• Rambler 88 and Magic Carpet 3 power upwind to the first turning mark at La Formigue. Photo: ROLEX / Carlo Borlenghi
    Rambler 88 and Magic Carpet 3 power upwind to the first turning mark at La Formigue. Photo: ROLEX / Carlo Borlenghi
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This morning on the dock prior to the midday start of the Rolex Giraglia’s offshore race there was much talk of stiff westerlies and the prospect of Esimit Europa 2’s seven-year-old record for the 241 mile race from Saint-Tropez being broken.

While the traditional course for this event – jointly organised by Yacht Club Italiano and Société Nautique de Saint-Tropez and supported by the International Maxi Association (IMA) – finishes in Genoa after rounding the Giraglia rock off northeast Corsica, this year it will finish at Monaco, for the second time since 2014. Rolex Giraglia’s offshore race is the fourth and penultimate event in the IMA’s 2018-19 Mediterranean Maxi Offshore Challenge.

At present the forecast indicates conditions will favour either very big, or very small, competing yacht. This is also the view of Volvo Ocean Race veteran Bouwe Bekking, who is competing on Argentinean Miguel Galuccio’s Vera. “If you make it to Monaco then you will be in fat city!” says Bekking, referring to the faster boats. “We might just miss it and park up - but you never know - we’ll just push hard.” Vera’s most optimistic routing has her finishing at midday Thursday ie with a passage time of just under one day.

The record breaking boat this year is most likely to be George David’s Rambler 88 – the American maxi’s IRC TCC is 1.871, while the next fastest this year, with a TCC of 1.776, is Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones' Wallycento Magic Carpet 3, the 2015 overall Rolex Giraglia winner and 2016 line honours winner.

Navigating on board Rambler 88 is Silvio Arrivabene, who reckoned that they were likely to arrive at the Giraglia rock “before dusk” this evening and could cross the finish line in the early hours of tomorrow morning (Thursday): “There is a relatively fresh westerly, which will hopefully get us to Giraglia in the afternoon. It is downwind, so maybe we’ll put in a couple of gybes. Then we’ll come back on port tack all of the way to Monaco where we can expect the usual park-up. That will depend on if the westerly remains strong during the night.”

The significant difference this year is that the race finishes in Monaco, not in Genoa as it traditionally does. While the course distance is nearly identical, the inevitable park-up short off the finish should be less severe off Monaco, but also the course from Giraglia is 297° rather than 346° to Genoa. This will make for a fetch/tight reach from the rock to the Monaco finish line.

At present the record for the Rolex Giraglia stands at 14 hours, 56 minutes and 18 seconds, set by Igor Simčič’s 100ft maxi Esimit Europa 2 in the windy 2012 race. To break the record this time would require finishing before 03:31:18 tomorrow morning.

“It should be a quick trip,” agreed offshore racing legend Marcel van Triest, navigator on Magic Carpet 3. “We have a building moderate Mistral – technically a Tramontana. At the corner [the turning mark at La Formigue, a rock east of Cap Bénat] it will be building to 25-30 knots. Then we do one step down to get into the nugget of pressure that follows the coast offshore before we try to make the world’s longest layline on Giraglia.”

Van Triest warns that there will be more breeze coming down from behind them, which could favour the 70 footers but equally could favour his yacht relative to Rambler 88.

Magic Carpet 3’s ETA at Giraglia is 2100, finishing in the early hours depending upon the state of the wind off Monaco. Van Triest believes that the fastest boats should arrive before the transition which will see the wind shut down before filling in from the northeast over the course of Thursday afternoon-evening. “The smaller boats will have a big choice – point at the mark or go 10-15° low to find the transition and the shift.”

For the marginally slower boats there was less certainty. For Benoît de Froidmont’s Wally 60 Wallyño, navigator Gérald Véniard reckoned there was some 12 hours of variation between their best and worst case arrival time - from 1500 Thursday to 0300 Friday - but he was still excited. “We will round Giraglia at night - which will be a first for me. Usually it is during the day after.”

In event the start this afternoon from the Golfe du Saint-Tropez was unexpectedly light and downwind making for a magnificent array of colourful sails. However this was short-lived. As they exited the Golfe the fleet immediately ran into a giant header requiring them to drop their spinnakers hurriedly. Making the best of the start was Sir Peter Ogden’s 77ft Jethou, winner of the Rolex Giraglia inshore series. As she exited the Golfe she was being chased on the water by Alex Schaerer’s Caol Ila R with Rambler 88 holding third.

For the Rolex Giraglia’s offshore race, the maxi fleet has swelled with the addition of several entries that didn’t compete in the three days of inshore racing. These include Magic Carpet 3, fresh from winning straight bullets at the Loro Piana Superyacht Regatta, plus the biggest yacht ever to enter the Rolex Giraglia, the 54.64m Andre Hoek-designed modern classic, Marie and Malizia – the IMOCA 60 being raced doublehanded by German Boris Herrmann and Monaco prince Pierre Casiraghi, plus the Swan 651 Lunz am Meer, winner of the Regata dei Tre Golfi, the second event of the Mediterranean Maxi Offshore Challenge.

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