The 19th Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup ended on Saturday, not quite as hoped as the wind eventually fizzled out along with the ambitions of the owners and crews hoping for one final chance to get to the top of the podium.
The Yacht Club Costa Smeralda Race Committee, led by Principal Race Officer Peter CRAIG, held on for as long as the regatta rules allowed, but eventually conceded defeat at around 13:30 as what wind there was continued to dodge about like an angry wasp diving in from all directions. The end result is that Friday's division leaders - Numbers (Mini Maxi), Ranger (Cruising), Magic Carpet II (Wally) and Rambler (Racing) - became cast in stone and will have their names carved into the honour roll at the entrance to the yacht club along with receiving their just rewards - the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup trophies along with steel and gold Rolex Yacht Master Chronometers.
For some then, a disappointing end to a week that has been otherwise excellent, not least for the crews who have enjoyed a kaleidoscope of sailing conditions plus the opportunity to sample the Costa Smeralda's beautiful coastline, its warm hospitality and an enviable array of social events. The racing has been enthralling in all divisions. Particularly so in the Wally Division where no boat could find the consistency to establish an impregnable position and going into today's race four boats were within two points of each other.
In the two-boat Racing Division, George DAVID's Rambler (USA) secured victory on countback, by virtue of winning the race yesterday. Both Rambler and Alfa Romeo (NZL) were tied on six points. Both had won two races. Only one could win and Friday's race decided whom. Rotten luck for Neville CRICHTON's usually impeccably sailed yacht that it chose the last race of the series to suffer a technical glitch. DAVID, though, was naturally delighted with the result. He and his crew have sailed Rambler hard over the past 18 months or so, and the pay-off has been success: transatlantic races, offshore races, record-breaking, inshore regattas. All have been in the programme.
"In the last four or five months we've made a material difference [to the boat],"
said DAVID. "We had a dry spell on the racecourse after Rio [Rolex Buenos Airies Rio Race], which we won and set another record. This boat's a little hard in buoy racing and we were up against some 65-footers at New York Yacht Club Race Week and Cork. That's tough sail handling because our sail plan is much bigger, so we were hopeful coming down here that we would race against boats like ourselves."
Although the two boats are a generation apart - water ballast versus canting keel and water ballast, DAVID clearly enjoys the racing, which to an outsider appears fair and friendly, "It's very nice to have a new Alfa against a former Alfa. It adds a little extra to the rivalry that is already good, clean, friendly competition. Neville's a great owner and a nice person, and I enjoy racing against him. It's nice to be a generation different too. They have a canting keel and we're just water ballasted. They tack faster, but we have some tricks up our sleeves in how we do our tacking and we've done a fair amount of optimizing over the past months. I'd say we are about level [with Alfa] on corrected, both uphill and downhill, and the boats are both well sailed."
His final comment is piercingly perceptive, "This kind of competition is unforgiving, one operator error and that's trouble."
CRICHTON, so often used to be on the winner's podium himself, would surely echo that.
Ernesto BERTARELLI, Brad BUTTERWORTH and company on Dan MEYERS' Numbers (USA), went into the final day knowing they could not be beaten. Despite 18 boats on the start-line each day, Numbers has sailed fast and clean notwithstanding her first-day clunk with the rocks that have curtailed the ambitions of many a crew in years past. Despite not being scratch boat in the division, she showed a clean pair of heels on two occasions finishing first on the water and her handicap victories have been measured in minutes rather than seconds. Only Roger STURGEON's Rosebud/Team DYT (USA) managed to take a bullet off Numbers over the five races, which included a mix of coastal and windward/leeward courses.
