Ben Ainslie in the crew roster, along with Niklas Zennström’s Rán (GBR). With a three-point separation, the onus was on Alfa to win and hope Rán would finish no better than fourth. Heading out to the start there was every possibility that Crichton might be distracted by his battle with Fauth, since that was where the major prize would be awarded. At the beginning of the week, though, Crichton had stated his aim was to win both groups. Given his competitive streak is longer and wider than most, no one would bet against the New Zealander attempting to win outright from the front.
In the end, the excitement came in only one spot.
Velsheda confirmed her supremacy in Cruising/Spirit of Tradition winning the final race. Hasso Plattner’s Visione (GER) did enough to beat Charles Dunstone’s Hamilton II (GBR) in the race today and to take second on the podium. Roma-Aniene confirmed yesterday’s problems were no more than a blip by adding a fourth bullet to her Racing/Cruising scoreline. Danilo Salsi’s DSK’s second place in the race and the overall standing will be some compensation. Whisper, too, asserted herself once more adding a fourth bullet to her Mini Maxi Racing/Cruising record and securing the class by 10-points over Brian Benjamin’s Aegir.
Ronald de Waal skipper and helmsman of Velsheda attributed his victory in Cruising/Spirit of Tradition to his crew, “the team we sail with has been together for a long time, some have been with us for eight years. Of course, we sail with some of the very best in the world and that helps.” This is de Waal’s first overall win at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup; he has sailed several times before and really enjoys the competition and the location, “it’s a combination of nature, the area, we always have beautiful wind, really beautiful surroundings and always a very good fleet.”
Claus Peter Offen sealed his Wally Division victory with another win. Not bad for a yacht launched in July this year. Sailing with designer Mani Frers onboard as a guest, Offen was understandably delighted with his yacht and the win, “we thought we could get in the top three, but to win with a brand-new boat is unexpected. You usually will have some technical problems, but in all six races we were always first over the line and never had any problems.” Offen paid tribute to his crew, particularly acknowledging the work on the first two days when conditions were at their most difficult.
Filippo Faruffini came, saw and conquered for the second time; Roma confirming her superiority over the series in Racing/Cruising. Faruffini was surprised given how they had come into the competition, “this is sport and you can leave nothing to chance. We only decided only one month ago to race and were really under-prepared. Our sails are old and we broke many, many things.” A number of his crew, from the Circolo Canottieri Aniene (a sporting club in Rome), were new to sailing and to turn them into a team capable of holding their own against the likes of DSK is a true achievement, as tactician Vascotto explains, “all the guys made a real effort today. We pushed hard. We had 22 guys that are not professional at all, but at the end of the week we look to be doing the same manoeuvres as we do with professional guys. Everyone has improved and they can see this, which is our aim.”
Mick Cotter’s emphatic result with Whisper in Mini Maxi Racing/Cruising was a revelation, but had been hinted at last year’s Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup when Cotter’s crew won a sub-division prize, “it’s been a wonderful week, everything went really well. I had a great team and that’s what did it for me. We had few mistakes yesterday, but you can’t expect to go through a week’s regatta and not have a few. The conditions were ideal for us, which helped us considerably in the overall results. The crew know the boat well and the pros have got to know both us and the boat.”
As predicted, the true battle came in Mini Maxi Racing and it was fought tooth and nail between two boats – Bella Mente and Alfa Romeo. Fauth’s crew knew they had to win. Tactician Dee Smith saw to it that Bella Mente won the start at the pin end, whilst Alfa went for the committee boat end. As both yachts sailed their own race for the first leg, the first crossing was a critical moment. It went to Bella Mente and she held off her larger rival until the top of the second beat. At this point the Americans were still within a shout of victory. They were sailing so well that within the Owner/Driver category they were undoubtedly winning. With three more legs it was never going to be easy and, unfortunately for them, Alfa had no thoughts of mercy in mind. She forced her way past and then proceeded to match-race Hap Fauth’s yacht progressively out of the running. Conceding waterline length and therefore speed it was never going to end happily for Fauth. Bella Mente corrected out ahead of Alfa, but critically Andres Soriano’s Alegre (GBR) and Sir Peter Ogden’s Jethou (GBR) corrected out ahead of her. Crichton won by one point.
Crichton knew he had been in a scrap and paid due compliment to the tenacity and sailing skills of Fauth and his crew, as did his tactician, Michael Coxon, and relief helm, Ben Ainslie, who knows plenty about the need for ruthlessness in such circumstances. Crichton was thoroughly pleased with the result “we’re delighted. It was pretty tough out there today. We had to do what we had to do, and we got there in the end. They (Bella Mente) camped on us on the first beat. We finally got them back and then just sat on top of them.”
Meanwhile, Zennström and his Rán crew were able to sail their own race with the fight going on far behind. Once again, Rán took the gun and in doing so walked away with an eight-point victory over Alfa Romeo in the Min Maxi Racing 00 grouping. Zennstrom readily admitted they were flattered by the gap, which had been accentuated by the duel between the Alfa Romeo and Bella Mente.
All in all it has been an enthralling week of competition. The weather has played ball. Each day of racing has produced quality conditions and allowed the crews of the gathered maxis to strut their stuff in style. We’ll allow a newcomer to capture the sensation of racing here. Rachel Howe is the sole female navigator competing this week. Not only that, but she did so on Jethou in the intense environment of the Mini Maxi Racing group. Jethou went out on a high today, finishing the race first in Owner/Driver and second in 00. According to Howe, “this is the most prestigious event that I’ve done, the field that we’re racing in is absolutely spectacular. It’s an inspirational fleet to be part of. To get the opportunity to race against the people we’re racing against is just incredible. It is a real privilege. It’s intimidating at first, but once you are out there getting on with your job you realise everyone is pretty normal.once you see past the (Olympic) gold medals and the America’s Cups!”
The Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup 2009 heads into its final day with the division leaders poised to take their place on the victory podium. Velsheda (GBR) in Cruising/Spirit of Tradition has locked out the opposition and is unbeatable. Whisper (IRL) in Mini Maxi Racing/Cruising put one foot wrong today, but still looks to be secure. Y3K (GER) in Wally is another looking purposefully forward rather than nervously behind, while Alfa Romeo (NZL) and Bella Mente (USA) in Mini Maxi Racing (Owner/Driver) know there is all to play for. Roma (ITA) in Racing/Cruising approached the precipice of despair today and will have to have better luck tomorrow if she is not to topple over.
The Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup fleet were divided into two main groups today. One batch undertook a coastal course, whilst the other some short course racing. Most of the overnight leaders put in good or reasonable performances and even those that had difficult days did enough to maintain their positions at the head of their standings. Only in Mini Maxi Racing 00 do we have a new leader in the form of Ràn (GBR).
Cruising/Spirit of Tradition, Racing & Racing Cruising and Mini Maxi Racing/Cruising embarked on a 25-mile lap that took the yachts to a windward mark, before bearing off towards Monaci. A spinnaker run down into the channel and the turn at Secca di tre Monti was followed by a reach through Passo delle Bisce, which widened as the yachts headed on to the bottom mark of the course at Mortoriotto allowing the adventurous to set their spinnakers a second time. The final leg was a fetch back to the finish off Porto Cervo with the usual hitch into Pevero just before the line. Conditions were blissful. Bright sun, reasonable breeze that held through the majority of the course; all sailed on a chop that kept the foredeck crews nimble on their toes.
There were a number of vantage points to catch the fleet engaged on the coastal course. One of the best was certainly the rocky outcrop that is Isola dei Monaci just as the Cruising/Spirit of Tradition Class thundered past trying hard to avoid flattening the Mini Maxi Racing/Cruising, which had the fortune or misfortune, depending upon one’s viewpoint, to arrive at the same time. From a spectator’s standpoint it was just a wonderful spectacle, well worth the hassle of a flying leap from a bucking rib onto the abrasive granite piercing through the waves. Given it was lunchtime too; the timing was perfect for twenty minutes or so of entertainment.
Possibly, though, the next location was the best. At first all you see is the house pennant poking above the rock, moving as if some child is running across the uneven cliff top with a flag in hand. Slowly at first, but with gathering pace an expanse of khaki Kevlar starts to appear. Then you sense the noise, initially just the groaning strain of an easing sheet followed the sound of water being pushed dismissively aside. This is the approach of the J Class Velsheda to Capo Faro, the southern edge of the Passo delle Bisce. The highest point of Capo Ferro is 46 metres; Velsheda’s mast is 56 metres, so no contest on the height front. Except from a rib it takes a while to assimilate the information rushing towards you and to register the size of yacht involved.
In Racing & Racing/Cruising, Karl Kwok’s 80-foot Beau Geste (HKG) was first to round Monaci. She ate the course to day as if it were no more filling than an antipasti. This is a boat that flies, completing the 25 nautical mile course in 10 minutes under the two-hour mark. Beau Geste is an awe-inspiring sight from the water. On the boat it has the feeling of a powerboat, and the sensation of speed is real and enjoyable, as Francesco de Angelis, tactician onboard, explains; “I’ve sailed for many years on different, heavier boats. This is a lot of fun. She is a big boat but you sail like it’s a small one because you need the weight in the proper place and you need to manoeuvre well. But she is user-friendly and speed is your friend with this yacht. She is as surefooted as an all-wheel drive. You permanently feel under control.” Interestingly, de Angelis says the crew are still getting accustomed to her ways and how hard to push her. He does not think we have seen all of Beau Geste’s potential just yet.
Amongst the Racing/Cruising yachts, Roma-Aniene still leads the standings, after a day that saw her lose her mainsail immediately after the start. Sailing the course under storm trysail might be different, but it relegated her to the role of walking wounded and into last place in the day’s race results. DSK Pioneer Investments (ITA) took the bullet and is now level on points with Roma, but with a discard coming into play tomorrow it will take another disastrous day on Roma to deny her the title. Andrea Casale, the tactician on DSK, acknowledges the unlikelihood of securing victory, but is pleased to be putting up a fight, “we’ve had our best, cleanest and steadiest day. We had an easy life because of the problem to Roma’s mainsail just after the starting line. It’s good to go into the last race with a little chance. It is good motivation for the crew to think they could win.” In his closing remarks, Casale revealed the sporting nature of the contest this week commenting that if results do not go their way tomorrow he would be happy to see the crew of Roma win.
In the Cruising/Spirit of Tradition it was Ronald de Waal and Velsheda’s day yet again. They have wrapped up this division and have no need to sail tomorrow to win. But they will and we will be treated to another enthralling chance to watch a historic yacht charge at full tilt around the Porto Cervo racing grounds. Charles Dunstone’s Hamilton II (GBR) took second on handicap, and lies in second overnight on equal points with Hasso Plattner’s Visione (GER), which finished third. Bouwe Bekking, a six-times round the world racer in the Whitbread and Volvo is onboard Visione for the week and gave a brief insight to the differences racing a boat over twice the length of his usual steed, “first and foremost it’s a beautiful boat below and on-deck, so we have to be very careful with the sail-handling. In general, because it’s bigger we take a lot longer with manoeuvres. The biggest spinnaker is 1500 square metres and takes two-minutes to hoist and then you have to get the sock off. Dropping the spinnaker can take three-minutes. Otherwise, the boat has seven metres draft so with all the rocks it is a little nerve-racking. You do not cut any corners and take a wide berth of every rock around the course.”
