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Light wind weapon Black Jack scores Palermo-Montecarlo line honours

by James Boyd / International Maxi Association 25 Aug 21:52 BST 22-25 August 2023

Given the light, patchy forecast, the Palermo-Montecarlo, which set sail on Tuesday 22 August, yet again proved itself to be highly tactical demanding patience and utmost concentration from competitors.

With a 437 mile long course taking the fleet from Sicily to Montecarlo via a gate off Porto Cervo, the race was organised by the Circolo della Vela Sicilia (CVS) and Yacht Club de Monaco in partnership with Yacht Club Costa Smeralda (YCCS) under the patronage of Federazione Italiana Vela and Unione Vela Altura Italiana. It was also the last of seven events in the International Maxi Association's 2022-23 Mediterranean Maxi Offshore Challenge. Among 44 competitors, four were maxis.

While the fleet enjoyed light steady wind on the first afternoon, generally there was little synoptic breeze requiring them to make the most of the thermal land and sea effects. The race became a game of snakes and ladders. On the first afternoon Peter Harburg's 100ft maxi Black Jack powering away making 11 knots. The multinational crew, including multiple America's Cup winner Brad Butterworth and Volvo Ocean Race winner Joca Signorini, reached the Porto Cervo gate in 26 hours 3 minutes 50 seconds and continued up La Maddalena archipelago and the Strait of Bonifacio but got stuck off southern Corsica on the second evening. Black Jack was 6 hours 25 minutes ahead of Claudio Demartis's Shockwave Prosecco DOC on the water at the Porto Cervo gate (and more than four hours ahead under IRC corrected time) but the park-up allowed her 90ft rival to recover ground.

"It was pretty flukey and we wasted some time getting back to shore to find the land breeze at night," recounted Black Jack skipper Mark Bradford. "We linked that up pretty nicely, but there was a lot of downtime in those manoeuvres, going 90 degrees to the course." After hugging the Corsican coast, the Aussie maxi finally bid it farewell on Thursday morning and had a good run to the finish reaching Montecarlo on Thursday evening at 19:53:06. Given the conditions, her elapsed time of 55 hours three minutes six seconds, was surprisingly close to the race record of 47 hours, 46 minutes and 48 seconds which Black Jack managed in 2015 when she was Igor Simcic's Esimit Europa 2.

Given that the race's average wind speed was only 3-4 knots Bradford felt they, and especially Black Jack, had done well. "She is so juiced up in light air - in 4 knots we can do 11. She is made for light air and races like this. We were probably ahead of the record when we got to gate, but we lost it all off the southern Corsica."

Of the race generally Bradford continued: "It was about getting through the nights without stopping. We managed to do that pretty nicely." Compared to earlier races in the Med this season when the faster boats were typically sailing into less pressure, for this race conditions were more even, possibly even favouring the leaders. Anticipating a light race, Black Jack had kept her 18 crew, but had gone light, taking the smallest sail wardrobe: her 'turbo' set-up of mainsail, J1 and masthead Code 0, plus staysails. According to Bradford, the wind direction, mainly due to the apparent wind, was never aft of the beam.

Black Jack's often forgotten secret weapon is her tungsten keel bulb (grandfathered due to her age). Tungsten has 171% the density of lead, resulting in a lower drag bulb for the same weight.

Shockwave 3 Prosecco DOC's elapsed time was 71 hours 46 hours and 3 minutes, correcting out to more than a 13 hours behind her bigger rival under IRC, however the Trieste-based 90 footer had managed to wriggle free in the park-up that beset those chasing her into the finish.

On Thursday evening, seeing Shockwave 3 Prosecco DOC becalmed ahead of them, I Love Poland and the Cookson 50 Kula 3 had split from the Corsican coast. In the early hours, the 90 footer at last got going and at one point this morning was 20 miles closer to the finish. However 10 miles short of the line Shockwave 3 Prosecco DOC parked up enabling I Love Poland and Kuka 3 to close to within two miles of her.

In the last moments, I Love Poland chose a westerly route into the line, as Kuka 3 split east, where she found better breeze finishing just over eight minutes ahead.

I Love Poland skipper Grzegorz Baranowski said: "On the one hand it is a beautiful race sailing around Sardinia, Porto Cervo and La Maddalena and Corsica are beautiful. On the other hand for our quite heavy boat designed for 20+ knots, if you park a few times and there is a small boat sailing around you, it is hard. It is not that easy to accept that smaller carbon boats like the Cookson 50 are quicker than us in these conditions, but that is part of the game. We are a training team - our young guys have to learn and accept this kind of thing."

Of the finish Baranowski said: "We were 1.5 miles behind Shockwave when they caught breeze and we parked for another hour. We split completely [with Kuka]. They chose the right. We chose the left and stayed close to the shore because we thought there was more wind inside. But the wind came from the other place and we finished one mile behind them. It was really close. They got wind which we never got."

At the time of writing, Kuka 3 was leading the Palermo-Montecarlo overall under IRC but was thought unlikely to stay in this position with the smaller boats looking set to finish with breeze.

The 18th Palermo-Montecarlo can be followed on the yb tracker.

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