A two-time America's Cup winner, BERTARELLI gives the impression that all victories are important not just because of the trophies, but because the win is so often the culmination of preparation, hard graft and teamwork. He describes helming Number's as child's play, but in case you are fooled into thinking anyone could have won this week with this boat, he soon puts you right. Numbers is well balanced, beautifully designed and attentively built. But if the accident on Alegre this week proves anything, it is that Maxi yachts - Mini, Super or Cruising - are unforgiving in the face of operator error or mechanical failure. Both are to be avoided. And issue avoidance is achieved through surrounding oneself with top-class sailors, and importantly building team spirit and understanding, "[Since Valencia] I have sailed with some of the crew in regattas like Key West Race Week and Rolex Farr 40 Worlds, but it's been a while to see the whole [Alinghi] team together. It's really nice. It's a crew that works like a Swiss clock: it's on time on the manoeuvres, the trimming is precision, it's good and it's fun."
BERTARELLI has every reason to be proud of the victory. Numbers is absolutely MEYER's boat, but the design is Rolf VROLIJK and the engineering concept involved Dirk KRAMER - both part of the Alinghi team, "a lot of the things we learned in the last America's Cup have been introduced in this boat and the result shows on the water."
In the Wally Division, Lindsay OWEN-JONES could be forgiven for having hoped it would be a no wind day. Holding a one point advantage over Irvine LAIDLAW's Highland Fling X (GBR) and two points over Jean-Charles DECAUX's J One (FRA) and Thomas BSCHER's Open Season (GER), the opportunity to fail at the final hurdle was apparent. All the more so, since all four boats had shown themselves capable of winning this week as well as suffering a drop in performance to post a poor result. As it is, OWEN-JONES takes his third win at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup, "It was very, very close this year. We've had four or five boats within one and half minutes almost every day and seconds separating the first two. The key thing has been never to have a really negative result,"
"What we really like is good breeze and smooth water. The first day out with north westerlies and smooth seas through the channel was an ideal day for us. But then you've got to manage the less favourable days, when it is stiff breeze and lumpy. That's difficult since ours is a light boat, but we managed well enough never to finish worse than fourth."
OWEN-JONES was suitably impressed to have won again, "It is the [regatta] we all want to win. Let's be simple about it, every year we think 'we like Saint-Tropez', but the one we all want to win is the Rolex because it's the most prestigious, it's existed for so long, it is a fantastic place, there's always wind up through the channels, and it is the most incredible natural harbour and area to race."
The secret to success on this boat is the same as the others - managing the crew, maintaining team spirit and avoiding errors. OWEN-JONES has a preferred method for achieving this, "It really does help tremendously having women in the crew. It keeps a better level of courtesy and quiet; the boys are just a little bit more restrained. Girls are also just a bit more careful about not breaking things. Boys do tend to just go on pushing buttons until something goes bang, and the girls tend to look up when they hear things grinding to see why and before it breaks!"
In the Cruising Division, John WILLIAMS and the J Class Ranger (CAY) cruised seemingly effortlessly to their second consecutive Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup victory. Four races, four bullets tell their own story. The reality on the race course was quite different with competition coming from the other J Class Velsheda (GBR), the massive 44-metre Salperton (GBR), Hamilton II (GBR) and Hetairos (CAY IS). Management of the boat and team was once again crucial to success, as America's Cup and round the world race winner, Erle WILLIAMS confirms, "They are very powerful boats, they're very challenging and upwind, especially with 39 crew, there's a lot of people to coordinate around the boat to make sure no one gets hurt, and to sail the boat well is quite a challenge."
Like the other owners crowned this week, John WILLIAMS puts their success down to people and the management of the boat, "We have a crew that's mostly stayed intact for five years, and I think we just sailed the boat exceptionally well. Erle did a great job on the starts and once you have a good start, sometimes you can control the race, but frankly we just had a good crew effort, a wonderful crew effort."
Like the other owners, WILLIAMS truly enjoys sailing on the Costa Smeralda, "It's wonderful - without a doubt it's the best regatta we compete in and we did a number of regattas this year and it is the number one regatta - you have great boats, great conditions, great sails up among the rocks. It's a wonderful place to sail boats."
So there it is, the ingredients for success at one of the most spectacular regattas around. Pick a great boat and pick a great team. Manage them well. And hope Mother Nature lets you perform.
For more information about the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup 2008 including entry lists and results visit www.yccsmaxi.com