Mick Cotter’s Whisper has all but sewn up Mini Maxi Racing/Cruising despite a fifth place today. Her closets rival Aegir (GBR) is five points behind and when the throw out comes into play tomorrow it will take a bigger implosion on the part of Cotter and his crew to lose their hard fought lead. Brian Benjamin, owner of Aegir, is more than satisfied though, “we’ve been coming here for four years and had our first second-place in a race on Tuesday and today bettered that with our first first-place finish. Our best overall result has been fourth, so being in second at this stage is fantastic.” Aegir will have to sail smart tomorrow. She is locked on 13-points with OPS 5 (ITA) going into the last race.
The Mini Maxi Racing Division took on two more windward/leeward courses of 10.8 miles each. The wind was northerly and around 12 knots for the first race, dropping as low as 8 knots for the second. It was a tricky day, complicated by a 1.5 metre choppy sea-state. With the breeze favouring the right side of the course and a significant current influencing the left, the strategic-planning departments at the back of each boat were on a heightened state of alert for opportunities to gain and possibilities to lose. Keeping two steps ahead was a necessary part of the game. Ràn ran away with the ball in the Overall Mini Maxi 00 Division posting two wins to Alfa Romeo’s 2, 6 score line and Niklas Zennstrom holds a three-point advantage, with a discard already in play. Robert Scheidt, Torben Grael and Nacho Postigo on Luna Rossa (ITA) made amends for yesterday’s car-crash, scoring 5, 2 to lock themselves in third place. Hap Fauth and Bella Mente lie in fourth place in 00, but in second in the all-important Owner/Driver Classification, only one-point adrift of Alfa Romeo, which had a run in with Andres Soriano’s Alegre (GBR) during the second of today’s races.
The Wally division twice took on the same windward/leeward course. Lindsay Owen Jones’ Magic Carpet (GBR) with an afterguard triumvirate of Tony Rey, Tom Whidden and Marcel van Triest put in a commanding performance to take two victories. Not enough to put her in contention for the overall prize, where Y3K’s dominance remains. Claus Peter Offen’s latest yacht looks to be as competitive as his previous and holds a five-point lead over Thomas Bscher’s Open Season (GER). Rey admitted they were turning it around a little late, but the crew were pleased with the effort, “today played to our strengths and we had two really nice results. I had a lot of confidence in the crew to get the sails up and down, so we could sail the boat assertively. We’re always looking for podium finish every time we go racing and could make the top three. Magic carpet has always had a bit of magic to it when she comes racing here and guys are all pumped to go racing tomorrow.” So watch out J One.
Whatever the conditions tomorrow and whatever the results, there will definitely be a little bit of magic on the water. Whenever a group of maxis go racing anywhere in the world it is a spectacular sight. There is just something about Porto Cervo and the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup that lifts it into a different league.
The final race takes place tomorrow, Saturday, with the first start scheduled for 11.30 CEST. The prize giving takes place tomorrow evening at 18.30 CEST on the Piazza Azzurra.
CURRENT PROVISIONAL STANDINGS Place, Boat Name, Owner, Nation, R1-R2, R3, R4, (R5, R6)*, Points (w/discard after 5 races)
Mini Maxi Racing (owner/driver)*
1. Alfa Romeo, Neville Crichton, NZL, 2-2-1-1-1-3, 7.0 points
2. Bella Mente, Hap Fauth, USA, 1-1-4-2-2-2, 8.0
3. Jethou, Peter Ogden, GBR, 3-3-2-4-4-1, 13.0
Mini Maxi (00 Class)*
1. Ran, Niklas Zennstrom, GBR, 4-2-3-2-1-1, 9.0 points
2. Alfa Romeo, Neville Crichton, NZL, 3-4-2-1-2-6, 12.0
3. Bella Mente, Hap Fauth, USA, 2- 3-7-4-4-5, 18.0
Mini Maxi Racing/Cruising
1. Whisper, Michael Cotter, IRL, 1-1-1-5, 8.0 points
2. Aegir, Brian Benjamin, GBR, 6-2-4-1, 13.0
3. Ops 5, Massimo Violati, ITA, 3-6-2-3, 14.0
Racing – Racing/Cruising
1. Beau Geste, Karl Kwok, HKG, 1-1-1-1, 4.0 points
2. Roma – Aniene, C.C. Aniene/F. Faruffini, ITA, 2-2-2-5, 11.0
3. DSK Pioneer Investments, Danilo Salsi, ITA, 3-3-3-2, 11.0
1. Roma – Aniene, C.C. Aniene/F. Faruffini, ITA, 1-1-1-4, 7.0 points
2. DSK Pioneer Investments, Danilo Salsi, ITA, 2-2-2-1, 7.0
3. Sagamore Enigma, Nicola Paoleschi, ITA, 3-4-3-2, 12.0
1. Y3K, Claus-Peter Offen, GER, 3-1-1-2-3, 10.0 points
2. Open Season, Thomas Bscher, GER, 2-3-2-6-2, 15.0
3. J One, Jean-Charles Decaux, FRA, 1-2-5-4-5, 17.0
Cruising/Spirit of Tradition
1. Velsheda, Tarbat Investment Ltd, GBR, 1-1-1-1, 4.0 points
2. Hamilton II, Lockstock Ltd, GBR, 2-4-5-2, 13.0
3. Visione, Hasso Plattner, GER, 5-3-2-3, 13.0
Two months out from the start of an event the stature and complexity of the Rolex Middle Sea Race, most yacht clubs would be happy to be entering the home straight of processing competitor registrations. Not the Royal Malta Yacht Club. Not only are they organising this 606 nautical mile offshore race, they are preparing to start it from a new line and with the new yacht club premises still in build. Only in Malta. On the plus side this is the thirtieth time the race has been held and this year’s fleet looks no less exciting than any of the past decade; a period which has seen the race return to the world stage of competitive offshore sailing.
