A building south-easterly breeze and bright sunshine heralded the start of racing at the 2012 Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup, in Porto Cervo, Sardinia.
Following the first start signal at 12:10 CEST, all classes were presented with a near 29-nautical mile coastal race leading the 34-strong international fleet around the landmarks of Monaci, Secca Tre Monti, Mortoriotto and Soffi before finishing off Porto Cervo.
Today's class winners were: Ran 2 (GBR) in the Mini Maxi Rolex World Championship; Velsheda in Maxi Racing; Aegir (GBR) in Maxi Racing/Cruising; Nilaya (GBR) in Supermaxi and Magic Carpet 2 (GBR) in Wally. Fastest round the course was Esimit Europa 2 (SLO), finishing in just over two hours and thirty-two minutes.
regattanews.com will profile action from a different class each day as the 23rd edition of the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup develops. Today's focus is the first day of the Mini Maxi Rolex World Championship.
Of the five classes the 12-strong Mini Maxi fleet, tackling its third World Championship, is the largest. If the first day's action is a marker for the rest of the week, the competition will be unpredictable and enthralling in equal measure. Niklas Zennstrom's highly professional crew on the 21.91m (72-foot) Rán 2 - winner of the previous two Mini Maxi Rolex Worlds - needed all of its experience and guile to claim the win, finishing ahead of determined opponents Bella Mente (USA) and Jethou (GBR).
"It was a great day for sailing,"
reflected Zennström. "We had 12-16 knots of wind and enjoyed a beautiful coastal race. The competition was really close, we were fighting it out for a long time with Shockwave, and Bella Mente finished just behind us."
Indeed, George Sakellaris' 21.80m Shockwave (USA) pushed Rán close before keel damage sustained in a collision with a submerged rock terminated her race. The crew is hoping that the incident has not jeopardised their entire week.
Zennström believes Rán 2 face her toughest Maxi Rolex Worlds to date. "We are not as confident as the competition from new boats like Stig and Bella Mente is tough."
However, this surge in the strength of the Mini Maxi fleet excites Zennström. "We come here to race and not to have an easy win. As there are four very similar 72-footers there will be much more boat to boat racing and tactical situations. This is the world championship. It should be really hard to win and this is the way we want it."
Zennström's secret to success in Porto Cervo? "In a full week of racing you need to be consistent and make sure you have no really bad races, minimizing your mistakes."
Hap Fauth's 21.94m Bella Mente made an impressive start on her Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup debut, claiming an encouraging second place. "Niklas (Zennström) is on his game at the helm and Ran is the favourite. There are a number of us in the next tier,"
suggested Fauth before today's racing. "Ourselves and Stig are both learning with new boats while Shockwave has done well in other regattas and will do well in the light airs here. You have to be consistent and sail conservatively."
Third placed Jethou, measuring 18.90m, is one of the smaller Mini Maxis, but led by experienced tactician Brad Butterworth, will be in the running come the week's close. "Conditions were very good, we all expected it to be light and the forecast was for rain,"
commented owner Sir Peter Ogden. "Instead, we ended up having a decent breeze and sunshine. It was a great first day. The event is more competitive having these four 72-footers. It makes it harder for us as they dictate where we go and what we have to do."
While Alessandro Rombelli's Stig settled for sixth place on her Mini Maxi Rolex Worlds bow, Alex Schärer's crew onboard Caol Ila R (GBR) - the former Alegre - will be delighted with a fourth place as they perform a rapid transition from their racer/cruiser of the same name. "Conditions were classic Sardinia, with lots of changes. It was a great day,"
enthused tactician Gordon Maguire. "We tried to keep things simple as it's our first race, avoiding schoolboy errors. We'll continue refining how we're sailing."
Maguire and the crew have a target in sight: "A top four finish in the division would please us, as the level of competition is fantastic. This is one of the finest keel boat fleets on the planet."
Tomorrow's racing sees the Mini Maxi and Wally classes scheduled to negotiate windward/leeward racing while the remaining classes contest a second day of coastal racing.
The Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup is organized by the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda and the International Maxi Association, prestigious organizations with close ties to Rolex. A first-class social programme is in store, including the Rolex Crew Party and the final Prize-Giving Ceremony, where the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cups and Rolex timepieces will be presented to the winners.