The sunshine rematerialised over St-Tropez for day three of the Giraglia Rolex Cup, but it was another day of light air drifting that played into the skilled hands of Grand Soleil 42R Near Miss.
It is now two victories in a row for the Swiss owner Franck NOEL and his Olympic gold medallist tactician Thierry PEPONNET, who capitalised on the fickle Mediterranean breezes to beat their more glamorous Maxi rivals on IMS corrected time.
"Today the wind was like an elastic band,"
said Peponnet. "You get some wind and start to move, and then you fall into a big hole. It was a hard day of concentration, I am tired tonight. Tactically it was very busy watching for where the next breeze would come from."
Peponnet said the unstable breezes were making hard work for the crew with multiple sail changes. "We were making many changes between the windseeker sail and the spinnaker. This was very important to keep our speed going, even when there was no wind."
Another small yacht came to the fore in the big boat division, Jean Marie GENNARI'S Tekno 46 Bella Donna taking second place ahead of Maxi yacht Idea SAI. Raffaele RAIOLA'S IMS-optimised Maxi looked very comfortable in the light airs, and her third place today has enabled her to displace fellow Italian Maxi Atalanta II from the overall regatta lead.
Despite her strong performance, Idea's navigator Silvio ARRIVABENE admitted it had been far from easy. "Today it was like a Formula One race when the safety car comes out, and the whole field closes back together again. This is what happened when the wind disappeared - all the smaller boats would catch right up to us again. Then the safety car goes away and we start stretching apart again."
Atalanta II finished a disappointing tenth yesterday, dropping them from first overall down to fourth. At one point the new Farr 72 Maxi stopped to the point where she lost steerage, and the crew could only look on as she was swept on to one of the Rolex turning marks. She took her 360 degree penalty turn and carried on. But navigator Giampaolo ROCCA said their real problem was lack of downwind horsepower. "Atalanta is wonderful upwind, but we need bigger sails downwind, even if we pay a penalty under handicap. We are hoping for an upwind race to Genoa tomorrow."
Sotto Voce, on the other hand, appeared very fast under spinnaker, and Arien van VEMDE'S Dutch crew looked capable of more than their sixth place yesterday. Overall they remain a strong prospect, and lie in third place on the leaderboard as they prepare for the long race tomorrow.
Alfa Romeo, Neville CRICHTON'S powerful waterballasted 90-foot Maxi, is not relishing the prospect of 243 miles to Genoa with a light wind forecast, although her fourth place in today's 21-miler will give the Kiwi/Australian crew some encouragement. For the third race running they took line honours, but in a very slow time of 4 hours and 34 minutes, an indication of just how testing today's conditions were for the 186-boat fleet.
At the time of going to press, no results were available from the small boat division. This evening a prizegiving takes place at The Citadel on the hill overlooking St-Tropez, with prizes awarded to the best placed yachts from the past three days of inshore racing. Tomorrow the fleet will leave St-Tropez behind for another year as they begin the long race to Italy.
Full results are available on the event website at the address below.