Mike Slade’s ICAP Leopard is the headline act at this year’s Rolex Middle Sea Race. Bursting with satisfaction having taken back-to-back line honours at the Rolex Fastnet, the crew of this 100-foot ocean-eater will be looking to add part two of an offshore racing trifecta that Slade hopes will culminate in December with the Rolex Sydney Hobart. The only other yacht to take consecutive Line Honours at all three of these 600-plus mile races is Neville Crichton’s first Alfa Romeo, which some years later in the hands of George David and under the name Rambler, scorched to a new course record in 2007. And, that will be another of Slade’s objectives when he hits the line on Saturday, 17 October.
Where in the fleet the overall victory is decided will depend on the prevailing weather. The Rolex Middle Sea Race is a four-sided course, not without its share of traps and pitfalls for the unwary. The tidal gate at the Strait of Messina that separates Sicily from mainland Italy is a critical point in the race, but it comes at the end of the first straight. With three more sides of the irregular quadrilateral to go, no one is certain of victory at this juncture.
Leopard’s closest rival on the water at this summer’s Rolex Fastnet was Karl Kwok’s brand new Farr 80 Beau Geste. Led once again by Gavin Brady and Francesco de Angelis, do not be surprised to see this Hong Kong maxi breathing down the neck of Leopard, despite being 20 foot shorter. Strategy and tactics are as key to success in this race as speed. Slightly further a back major battle will be underway between the Mini Maxis. The Royal Malta Yacht Club expects Niklas Zennstrom’s Rán 2 (overall winner of the 2009 Rolex Fastnet) and the STP 65s of Udo Schütz (Container/GER), Patrizio Bertelli (Luna Rossa/ITA) and Roger Sturgeon (Rosebud/USA – overall winner of the 2007 Rolex Sydney Hobart) to be joining Hap Fauth’s Bella Mente (USA) and Andres Soriano’s Alegre (GBR) – the 2008 Rolex Middle Sea Race Line Honours winner – for the another major offshore race line-up in the class.
Recent years have proved time and again that size is not everything in this race. The 2008 winner of the magnificent Rolex Middle Sea Race trophy for victory overall was the 40 foot French yacht Spirit of Ad Hoc. In 2004, it was the 50-foot Greek yacht Optimum 3. The Maltese also stuck the flag in the sand for small boats back in 2002, when the 32-foot Market Wizard claimed the prize. The Maltese will be out in force again this year. Some more experienced than others, but none just in it for the ride.
Jonathan Gambin has entered his own boat, Ton Ton, for a second time and whilst this will be only his third race, it confirms a growing enthusiasm for the course. This is no surprise. Even before crossing the start line in 2008, Gambin vowed “whatever the result I’ll be back again next year.” He finished a very respectable eleventh overall on handicap, beating two-thirds of his class in the process. Kevin Dingli is one of this year’s novice skippers. Last year he participated on Squibs, the last boat to finish the race. Undeterred, for this edition, he will be leading a crew on his 40-foot Beneteau, Fekruna. “I only started racing in 2005,” says Dingli. “Although we are relative novices, we are taking the race seriously. Taking my own yacht on the race is something I have long wanted to do and it will be an adventure. I’m looking forward to both the start and finish,” he continues, “The start will be an adrenalin charged moment, especially within the confines of Grand Harbour. But our main objectives are to finish safely and within the time limit.”
Other yachts to watch out for are: Kees Kaan’s GS43 ROARK/Claus en Kaan’s Architecten (NED), Boat of the Series at the 2008 Rolex Commodores’ Cup, and fellow countryman Piet de Vroon and his latest Tonnerre de Breskens. De Vroon is a former winner of the Rolex Fastnet. Yachts likely to catch the eye are the brand new Shipman 72, Geometry (BVI), entered by Philippe Gigon and the Swan 82RS, Nikata (GBR), entered by Nicolai Tangen. Gigon is another on a fast learning curve for this race, although the unknowns are primarily associated with his yacht. “Geometry was launched on 13 July this year,” explains Gigon. “We’re still testing the systems and sails, and will do so right up to the start. My co-skipper did this race last year on Coral and we both have racing backgrounds, so we’ll do our best to get round the course at the best of Geometry’s potential.” Like Dingli, Gigon is looking forward to the start. Amusingly, he says the bit he is not looking forward to is the finish, since it means a return to winter quarters in Italy.
The place to be to watch the start of the race this year will undoubtedly be the Saluting Battery in the Upper Barrakka Gardens overlooking Grand Harbour from the Valletta side. This will be the first time in the forty-one year history of the race that Malta’s most famous port will host the start. The RMYC is working hard on the final details with the Malta Maritime Authority, which will be closing the harbour for around four hours on the day. The purists need not worry that some of the theatre may be lost with this move of venue. The line is planned to stretch across to the bastions of Fort St Angelo on the Birgu side of the harbour and there will be plenty of the familiar echoing gunfire as the starting procedures get underway.
As for the yacht club premises, given the short lead-time, Commodore Georges Bonello DuPuis is delighted with progress to date, “the majority of the major works have been completed. As with all projects of this nature there are moments of difficulty, but the membership of the club is thoroughly involved and we will be in good shape come October. We’re all looking forward to another great race.”
The Rolex Middle Sea Race commences on Saturday, 17 October 2009. Entries close on 10 October. The final prize giving is on Saturday, 24 October 2009.
George David’s Rambler established the current Course Record of 47 hours 55 minutes and 3 seconds in 2007.
Zennström’s Judel-Vrolijk designed 72-footer finished the race in an elapsed time of 63 hours, 1 minute and 33 seconds, which corrected out to 2 hours, 19 minutes ahead of the second-placed Italian America’s Cup team Luna Rossa on board their STP65.
