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South Africans On The Podium | Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup

by Ingrid Hale
Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup 2020

The 30th edition of the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup delivered a week of pulsating action, consummate skill and elevated performance. The contest is the pinnacle of large monohull yacht racing, attracting the best boats, the most passionate owners and the finest crews. South African sailors were amongst these crews to take positions on the podium.

The competitive fleet sailing in Porto Cervo – Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup

A fleet of 53 yachts competed in the 2019 Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup. Sub-divided into eight classes based on size and potential, the eventual winners were: Velsheda (Supermaxi); Highland Fling XI (Maxi Racer) with Sail + Leisure’s Yachting Editor, Hylton Hale and fellow South African Mike Giles on board; Nefertiti (Maxi Racer/ Cruiser); Cannonball (Mini Maxi Racer 1); Supernikka (Mini Maxi Racer 2); Lyra (Wally) with South African Marc Largesse on board; Flow (Mini Maxi Racer/Cruiser); and, H2O (Mini Maxi Cruiser/Racer).

Irvine Laidlaw’s Highland Fling XI win the Maxi Racer Class in the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup

South Africans Mark Sadler and Guido Verhoevert sailed on Allsmoke which led the Maxi Racer/Cruiser class going into the last day of racing but finished second in their class. And SA-based Jan Dekker sailed on Rambler 88, which finished second in their class behind Highland Fling XI.

Rambler 88 powering through the fleet- Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup

Crews were tested on every single day of racing, particularly on the fourth day when a challenging Mistral wind came through. The loads on sails, lines, winches and rigging increased and so, too, did the pressure. A boat lost her keel, another ended up on the rocks and others tore their sails.

Behind The Regatta

The Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup was first held in 1980. It was a biannual event until 1999, and it is now an annual event growing with each edition, and in line with the design developments within the Maxi fleet, ensuring the competition is relevant and enticing. “The Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup is an iconic sailing competition known all around the world,” says YCCS Commodore Riccardo Bonadeo, a winner of the event himself in 1995 and 2000 with Rose Selavy. “There is no other regatta quite like it, it attracts a large fleet and it requires top organisation.”

Bonadeo is quick to acknowledge that the YCCS has not been alone in achieving the high standards of the regatta. “From the beginning, we have been assisted by Rolex who are a partner, much more than supporter,” he explains. The Rolex Testimonee, Paul Cayard, a former Maxi world champion and round the world race winner, identifies the importance of the Swiss watch brand to the event and wider world of yachting. “What is particularly important and valuable about Rolex’s involvement in sailing is the longevity of it,” comments Cayard. “This stems from a deep passion and commitment to the sport of sailing. Rolex is not just here in Porto Cervo at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup, but in Australia at the Rolex Sydney Hobart, in San Francisco next week at the Rolex Big Boat Series. Rolex is in the Rolex Fastnet Race, in the Rolex Middle Sea Race and, now, SailGP. The brand has had a comprehensive involvement in the sport for a very long time, 60 years. That is very valuable.”

 The Toughest Competition

Each division was defined by differing stories. Nefertiti’s victory in the Maxi Racer/ Cruiser was by the tightest of separations and testament to the adage “never give up”. Saving her best performance for the last race, Nefertiti took advantage of the equipment failure that led to the withdrawal of the early class leader, Vera, and the uncharacteristically poor result for Allsmoke, who had assumed the lead from Vera. Moving from third to first overall, Nefertiti secured victory by virtue of a higher number of better individual race results.

In the Mini Maxi Racer 1 class, the Italian crew of Cannonball knew that to be certain of victory they needed to ensure the regatta debutante, Vesper, did not win the final race. In the critical moments before the start, Cannonball was able to gain an advantage over Vesper and push her down the fleet. It was then a matter of covering their American rivals and staying between them and the finish. The defining essence of the class win was consistency during the series.

The Wally Lyra, wins her class in the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup


Mini Maxi Racer 1: Ferrari Dario’s Cannon Ball 

Wally class: Hui Terry’s Lyra

Super Maxi: Velsheda J-class

Maxi Racer/Cruiser: Ball Juan’s Nefertiti tied with Allsmoke in first on 13 points. However Nefertiti won overall with a 1st in the last race.

Maxi Racer: Irvine Laidlaw’s Highland Fling XI tied for first with Rambler 88 on 10 points. Highland Fling XI took the overall win from Rambler 88 with a first in the last race, this despite tearing their main sail on Friday.

LYRA – Wally 78, winner class: Wally. Marc Largesse can be seen far left in the back row.

Photographs: Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi

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