Med Maxi Scene


All the passion pizzazz

Australians joined the 40th birthday party in Sardinia, writes Bob Ross.

The 40th anniversary regatta of the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda in September wove together all of the threads that have made the club, based on Sardinia’s ruggedly beautiful north-eastern coast, one of the most active and desirable sailing destinations in the Mediterranean.

The week before the one-day event, the YCCS hosted the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup, in conjunction with the International Maxi Association. Hasso Plattner’s MaxZ86 Morning Glory won in controversial fashion from Australian Stephen Ainsworth’s Reichel/Pugh 60 Loki, after a ruthless last-race covering battle that earned Plattner and his crew the trophy but few admirers.

In the week after the anniversary regatta, the club conducted a series for Twelve Metre class yachts, part of a circuit to mark the 100th anniversary of the International Measurement Rule, with the fleet including some famous boats in America’s Cup history: two times winner (1974, 1977) Courageous, 1980 winner Freedom, the 1987 New Zealand challenger Kiwi Magic and Kookaburra II, 1987 Australian defence triallist.

Famous veteran boats contested the cruising division of the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup, including the restored wooden J-classer Velsheda, a Charles Nicholson design built in 1933 and Ranger, a replica of the J-classer designed by Starling Burgess and a young Olin Stephens, which won the 1937 America’s Cup.

More vintage (built before 1950) and classic (1950-1975) yachts took part in the Rolex Veteran Boat Rally, which ran in conjunction with the Twelve Metre series. They included the 1965 Sydney-Hobart line honours winner Stormvogel and Emeraude which, under first owner Jacques Dewailly, sailed for France in the 1975 Admiral’s Cup.

Besides these events either side of the anniversary regatta, the YCCS in its busiest season ever conducted Rolex Capri Sailing Week in May, the Rolex Settimana delle Bocche and Farr 40 European championship in June, the Rolex TP52 Global championship in September, and the Moby Mumm 30 world championship in October.

Throughout all these events in the warm Mediterranean evenings were lavish outdoor parties and dinners with food and entertainment for everyone; the crews as well as the owners and club members.

The invitation to the Party del Quartennale, the crew party outdoors on the club’s Piazza Azzura marking the 40th anniversary, billed the event as ‘40 anni di Passione’. And passionate it was with a great band, dance troupe and dazzling fireworks ripping the night sky. The Italians sure know how to throw a party.

The occasional was quite emotional for the club’s members and the staff, who had worked for months on preparations for the events of the anniversary season. Some of them were in tears that night.

The Emerald Coast

The club’s history really dates back to 1958 when the Aga Khan, who is still its president and a group of businessmen, decided to open areas of the Costa Smeralda on the northeastern coast of Sardinia, previously accessible only by sea, to tourist development.

Among the new villages they built, in traditional Sardinian architectural style nestling into the stark, rocky landscape, was Porto Cervo, alongside a dredged inlet, which became known as Porto Vecchio and was the harbour used by the first visitors to the Costa Smeralda.

One night in 1966, a fierce Mistral wind lashed the coast. With boats in the port threatening to break their moorings, the Aga Khan, joined by Andre Ardoin, Luigi Vietti, the architect who was creating Porto Cervo and frequent visitor Giuseppe Kerry Mentasi with his 37m schooner Croce del Sud, spent the night making sure the moorings held.

They also made plans for the future and a year later, on May 12, 1967, founded the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda. The club’s first home was in the Maison du Port, built in 1964 to supervise berthing activities in Porto Vecchio (old port).

The club soon developed a regatta program, which attracted entries from the Mediterranean and beyond, which made the most of the many course options around the rocks and islands of the nearby La Maddalena archipelago, reliable winds and the shorts-and-shirts sailing mild climate.

Quickly following its initial regatta, the Settimana Delle Bocche in 1972 was the first international event, the One Ton Cup in 1973. The Australian connection with the YCCS began there with Syd Fischer and Peter Hill competing in chartered boats. The Dick Carter-designed Ydra, skippered by Italian Star class world champion Agostino Straulino, won. Fischer was fifth.