“It is fantastic, we are very excited about it,” commented Zennström. “But it was also a gradual thing, because as we crossed the finish line we knew we had a good result. We had monitored some of the boats behind us, most notably Luna Rossa and Rosebud, which we thought were always going to be the closest competitors to us. And after we came in we spent the morning and actually the whole day yesterday monitoring the updates on the RORC’s OC Tracker and made our own calculations about the likelihoods for the other boats to catch up with us.”
Having failed to complete the last Rolex Fastnet Race, in 2007, the victory for Ran 2 was unfinished business. That race, sailed on board Zennström’s Marten 49, had been the first occasion that the present Ran crew had sailed together. Led by Volvo Ocean Race veteran Tim Powell, the all-star line-up includes seasoned race boat navigator Steve Hayles and America’s Cup sailors such as Adrian Stead and Emirates Team New Zealand’s Andy Hemmings, Richard Bouzaid and Richard Meacham.
Zennström launched his new 72-footer earlier this year, raced it at several events in the Mediterranean, including the Giraglia Rolex Cup, before it was shipped back to the UK, to compete in the Rolex Fastnet Race. “One of the key objectives when we were building Ran 2 was to be able to do offshore races, and the most obvious race we put on the calendar was the Rolex Fastnet Race. So it is great we have done so well in it.” Zennström explains.
This year they have also won the Swedish equivalent of the Rolex Fastnet Race, the Gotland Runt, aboard their previous Ran, a modified TP52.
“I think it is a really strong team,” concludes Zennström. “We have been sailing together for two years now and the team is getting stronger and stronger. We have been very thorough in our planning, both in terms of the design of the boat and our race preparations.
Skipper Tim Powell was equally ecstatic about their Rolex Fastnet Race win: “Obviously it is a big achievement being such a prestigious race and one of the classics.” He adds that they had prepared well, believing some way in advance that a major part of the race would be upwind and, with Ran 2 being very powerful and fast upwind, they stood a reasonable chance. “We were focusing more on our class and the boats around us a lot more. But to have won the thing overall is an awesome achievement.”
Ran 2 did especially well outbound down the English Channel and by the key tidal gate at Start Point, they had pulled out a 10 mile lead over their Mini Maxi rivals. “That first 20 hours up the Channel was all important, tactically and navigationally, and as a crew we sailed very, very well,” says Powell.
Eddie Warden-Owen, CEO of the Royal Ocean Racing Club, says that this year’s Rolex Fastnet Race did favour the larger boats. “If you think that we’ve had spring tides, and really light winds, one of the big gains that the big boats made was on the first night when they came to Portland Bill and they were able to make the tide. You could see on the tracker that those who had managed to make it away from Portland Bill had a huge advantage, whereas the others were stopped and some had to put their anchor down. So the story of the race in many respects ended there, but we didn’t know which big boat was going to win.”
The opportunity for the smaller boats to win fizzled over the last 24 hours when windier conditions that might have provided them with a fast finish to make up for their deficit, caused by missing the tide at Portland Bill on the first night, failed to materialise.
“Ran sailed really well against the opposition and it is a well-deserved victory,” concluded Warden-Owen. “It is a young crew of British guys on the boat, even though it is owned by a Swede and they are very experienced America’s Cup and Volvo Ocean Race sailors. So, a good effort.”
At the end of this afternoon, 59 boats of 300 starters had reached Plymouth and berthed in Sutton Harbour in the heart of the Devonshire city. The latest arrivals included the first to finish in IRC Class 1, Nicolas Loday and Jean-Claude Nicoleau’s Grand Soleil 43, Codiam.
At present La Floresta Del Mar, Amanda Hartley’s Swan 56 can’t be beaten in IRC Z, having finished at 03:24 GMT this morning. While Codiam remains first on handicap in IRC 1, Marc Alperovitch and Jérome Huillard’s A-35 Prime Time is leading in IRC 2 and at 15:00 had just passed the Lizard with 43 miles left to go to the finish. Finally, Fabrice Amedeo’s X-332 Bateaux Mouches du Pont de l’Alma remains first in IRC 3, with 15 miles left to go to Bishop Rock. The majority of the fleet have now rounded the Fastnet Rock with the backmarker, the Bristol Channel pilot cutter, Morwenna, midway across the Celtic Sea with just over one third of the race course completed.
This afternoon the Royal Ocean Racing Club, organisers of the biennial British 608-mile classic offshore race, confirmed that Niklas Zennström’s Ran 2 is the overall handicap winner of the 2009 Rolex Fastnet Race.
While a line honours victory for Mike Slade’s 100ft super-maxi ICAP Leopard might seem obvious, the brand new Hong Kong 80-footer Beau Geste of Karl Kwok is closing on them. At 03:00 GMT this morning they were 35 miles behind and by 14:00GMT were only 24 miles astern. Over the course of the late morning and early afternoon the smaller boat was occasionally sailing three knots faster down the course.
The reason, according to round the world race veteran, Steve Hayles, navigator on Niklas Zennström’s Ran 2, is that the boats astern of ICAP Leopard have enjoyed stronger wind from the northwest. “This breeze built from behind, it came down from the Fastnet Rock, so it has been a bad bit of timing for them. It was just unfortunate. We have more headed breeze and more of it. But to be honest we are suffering the same thing with the two STP65s behind us. We feel pretty happy with what we have done. We have stopped the rot here recently.”
Hayles says they are expecting the wind to veer towards the north in the next six to ten hours and to go light. “The breeze is going to drop below ten knots for sure. We will go around Bishop Rock at about 18:00 GMT. The last 90 miles to the finish, the routing has us doing it in nine hours, but my own thinking is that it is going to take 14.” So a breakfast time arrival in Plymouth. Significantly, and regardless of the slow finish, Hayles is quietly confident of Ran 2 winning under IRC handicap, which she is leading at present.
The IMOCA 60s still remain in contention, with BT IMOCA 60 around 22 miles astern of Beau Geste. Despite being sailed doublehanded, this afternoon she has overtaken the fully-crewed Artemis Ocean Racing. The first IMOCA 60s are expected home tomorrow mid-morning.
