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Action-packed 24 hours for maxis in Regata dei Tre Golfi

by James Boyd / International Maxi Association 18 May 20:02 BST 17-18 May 2024

Light weather yacht racing can easily be frustrating or boring. But the 69th edition of the Circolo del Remo e della Vela Italia's Regata dei Tre Golfi, supported by Rolex as Official Timepiece and the offshore race of this year's International Maxi Association Maxi European Championship, was definitely not.

With a 25-boat fleet boosted this year by three Wallycentos and the 93ft Bullitt, the race had five different leaders, massive reshuffles as crews had to deal with frequent transitions.

As an exhausted Ken Read, tactician on Karel Komárek's V commented: "Usually when a race has so many potholes in it, the fleet gets crazy spread out, but this one just kept condensing. You were making decisions every minute of a 24 hour race. It was exceptionally hard, but exceptionally gratifying."

With high pressure and light winds on the race track, forecasts ended up being torn up. As Simon Fisher, navigator on Chris Flowers' Wallycento Galateia, explained: "They were pretty much useless! When you thought you were able to apply some logic, the wind would do something different. It was a race about managing the transitions." Of these there were many.

At the start off Naples' Porticciolo di Santa Lucia yesterday at 1635, V had been called OCS and was forced to return. Exiting the Gulf of Naples, winner of the last two Regata dei Tre Golfi, Peter Dubens' North Star hooked a lobster pot, plummeting them down the leaderboard. At this point Galateia and Peter Harrison's Jolt (ex-Cannonball) were leading the 100s and former Maxi 72s.

En route to Ponza, the fleet saw a significant wind shift but were ahead of their routing. The frontrunners rounded the northwesterly turning mark around midnight, with V and Furio Benussi's line honours favourite ARCA SGR closing on Galateia, with Jolt 30 minutes behind. ESE back towards Capri was fast until they approached Ischia at 0400 when the wind shut down, causing major compression in the fleet. Galateia's hard-earned lead evaporated, as Fisher put it: "As lead boat we were the canary in the coal mine..."

In a race of decisive moments, Ischia was most decisive. Here Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones' Magic Carpet Cubed and Andrea Recordati's Bullitt found breeze by edging south as did the 72s astern, at this point led by Jolt and Hap Fauth's Bella Mente. The bigger boats all returned north to pass north of Capri, but ended up parked. Seeing this ahead of them, Sir Peter Ogden's Jethou and North Star chose the route south of Capri. This paid handsomely, moving them into the lead.

As the wind died along the Amalfi coast, the frontrunners headed offshore and ARCA SGR was first to round the southerly turning mark of the Li Galli islands, at around 0930 ahead of Magic Carpet Cubed. At this point the lead trio had broken away but en route to the Naples finish line, in another dice roll, the skies darkened and suddenly they were hit by a rain squall complete with 20+ knot gusts causing further compression. At the finish, ARCA SGR was overlapped with V but a nose ahead. Her elapsed time of 19 hours 55 minutes 39 seconds was outside of the 15 hours 30 minutes 1 second record, set last year by Jethou.

Bullitt was third finisher, with Magic Carpet Cubed fourth having erred too close to the Sorrento peninsula. Remarkably, the top four finished within just 2 minutes 21 seconds.

"It was one of the best finishes in my life!" said Benussi of ARCA SGR's narrow line honours victory. "V passed us three miles from the finish line but then we caught the last pressure - 25 knots - and we passed them again 200-300m from the line..."

Under IRC Bullitt, last year's Rolex Middle Sea Race outright winner, comfortably won her division ahead of V. "It was a full-on race from start to finish. In the end we just tried to be patient in the corners and get the opportunities that each corner gave us to take," commented Bullitt's tactician, Volvo Ocean Race winner Joca Signorini. This was a race where being a 93 footer up against four 100s paid. Crossing the Gulf of Naples, Bullitt had suddenly seen 23 knots in a rain squall.

Galateia, the early leader, was fifth home. "We led for half the race....just the wrong half," quipped Riccardo Pavoncelli, standing in for co-owner Chris Flowers. Tactician Kelvin Harrap added: "It was a fun race, with a lot going on. Everyone had their turn and everyone had their turn at looking really bad!"

Less than 18 minutes behind ARCA SGR, North Star was first home among the four ex-Maxi 72s, winning her maxi class sub-division. "It was really good fun," commented tactician, Nick Rogers. "We felt we were always clinging on, just enough always hanging on." A key moment came off Ischia when they had hoisted their new Code 0, propelling them around the south of Capri. Rogers paid tribute to Dutch navigator Wouter Verbraak, who, at this point went up the rig three times to wind spot. They too had a lively Gulf of Naples crossing, experiencing 26 knots in a rain squall.

Sir Peter Ogden's Jethou was second home ahead of Jolt and Bella Mente. "It was back to first principles of sailing the fastest course to the mark," commented Jethou's navigator Campbell Field. Of their choice to leave Capri to port he added: "We could see what was happening with the Wallycentos ahead of us [their park-up]. It was nice to have a white stick out ahead of you, showing you what was happening. Going outside of Capri really paid. Ian [Walker - tactician] pushed hard for it. He said 'we won't get back to them by following....' We ended up miles ahead of them..."

After a strong start it was a disappointing race for Hap Fauth's Bella Mente, her crew including Terry Hutchinson, skipper of Fauth's American Magic America's Cup challenger. "It is a hard race!" he said. "We had a great race with Jolt. We felt pretty good to choose the north side of Capri. We were probably 2.5-three miles ahead of Jethou and four miles ahead of North Star. We could see it going light for the big boats ahead, but by that time it was too late for us to go around the outside."

At present the winner of the maxi class at the Regata dei Tre Golfi looks set to be one of the smaller boats.

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