The YCCS had already realised that it needed a dedicated marina and a bigger clubhouse. The One Ton Cup prize-giving had to be held in the Tennis Club to accommodate the numbers of visiting sailors. It became a riotous affair with the international jury as well as the winning crew ending up in the pool.

In 1975 the club began building the marina, which now has 700 berths, on the northern inlet of Porto Cervo by raising an earth dam, draining the inlet, then installing piers and an outer protective sea wall. The clubhouse, with bar, restaurant and a spacious terrace with a swimming pool, opened in August 1977.

The Australians were back in 1980 when John Kahlbetzer’s Bumblebee 4 won the first Maxi Yacht world championship conducted by the YCSS. The following year, Noel Robins skippered Peter Briggs’ Hitchhiker from Perth to win the Two Ton Cup world championship.

Sydney-based New Zealander Neville Crichton’s Reichel/Pugh 90 Alfa Romeo won the maxi championship in 2003 and her successor, the canting-keeled R/P98 of the same name, won in 2006.

The club’s Australian association firmed in 1987 when Royal Perth YC chose it to become Challenger of Record, headed by its Commodore Gianfranco Alberini, for the defence of the America’s Cup in Fremantle. The young Italian club’s Azzurra had competed in the challenger elimination trials when Australia II won the America’s Cup at Newport, Rhode Island, in 1983.

It competed again with a second Azzurra in Fremantle in a campaign that also brought Italian style to Western Australia with an annex of the club and its chefs producing elegant Italian cuisine from the local seafood and produce.

Clubhouse upgrade

The YCCS transformed its clubhouse over three winters, without disruption to its racing program, from 2001. American architect Peter Marino, while retaining the terrace with its swimming pool and distinctive turret, gave the building a totally new profile and layout, creating 24 new guest suites, a fitness centre, new restaurant and bar and rooms, including the Blue Room where works from the Aga Khan’s extensive art collection are displayed.

Sitting on the panoramic dining room poolside terrace in the evening, knife, fork and spoon at the ready and a glass of crisp, white Sardinian wine at hand, looking out at the lights marking the narrow entrance to the port, you could appreciate Marino’s concept: ‘I wanted to recreate the idea of a transatlantic liner leaving the headland and setting out into the open sea’.

The clubhouse is functional as well as beautiful and set up to run yacht racing efficiently. It has around 450 members, including big names from business as well as international sailing, is twinned with the Yacht Club de Monaco and the New York Yacht Club, but is still warmly welcoming to regatta visitors.

Free Heineken on tap and wines were dispensed on the Piazza Azzurra outside the clubhouse to thirsty crews after each race.

Among other popular watering holes nearby is the Clipper Bar, beneath a restaurant under the same ownership and with an outdoor panini cafe. It's a good place to be if you're looking for a boat captain or just people watching. Visitors included yacht designers like Jim Pugh, German Frers, Ed Dubois; or ‘international’ sailor friends from Downunder; Australians, Mick Harvey, Chris Nicholson, Juggy Clougher, Spike Doreian, Will McCarthy; Kiwis Rick and Tom Dodson, Erle Williams, Robbie Naismith. Sit in the Clipper Bar and sooner or later they will drift by.

The bar staff are also the floor show with typical Italian volatility; a non-stop flow of loud and friendly jokes with the customers and each other, while dispensing drinks and nibbles at lighting speed.
The racing

The Rolex Maxi Cup sadly lost one of its top competitors and much of its punch with the dismasting of Bob Oatley’s canting-keeled R/P 98 Wild Oats XI three minutes after the start of race two. Wild Oats XI was out of the regatta, nullifying continuation of the absorbing duel with near sister yacht from Sydney, Neville Crichton’s Alfa Romeo, which began with Wild Oats XI’s record, line honours, handicap win treble in the 2005 Rolex Sydney-Hobart race.

The honours swung Alfa Romeo’s way with a win in the 2006 Maxi Yacht Cup, but there had been little between the yachts in previous Mediterranean encounters this year.