Since yesterday the cycle of the wind has changed phase and while en route from Land’s End to the Fastnet Rock yesterday, the fastest boats were heading north awaiting a shift to get them west; today the bulk of the fleet has been heading west waiting for a shift to get them north. Some of the outbound boats have even taken the unorthodox approach of going to the west of the Scilly Isles, rather than the conventional shorter course to their east. Many have been heading so far west that the faster boats returning from the Rock, have seen them coming the opposite way. “Earlier this morning we saw several. I am surprised to see quite so many – it is a pretty aggressive punt out to the west for those boats,” said Hayles.
One of the boats heading out west was Tanguy de LaMotte’s Initiatives Saveurs-Novedia Group, the new leader in the Class 40. According to Papua New Guinean round the world sailor Liz Wardley who is sailing on board, they were obliged to dive so heavily west because of the wind direction. “We had a huge lift on starboard, more than we expected and so we really had to wait for a huge knock before we could tack over. So yes, we are quite far west.” They finally tacked back to the north at around midday.
“We are hoping the wind is going to lift us a little bit more, so we can make the Fastnet in one tack, because we are 10 degrees low,” continued Wardley, adding that at around 15:30 GMT they had 16-17 knots from the west, with the wind building the further north they sailed.
Further behind, Katie Miller and Hannah Jenner, two-handed on Miller’s Beneteau Figaro 2, Hot Socks, were enjoying the conditions off Land’s End. There the wind was southwest and Miller was hoping that it wouldn’t build as they are unable to use their water ballast at present since the pump “has just died”.
They are recovering from a difficult first night when they had to make two attempts to anchor off Portland Bill in 45m of water. If getting the anchor down was a problem, getting it up for the two of them was even harder, the operation taking more than 45 minutes. “We are going to be muscle women by the time we get back,” commented Miller, who says that the Rolex Fastnet Race is personally proving to be as tough as the singlehanded transatlantic race she completed recently. “The race is so short compared to the Atlantic that you are constantly pushing the boat as hard as you can, so you almost sleep less than you would on your own.”
In terms of the handicap standings, little has changed since this morning in the larger classes where Ran 2 remains ahead in Class SZ. La Floresta del Mar leads Class Z three quarters of the way towards the Fastnet Rock, while Codiam is first in IRC 1, half way to the Rock. However HOD35 Malice has taken over the lead in Class 2, despite a large dig out to the west , with David Lees’ High Tension 36, Hephzibah ahead in Class 3, the latter 10 miles northwest of the Scilly Isles.
The latest forecast indicates that the first boat home will be ICAP Leopard, sometime before dawn tomorrow.
First away, punching into the last of the flood tide, were the IMOCA 60s. With their ‘big gear’ unfurled seconds before the start, it was Dee Caffari’s Aviva that made the most positive start towards the pin end. However she was soon overhauled by Seb Josse on BT IMOCA 60 sailing in slightly better breeze on the island side of the course. By the 1430GMT position report, the leading IMOCA 60s were already halfway across Christchurch Bay with Mike Sanderson’s Pindar leading, narrowly ahead of Aviva, BT and Arnaud Boissieres’ Akena Verandas.
With the tide having turned favourable to flush the remaining classes west, it was the small IRC classes that were next up. By the 1430 update they too were out through the Needles, with David Lees’ High Tension 36 Hephzibah leading from the 2005 Rolex Fastnet Race winner Iromiguy, Jean-Yves Chateau’s Nicholson 33 in IRC 3B, just ahead of David Collins’ Swan 43 Cisne, leader in IRC 3A.
For the boats heading west down the Solent, the transition to the south westerly breeze occurred for most off Yarmouth resulting in a short lull before they were put hard on the wind. Fortunately the boats were driven west towards the new breeze by the tide.
With the largest boats catching up the smaller ones, Christchurch Bay was becoming grid-locked mid-afternoon, with the IRC 2 leaders David McLeman’s J/109 Offbeat and David Walter’s J/39 Jackdaw having cruised most of the way through the Class 3 fleet, as had Jacques Pelletier’s X-43 L’Ange de Milon and Andrew Jackson’s First 40.7 Genie, leading their respective halves of IRC 1.
Despite having started an hour later than the IRC 3 boats, even the IRC Zero fleet had caught up, with John Shepherd’s Ker 46 Fair Do’s VII leading on the water from Jack Pringle’s Farr 45 Fraxious.
In their planning of the starts, the Royal Ocean Racing Club had left the best to last. On schedule at 1440 BST, it was the turn of the Class 40s to take their start with the breeze still from the east. Here it was the two Verdier designs, Giovanni Soldini’s Telecom Italia and the Felippe Cubillos’ Chilean yacht Desafio Cabo de Hornos which made the best starts. By the time they exited the Solent Soldini was tied for the lead with Andrew Dawson’s Spliff and Mike West’s Kerlaria.
Five to six miles short of St Alban’s Head, at 1600GMT Tanguy de LaMotte reported from the Class 40 Initiatives Saveurs – Novedia Group that they were upwind, albeit port tack favoured, and that having put in a few tacks to get offshore they were making 5-6 knots, but the wind was slowly dying on them.
Finally there came the biggest boats in the fleet, led off the line by Mike Slade’s towering Rolex Fastnet Race record holder, the 100ft super-maxi, ICAP Leopard. Luna Rossa, with Flavio Flavini helming and Volvo Ocean Race winner Torben Grael on tactics, followed in their wake with Niklas Zennstrom’s Ran 2 leading Karl Kwok’s Farr 80, Beau Geste up the mainland side.
