At full stretch and more the maxis were back on the track off Porto Cervo for the third race of the Rolex Cup today. It was a short, sharp, 20-mile affair that tested both the fitness and the boat handling skills of the crews.
And, just to add a little extra power to what is already a high octane occasion, there was also a special prize, the Bentley Trophy, for fastest time over a measured mile.
This was supposed to be a day off for the 25 yachts and their crews, but Mistral conditions had forced a postponement for the Wednesday schedule so racing was transferred to today.
Conditions were near perfect at the start, flat seas, sunshine and a steady 16 knot westerly breeze and there had been a renewed sense of purpose from early in the morning. The opening leg was a 7.3-mile beat deep into the Golfo delle Saline and, as has become standard practice, the IMS maxis were led by the Italian colours of Raffaele Naiola's Idea and the Stars and Stripes of Jim Dolan's Sagamore.
Raiola had the edge at the end by a tiny 18 seconds, and the margin by which he beat Sagamore to take the Bentley Trophy was just five seconds. But the class handicap winner was one of the smallest boats in the regatta, Ernesto Gismondi's 65-foot Frers-design, Edimetra.
Also continuing their week-long battle were the two 88-foot Wallys of Luca Bassani, also of Italy, and Thomas Bscher of Germany. It had been 2-0 both on the water and on handicap to Bscher so far. But, this time Bassani, with tactician Tom Whidden taking time off both running North Sails and preparing to call tactics for Dennis Conner's helmsman Kenny Read in the next Cup, fashioned their best start of the week.
It looked as if it would be third time lucky, but problems with both the spinnaker pole and the asymmetric gennaker, meant they were seriously underpowered on the long final leg and Tiketitan made it a hat-trick. Also taking the gentle way home was the 77-foot Wally Vae Victis, owned by the 29-year old venture capitalist Alessandro Grande, as they, too, had ripped their gennaker. But they all had to salute the CEO of L'Oréal, Lindsay Owen Jones, enjoying the first of his three days at the helm of Magic Carpet.
Tiketitoo was not the only one having spinnaker problems. Coming back out of the Saline was a tight reach with the wind piping up to a solid 18 knots. As the yachts went round an island fortification they had to drop the spinnakers and go back to conventional headsails.
The billowing acres of cloth seemed to develop a wild will of their own as all available hands rushed to gather them aboard. But one man who remained calm throughout was George Lindemann.
The owner of the 180-foot Adela just watched and calmly enjoyed a refreshing drink as 16 of his crew pulled in the huge, white sail which had been flying from the foremast, while the magnificent schooner sailed majestically onwards at a steady 14 knots. In the 'Heavy' cruiser division, they were second by only 74 seconds to Harry Macklowe's 112-foot German Frers-design, Unfurled.
When 20/20 vision is not clear enough
The yachts are up to 180 feet in length, weigh up to 260 tonnes and can cost tens of millions of dollars. But, one of the most important components to keep them running on the race course is about 20cm by 10cm x 5mm, weighs about 100 grammes and costs less than $750.
Inevitably, the computer micro-chip is centre stage, housed in a mother-board which is collecting and processing information from sensors all over the boat.
The whole task splits itself into either the simple or the complex. Choosing what to monitor is simple.
The first complex bit is to ensure that all the departments speak to each other and that their inter-relation is understood. Knowing which way you are heading and at what speed is not enough. Is this the optimum route? Is this the target boatspeed in these conditions?
While the strategy is being calculated by the navigator, the execution of that strategy needs to be communicated to the crew, especially where a mark rounding or a sail change is concerned. The B&G calculates to the second the time to the next major point on the course, and it updates that information four times a second.
And it does it knowing the characteristics of each individual boat. That requires a lot of inputs, a lot of calibration. But the task is carefully explained, so, bit by bit, the B&G adds more and more automatic calculations to the jobs it is doing.
The vertical row of display readouts used on the mast was the first jumbo display of its type and was introduced as 20/20s nearly 10 years ago. Now the whole processing and software program is much more powerful. Bigger readouts have been introduced as, especially on big boats, the distance between the helm and the mast, is much greater, and they are called 40/40s.
Complex analysis using specially written software displays detailed information: barometric pressure, load cells, sea and air temp, trim tab, heel angle along with essential wind speed (true and apparent), compass heading and the all important VMG (velocity made good). With the information being easily displayed, all important tactical decisions are made quickly and without hesitation.
40/40's on yachts in excess of 70' are constantly subjected to harsh weather conditions. This larger display is reliant on the new display technologies to withstand the abuse from intense sunshine in the Caribbean through to the extremities of the Southern Ocean and whether wearing sunglasses or goggles, the readout is still clear.
One thing the 40/40 cannot do is prevent a rush of blood to the head, which leads to a bad decision on the race course, something that used to be called an LTO (lightning tack to oblivion). They are always functional and their usefulness will vary with the expertise of the people using them. But, without wishing to, they have also become a fashion item. A bit like a watch, really. They all tell the time. But some people are determined to do that with style. Just ask the people from Rolex.
Quote of the day: "The ship is safe in port. No-one is hurt, nothing is broken. Now we can relax and party." Tommaso Chieffi, tactician on Idea.