Grant Dalton's Nautor Challenge Volvo 60 led the 122-boat fleet off the massed start line at the beginning of the Giraglia race, the final and most important part of the Giraglia Rolex Cup
Helmed by Bouwe Bekking in her first competitive outing, the grey and red Volvo 60 shot off the line set a mile away from the harbour of Saint-Tropez.
Soon the larger maxi yachts took their rightful place at the front of the fleet as they headed off on their 243-mile voyage to Genoa in Northern Italy via the Giraglia rock off the coast of Corsica. Just who will take line honours tomorrow in Genoa is a tough one to predict and depends on whether the forecasted southerly winds arrive for a fast downwind ride.
If that happens then the brand new Open 60 Cometa could make the most of her extremely light weight to fly past the larger maxi yachts. At just 8 tons she is around a third of the weight of he conventional 80-footers. The first two boats to pass the first mark of the course, Raffaele Raiola's Idea and Jim Dolan's Sagamore, seemed more intent on their personal match race than extending their lead over the next boats, My Song and Rrose
The smaller boats,which range right down to the 6.5m Mini Transat yachts, will be hoping the wind builds in the latter stages of the race, as it did last year when the 30-footers stole the top prizes from the multi-million pound, professionally crewed big boats.
The top sailors were divided over whether the course record, set three years ago by the Open 60 Riviera di Rimini, was under threat. "The winds around the Giraglia rock are always difficult, but if it is south-easterly to Genoa then it could be good for the record." But Rrose Selavy's Mauro Pelaschier, the former America's Cup helmsman, believed light winds would prevail. "We are not looking at record breaking condiions this year."
Grant Dalton said he was not concerned about records. "For us this race is about bedding in a new boat and a new crew," he commented. But some of those crew are top American keelboat racer Dee Smith and triple 49er world champion Chris Nicholson. If they see the record is on, they won't be able to resist the challenge.
The Giraglia Race is now in its 49th year, and is the climax of the Giraglia Rolex Cup, which runs from 17 to 24 June 2001.