By the 1500 update, ICAP Leopard had already pulled ahead of all the IRC boats with only the IMOCA 60s ahead of her on the water. Among the Mini Maxis Beau Geste, thanks to her longer waterline length, had pulled ahead of Ran 2 and the STP65s Luna Rossa and Rosebud/Team DYT, although probably not enough to lead on corrected time.
Prior to the start America’s Cup helmsman and Beau Geste skipper Gavin Brady, for whom this is his third Rolex Fastnet Race, said that they were still on a “steep learning curve phase” with their newly launched boat. “We have had the opportunity to do three races this week which was good for us to learn the boat, but it is never fun, when you have a brand new boat, to look at the scoreboard at the end of it. So we know from on board the boat that we have a lot more speed to get out of it, but like any new boat at the moment there is a long list of things to do to get there. If the Rolex Fastnet Race was in one month’s time we’d be a lot better off.”
Like the other Mini Maxis, Beau Geste has a very strong crew including former Luna Rossa helmsman Francesco de Angelis and from Volvo Ocean Race winner Ericsson 4, New Zealanders David Endean and Phil Jameson.
In the Rolex Fastnet Race, Beau Geste has the second highest IRC rating, to ICAP Leopard, but given the newness of the boat Brady felt it unlikely they would be nipping at heels of ‘the big cat’. “We are very respectful of the fact that they are 100-foot long with a canting keel. ICAP Leopard would have to have a pretty bad race and we’d have to have an extraordinary good race to beat them; but this race has seen strange things before and you have to navigate the Celtic Sea and the currents. I think we have an outside shot, but the rating tells the story: they owe us seven minutes an hour.”
The 2009 Rolex Fastnet Race could well be decided this evening as the wind drops and the majority of the fleet struggle to make it around Portland Bill without having to kedge.
Two handed Division
One of the strongest sub-divisions of the Rolex Fastnet Race fleet are the two handed, twenty eight boats sailing just two up. The 2007 winners in the class, Simon Curwen and Paul Peggs, both former Mini Transat competitors, aboard Curwen’s J/105, Voador, made a strong start in Class 2, alone in gybing early towards the island side.
Many will be following up-and-coming British solo sailing star Katie Miller, freshly returned from the singlehanded transatlantic race in her Beneteau Figaro 2, Hot Socks, which she is racing two handed in Class 1 with fellow solo sailor Hannah Jenner. Miller very nearly didn’t make the Rolex Fastnet Race start when some delamination was discovered in Hot Socks’ keel structure. Her boat was only relaunched yesterday thanks to some 11th hour assistance by Endeavour Quay in Gosport.
Despite the last minute panic, Miller was looking forward to a light wind race. “Last year the only IRC race I won my class in was when we had a really light crossing going to Cherbourg. So a bit of light upwind conditions to the Fastnet and some stronger downwind conditions back to Plymouth – that should work well for us.”
Since it was first run in 1925, the Royal Ocean Racing Club’s biennial Rolex Fastnet Race has earned a reputation for being one of the toughest events in the international yacht racing calendar. This has come about from the brutal conditions it can occasionally throw at competitors, as well as the complexity of the race course. Over the 608 mile long course, crews must negotiate tidal gates off the numerous headlands along the English south coast, as well as the open ocean as they cross the Celtic Sea to the Fastnet Rock, 10.8 nautical miles off the coast of southwest Ireland, before returning around the outside (west side) of the Scilly Isles to the finish in Plymouth.
The Rolex Fastnet Race this year has attracted A-list sailors from around the world, and the strongest international line-up of grand prix race yachts amongst the 300 boats setting sail from Cowes tomorrow, Sunday 9th August. Peppered throughout the fleet are stars from the America’s Cup, plus the Volvo Ocean Race and Vendee Globe round the world races.
Racing out on her own for line honours will be property developer Mike Slade’s 100ft supermaxi, ICAP Leopard. Given the relatively light forecast, Boat Captain Chris Sherlock says that breaking the record of 1 day 20 hours 18 minutes, ICAP Leopard set in the 2007 Rolex Fastnet Race, is looking unlikely, but he remains hopeful. “It is a British summer – anything could happen! I wouldn’t write it off. We don’t need that much wind to average 14 or 15 knots.”
To optimise their boat to the conditions, they have had to shed a couple of crew and a sail, relieving them of about one tonne in weight in total. They will still have 24 crewon board, an all-star cast including New Zealander Brad Jackson, watch captain on the winning boats in the last two Volvo Ocean Races and from the America’s Cup, Emirates Team New Zealand tactician, Ray Davies. “We have a few boys on board to give it our best shot,” continues Sherlock. “When we come up against Wild Oats and Alfa in the Rolex Sydney Hobart this year they will have an equally good crew, so we have invested heavily there.”
A new feature of this race are the IRC Mini Maxis and STP65s, the very latest breed of grand prix race boat and the battle between the four of these will be one to watch. Making the voyage from the US is the 2007 Rolex Sydney Hobart winner, the STP65 Rosebud/Team DYT owned by Roger Sturgeon, which this week won this class at Cowes Week. The very newest is Beau Geste, a Farr-designed 80ft IRC boat owned by Hong Kong-based Karl Kwok and with an international team led by America’s Cup helmsman Gavin Brady.
Favourite in this heavyweight bout is probably the 72ft Ran 2 belonging to Skype founder Niklas Zennström, featuring many of the UK’s top professional sailors led by Volvo Ocean Race veteran Tim Powell. Ran 2 has made the trip up from the Mediterranean especially to compete in this race as has Luna Rossa, the STP65 sailed by Prada owner Patricio Bertelli’s Italian America’s Cup team. She features among her crew five-time Olympic medallist and Volvo Ocean Race winner, Torben Grael.