Oatley, who is 79, was on board and shaken by the dismasting which also dumped four crewmen, who were sitting on the windward rail, overboard as the fully-canted keel rolled Wild Oats XI into windward when the mast fractured into three pieces and the rig fell to leeward.

A few days later, he said Southern Spars would deliver a new mast in time for the boat to race in this year’s Rolex Sydney-Hobart with the aim of a third consecutive line honours victory.

Bob Oatley and his wife Val for some years have spent the Australian winters in Porto Cervo. They own a house there and have made many friends. Besides being a great supporter of the sport in Australia, Oatley has also been recognised as a contributor to the success of the YCCS.

At the traditional members’ dinner in August – one of the series of celebrations marking the anniversary – Oatley was among five members awarded its golden burgee, the highest award a member of the YCCS can receive. It has been awarded to the original founders of the club and to ‘those members who have contributed most to its success in the field of competition around the world’.

Although windward-leewards were listed in the sailing instructions as an option, all the courses of the Maxi Rolex Cup, which also included mini maxis, Wally Class and cruising divisions, sometimes after short upwind legs from the start, were set around the islands and rocks of the Maddalena archipelago, with loops north across the Straits of Bonifaccio to islets off Corsica and to the Mortoriotto islets south of Porto Cervo.

The courses, passing ancient lighthouses and fortresses on the ragged rocky headlands and islands, were spectacular but tricky.

The passage between the Maddalenas and the mainland, which has become known to the crews as ‘Bomb Alley’, is only about as wide as Sydney Harbour. It presented challenges and opportunities with constant wind shifts and in three of the five races sailed calms in transition zones between a light sea breeze from the south-east and north-west gradient breezes.

That situation favoured the two mini maxis Loki on a far-ranging global campaign and the Reichel/Pugh 76 Titan XII (Tom Hill, US), which had been elevated to the maxi class to boost its slender numbers to seven, with the signed agreement of all the maxi owners, which they later came to regret.

Loki went into the fifth and last race of the regatta tied on points with Morning Glory although Morning Glory, with two wins to Loki’s one, still topped the scoreboard. Reasoning that in the light wind of the last race that Loki had a good chance of winning, Morning Glory decided to push Loki back so that her result would be her one-race discard and the scoreboard situation would stand.

Over four hours, Morning Glory's crew furled headsails and set the canting keel in negative mode to slow down and cut off air flow to Loki and manoeuvred to push her about 10 miles off course. Alfa Romeo won the race on corrected time from Rambler and Titan XII while Loki placed fifth and Morning Glory sixth.

So Morning Glory won the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup on a placings countback from Loki with another two points to Titan XII. Sydneysider Neville Crichton’s Alfa Romeo was another two points behind, ahead of Rambler on a countback.

She was well-sailed by a crew that included many New Zealand America’s Cup sailors, with Plattner steering. Designer Jim Pugh was also on board.

Loki, which was going on to the Caribbean on the ARC Rally for cruising yachts and regattas there before the Newport-Bermuda race next year, sailed a consistent regatta with a well-settled crew.

While Alfa Romeo was unchallenged for line honours after Wild Oats’ dismasting, the regatta’s wind patterns hampered her handicap chances. Crichton said: ‘For us to win on handicap we don’t need to park up anywhere and we parked up in three races. In each of those three races we had our time on the fleet before we parked up, so I am pretty confident we can sail the boat to the handicap we have got providing we don’t stop around the track.’

Crichton has placed Alfa Romeo on the market and is going to build an IRC Reichel/Pugh 69ft mini-maxi for launching in April. If the maxi does not sell, he will campaign both boats, possibly in Australia with the 69-footer, next season.

Division winners

The Wally yachts, ranging in size at this regatta from 65ft to 122ft, the mini-maxi and cruising divisions attracting some of the world’s best sailors, from the America’s Cup and the Olym
The Wally class winner was Jean Charles Decaux’s 10-year-old Wally 80 J One
Gunther Herz’s Reichel/Pugh 78 Allsmoke won the IRC division of the mini-maxi class and Carlo Puri Negri’s Farr 70 Atlanta II the ORC division.

