This Ed was fortunate enough to attend the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup held in Porto Cervo, Sardinia. Watching the magnificent maxi’s race the beautiful waters of the Costa Smerelda was surreal. But most heartening was to see the number of South Africans competing across the six classes. These include Hylton Hale, Mike Giles and Jan Dekker (Highland Fling 18), Paul Willcox (V), Matt Whitehead (Leopard 3), Mark Saddler, Hein de Jamaer (Django), Mark Largesse and Mike Pammenter (BULLITT).
Legendary yachting photographer Carlo Borlenghi captured the essence of the event.
A solid history
Rolex and event organiser, the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda (YCCS) have enjoyed a close partnership for nearly 40 years. Support for the organisation of the week-long regatta is provided by the International Maxi Association (IMA).
The 2023 edition of the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup will be considered special. Four days of racing offered the full repertoire of the Costa Smeralda sailing experience, from the strong breeze, big waves and robust sea state of the regatta’s initial exchanges to the light, unstable conditions which closed racing.
Accolades went to the six class winners who showed great consistency and expertise in dealing both with the vagaries of the conditions. Proving triumphant were: Galateia (Maxi Class A), Bella Mente (Class B), Spirit of Lorina (Class C), Y3K (Supermaxi), Svea (J Class) and Allegra (Maxi multihull).
A robust innovation
For the very first time the 2023 edition included the maxi multihulls. YCCS Commodore Michael Illbruck explains the addition, “Change is a constant in the world of yachting, and continuous evolution has been the key to the success of the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup. Opening up the regatta to other categories allows owners to continue to pursue their passion and may inspire others to do so.”
The newly launched Gunboat 80, Irvine Laidlaw’s Highland Fling 18, sailed her inaugural regatta at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup, finishing an impressive second. Had the last race not been abandoned due to light airs, they may well have taken the overall win from Allegra.
“As always, Porto Cervo provided a mixture of conditions from heavy mistral to very light breezes”, said Irvine. ” When you come to Maxi Rolex you had better be prepared for everything. We arrived with a new boat, not without its problems – such as a prop that would not close and whirled continually during the first race. The change from a monohull to a multihull was challenging for everyone, particularly for myself at the helm. Continual experimentation with sail angles resulted in decisions that were significantly different from the theoretical VPPs. Altogether a big (and enjoyable) learning experience. Winning two races out of the four with a brand-new boat (while not winning overall) was an acceptable result for a first effort. But we will do better in the Caribbean – Spring 2024″.
The beautiful classics
The oldest competing yachts included the J Class Velsheda and the recently restored Baruna, both dating back to the 1930s. Thomas Bscher’s Baltic 68 Open Season proved a highlight amongst the newer launches,symbolizing the move to consider even more closely the environmental impact of boat building and performance through sailing design.
One of the closest divisions was the eight strong Maxi B group where American yachts Bella Mente and Proteus broke away to contest the title. Going into what proved to be the regatta’s final race, they were tied on points. Bella Mente finished first overall with two wins and three second places due to the stellar crew, predominantly together for the past decade. “We come every year and it is the pinnacle of our season. This is our fourth victory in eleven years and the hardest fought”, said owner Hap Fauth.”
Even closer was the Supermaxi competition. Only three points separated the top three yachts – Moat, Inoui and eventual winner Y3K, the recently launched Wally 101. It marked a return to Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup success for owner Claus-Peter Offen, “I have been racing here for 25 years. For us it is the highlight of the regatta season. This is where we want to be thanks to the beauty of the area and because of the yacht club.”
Cream of the crop
Sailors drawn from the cream of professional sailing talent were enthralled by the week’s competition. Former Rolex World Sailor of the Year, Mike Sanderson sailing on Bella Mente said, “The location is so special. Sun, big waves and big breeze. For so many teams this is the pinnacle event of their year. We have worked all year to develop the boat to be ready for this regatta.”
For Mitch Booth, two-time Olympic medallist, overall Rolex Middle Sea Race winning skipper in 2021 and tactician on Leopard 3, the event is without equal. “Coming together in such an iconic place is a real season highlight and a clash of the titans, the best against the best in perfect sailing.”