Torben Grael has competed in the race twice before when the Rolex Fastnet Race was part of the Admiral’s Cup and in 1995 won overall on Medina. ” It is a very traditional race which is sometimes pretty hard. The worst one was 30 years ago, so it is special long race. There are difficulties with the tide and sometimes quite strong winds. ”
For this race Grael is standing in for another well known Brazilian Olympian, Robert Schiedt and he only sailed on Luna Rossa for the first time this week. “I think light winds are not the boat’s speciality but she should be competitive still,” says Grael. “We will see what the forecast is for tomorrow. It has been bouncing a little bit – very light and then a little better. I hope we have enough wind to keep going.”
For the singlehanded sailors who competed over last winter in the non-stop round the world race, the Vendee Globe, the Rolex Fastnet Race is a sprint. Among the line-up is 2004-5 Vendee Globe winner Vincent Riou sailing on his old boat, now Arnaud Boissieres’ Akena Verandas, while 2005-6 Volvo Ocean Race winning skipper Mike Sanderson is reunited with his IMOCA 60, Pindar. Favourite is expected to be Seb Josse on board BT IMOCA 60, who won this class in the race two handed with Riou in 2007.
Other household names competing in this class are Dee Caffari, the first woman to sail around the world singlehanded non-stop in both directions, sailing Aviva, and Sam Davies, who was fourth home as well as being first British skipper and first woman in the last Vendee Globe.
” The Rolex Fastnet Race is one of the most respected races in the world, ” says Davies, who has swapped her Vendee Globe steed Roxy for the more powerful Artemis Ocean Racing. ” It comes in a list of great races that I am proud to have taken part in along with the Vendee Globe, the Rolex Sydney Hobart and the Figaro. I remember when I was really young never imagining I’d even sail across the Channel and the Fastnet Race was something I was overawed by. ”
Similar to the IMOCA 60s, but smaller, are the Class 40s. The 19 strong line-up includes Portimao Global Ocean Race winner, German Boris Hermann on his new Beluga Racer. But the favourite is certainly Italian Velux 5 Oceans winner, Giovanni Soldini and his Telecom Italia, who this year won both legs of the class’ Les Sables-Horta-Les Sables two-handed race. Soldini is sailing the Rolex Fastnet Race four up with Italian America’s Cup sailors Pietro d’Ali and Corrado Rossignoli.
“The Rolex Fastnet Race is a very historical race for us,” says Soldini. “I heard about this race when I was a little boy. It is a difficult and tactical race – all the problems with the tide and quite often there can be a low pressure and a front during the course.” He adds that he is not looking forward to the light conditions forecast as his boat, Telecom Italia prefers stronger breeze. “The weather conditions are changing every day. Some days they tell you it will be 10-12 knots – that is okay. Other days it tell you it is 4 knots – that is not okay!”
While the high profile international grand prix race boats grab the headlines, the bulk of the fleet remains the smaller handicap classes and with the race sailed under the RORC’s IRC rating system, any of these is in with a chance. Among them is the 2005 winner, and one of the smallest boats in the fleet, Jean-Yves Chateau’s Nicholson 33, Iromiguy as well as the new Tonnerre de Breskens of 2001 winner Piet Vroon.
This year’s race marks the 30th anniversary of the disastrous 1979 race when 15 competitors lost their lives in mountainous seas as the fleet floundered in storm-force winds. The chances of a repeat of this incident have been greatly reduced over the intervening years. For example, today all 302 boats are fitted with EPIRBs, GPS and tracking units so that the organisers know exactly where they are at any moment in time.
Commodore of the RORC, Andrew McIrvine comments on how the safety aspects of the Rolex Fastnet Race have improved: “At the least half the crew and the skipper have had to do the qualifying miles. They have to do a sea survival course and a first aid course. They have got into a liferaft and turn it upside down and turn it the right way up again, so they know how things work. But probably the most important thing that people really didn’t understand [in 1979] -they thought it was safer to climb into the liferaft rather than stay on their boat even though it had a broken mast or it had rolled over a few times. A liferaft is only something you step up into when you absolutely know your boat is wrecked and is going to sink.
“We know so much about the weather. In 1979 the weather came completely out of the blue. Today we have very accurate weather forecasting and that was why we were able to make the changes two years ago and say wait 24 hours. And of course all the way around you can be picking up the weather forecast on your iPhone. Navigation is much safer today. GPS wasn’t there [in 1979]. Back then we were using RDF and you plotted a big triangle on the chart.”
In addition this year the forecast is looking relatively benign. According to meteorologist Chris Tibbs the most wind competitors are likely to see in this year’s race is 20 knots.
“The main feature is the ridge of high pressure up through the central Channel,” says Tibbs. “Also we have a small area of low pressure approaching western Ireland tomorrow afternoon. The start will therefore be in a light northerly gradient wind, so hopefully we’ll get a light sea breeze to get the boats away.” Tibbs says that the boats getting down Channel will coincide with the depression moving across Ireland swinging the wind into the southwest bringing 15-20 knots on Monday lunchtime. “There will be a small cold front on Monday afternoon and then it is going to be a light to moderate wind beat from Lands End across to the rock.” Past the Rock the high pressure reasserts itself over the race course to provide a light northwesterly to get the boats back to Plymouth. “For any slow boats, there is another low pressure expected on Thursday or Friday swinging the wind round to the southwest to bring the last boats home.”
The warning signal for the first start on the Royal Yacht Squadron line, off Cowes, Isle of Wight, will be at 1150 BST with the Open 60s leading out of the Solent followed by the small IRC classes, the Class 40 start at 1340 BST, the biggest boats at 1400 and finally the multihulls.
Following on from the success of the games accompanying other major offshore races, so the RORC this year for the first time have introduced the ‘Virtual Fastnet Race’ game. In this, competitors from around the world can take part in their own on-line race in a standard 40 footer starting from the south side of the Isle of Wight (to avoid congestion at the Needles). With around 500,000 people having already played the round the world race games, the RORC are confident of achieving high participation for their race. As of Thursday, already 11,000 virtual competitors had signed up.