Having chased My Song (ITA) from the start of the race, the brand new Maxi Idea managed to pass My Song in the closing stages to claim victory in the 243 mile Giraglia Race.
Raffaele Raiola was celebrating a last-gasp victory with Line Honours in the Giraglia Race, after his brand new Maxi, Idea, crept past My Song just before the finish line in Genoa, in a nail biting climax to the Giraglia Rolex Cup, yesterday 22 June 2001.
Raiola's blue 82-foot Reichel-Pugh design took the winner's gun just three minutes in front of the bigger My Song, after almost 28 hours of racing from Saint-Tropez to Genoa via the Giraglia rock off the coast of Corsica.
The result will be hugely disappointing for Pierluigi Loro Piana, the owner of the 85-foot Reichel-Pugh Maxi which had led the 243-mile race for so long. Although the biggest of all the 122 starters, My Song is a cruiser/racer and was not expected to beat some of the more race optimised yachts in the offshore event.
For Raiola, however, taking line honours in such dramatic fashion was just the tonic he needed after suffering damage to his brand new yacht during the inshore races at Saint-Tropez earlier in the week. On the first day he saw a $40,000 lightwind headsail explode under excessive pressure, and on the next day his multi-million dollar yacht ran hard aground, thankfully with only minimal damage. Finally, it all came good for the Italian engineering and property tycoon.
"We were simply faster than My Song," he said. "Our guys worked harder and everything on these boats is about how you work in combination. There was a bit of luck too. The wind headed and we went through them."
It was an unusually good race for the Maxis. Normally the Giraglia Race benefits the smaller but lighter flying machines like the Open 60s which are capable of planing downwind. However, with a lot of upwind work, the lighter flying machines did not get a chance to stretch their legs against the bigger but heavier Maxi yachts, whose sheer size and horsepower gives them the advantage when the wind is forward of the beam.
After setting out from Saint-Tropez at 1300 hours on Thursday, the big three Maxis - Idea, Sagamore and My Song - made the early running. By dawn on Friday, the same boats held the top three positions, only the order had changed. At 0840 hours, My Song rounded the Giraglia rock off the northern tip of Corsica, followed 20 minutes later by Idea.
At 0912, Jim Dolan's crew on the American yacht Sagamore, a similar Reichel-Pugh design to Idea, cracked open their reaching gennaker in hard pursuit of their rivals. But that would be the last time she would get close to the leading duo.
Just behind Sagamore came a triumvirate of more extreme designs, which threatened to overtake the heavier Maxis on the long close reach to the finish line at Genoa. At 0920, the new Open 60 Cometa rounded the Giraglia rock, and with her displacement of 8 tons just a third of the Maxis' weight, she looked a good bet for taking line honours at this stage.
The swing-keeled, hydraulic-powered Wally yacht owned by German businessman Thomas Bscher, Tiketitan, rounded just two minutes later, although she had been leading the race on the approach to the Giraglia rock. The boat's captain Adam Bateman commented: "We were leading at that point and we got stuck in a hole with no wind. We had My Song sail one side of us and Sagamore and Idea go the other."
Just five minutes behind Tiketitan at the Giraglia rock was the Nautor Challenge Volvo 60. Grant Dalton's brand new grey and red yacht looked like a minnow by comparison with the bigger rigs of her rivals close by, but the round-the-world racer appeared to be holding pace with the more powerful Cometa.
The predicted downwind sleigh ride to Genoa failed to materialise, the wind lightened and headed, forcing all of the leading six to drop their reaching gennakers and re-hoist their genoas for some upwind work. The conditions were playing into the hands of the Maxi crews.
Meanwhile the race-optimised Idea was beginning to bite into My Song's lead, the difference perhaps between a beautiful cruising interior and a stripped-out, functional layout that pays little heed to crew comforts.
Idea finally punched through My Song's lead to take up the running with just minutes to the finish, and she crossed the line at 1643 hours. The conditions had been far from record-breaking - the Open 60 Riviera di Rimini's 1998 time of 24 hours 21 minutes was certainly under no threat -
but it had been an intriguing battle between the heavyweight destroyers and the light and nimble frigates. Tiketitan came through in third, 20 minutes behind the winner, and was beginning to display the speed that could have seen her win line honours, had she not suffered the ill winds around Corsica.
Now it remains to be seen whether the big boats hold the advantage on corrected time. In the 2000 edition, a building south-westerly saw the 30-footers surge downwind to a night-time finish in Genoa, allowing them to take the top places on corrected time ahead of the Maxis and Open 60s.
That scenario looks unlikely to repeat itself this time. Sagamore's owner, Jim Dolan, retired just 11 miles from the finish as his Maxi bobbed around in virtually no wind. With an early flight to catch, he motored the rest of the way to Genoa.
The Giraglia Race is now in its 49th year, and is the final leg of the Giraglia Rolex Cup, which runs from 17th to 24th June 2001.