American John Williams’ recreation of the America’s Cup winning J-classer Ranger, skippered by Auckland America’s Cup and round-the-world race sailor Erle Williams, won the cruising division by four points from Ronald De Waal’s restored original J-classer Velsheda, after a great battle in every race.

Twelve Metres

The 12s have been gathering in the Med for some time and this year had a circuit to mark the 100th anniversary of the International Measurement Rule, which included regattas in Valencia, Porto Cervo, the world championship at Cannes at the end of September and St Tropez in October.

Ten boats contested the Twelve Metre series, split into Grand Prix (launched 198 onwards), Modern (1968-83) and Classic (1907-68). Kookaburra II, now owned by Prada boss Patrizio Bertelli’s Luna Rossa America’s Cup syndicate, won by a point from Wright on Wight, which as KZ3 was one of the first boats built by the New Zealanders for the America’s Cup in Fremantle, 1987, and is now owned by Roger Wright of Brazil.

The New Zealand challenger of that year Kiwi Magic, now owned by Bill Koch who won the America’s Cup in 1992 with America Cubed, was third, another point behind.
Kookaburra II’s skipper Phillip Presti said that Luna Rossa decided to run a Twelve Metre program to maintain some continuity after the America's Cup. Presti said of the Twelve Metre racing after the most recent America's Cup tussles: “The spirit of the class I wouldn't say it's casual ‘ but for gentlemen!”

Freedom, now owned by Clayton Deutsch (US), won the modern division by a point from Challenge 12, the conventional boat designed by Ben Lexcen as a benchmark for the 1983 America’s Cup winner Australia II. She is now owned by Edition Lariviere (France). Courageous (James B. Gubelmann, US) was third.

Ikra (Yves-Haire Morault, France) won the Classic Division, with the finishing order the same in each race, from Trivia (Wilfried Beeck, Germany), Vanity V (Patrick Howaldt, Denmark) and Zinita (Leo Aarens/Konrad Meyer, Denmark), effectively in a reversed order of age with Ikra being built in 1964 and Zinita in 1927.

Veteran Boat Rally

Emeraude (Vittorio Cavazzana, Italy) won the Classic division of the Veteran Boat Rally; Marjatta (Giovanni Broggi, Italy) the Vintage Bermudian division and Mariette (Tro
Mariette, a 125ft Herreshoff schooner launched in 1915, carries 780sq m of sail. Skipper Charlie Wroe describes the process of tacking:

The J classers’ battle

Danish Yachts built Ranger in steel in 2003. She came out overweight and with stern-down trim. John Williams, advised by Erle who had known him for nearly 15 years from the time he had the superyacht Atlanta built at Alloy Yachts in Auckland, carried out a major refit of Ranger at Pendennis Shipyards in England two years ago in consultation with the Gerry Dykstra design office.

‘We dropped the weight out of the ends through a bit of surgery on the boat to stop her pitching and get her on trim and put more weight in the keel to give her the stability she was lacking,’ said Erle. ‘She is sailing a lot better for it although she needs a breeze to sail well. She is nearly 25 tonnes heavier than Velsheda.

‘We have a lot more sail area, new sails and being on trim has changed the boat a lot. She is not pitching and yawing; she’s a different boat.’

The Ranger campaign is serious with a month of training, testing the modifications, the new sails and systems before the Superyacht regatta in Palma Majorca.

She sails with a crew of up to 35 with the regulars, including many Kiwis and Americans. ‘We mix the guests in with the crew and it’s a great program,’ says Erle. ‘We try to sail well and keep safe, which is John’s motto.’

The rivalry with Velsheda, the renovation of the Charles Nicholson design built in 1933 now owned by Ronald de Waal of the Netherlands, has been intense. New Zealander Tom Dodson sails as tactician on Velsheda and his brother Richard was on Ranger. ‘We try to keep it as friendly as we can but both teams definitely want to win, which is healthy,’ says Erle Williams.

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