A fisherman sits silently watching as Tiketitan, the first of the Rolex Maxi Yacht Cup fleet, sweeps by. He stirs, adjusts his position, and goes back to his fishing – much as his father and grandfather did before him. Above, a Mercedes stops on the Capo d’Orsa, and an elegantly dressed couple step out – holidaying, perhaps from some northern industrial hub, on this perfect Mediterranean coast. Under the baking sun, they forsake for a moment the air conditioning, to watch in silence as Magic Carpet approaches. A rustle of movement, light shudder as a headsail is eased, and with a single word she rolls into a tack. Then comes Larry Ellison’s ILC Maxi Sayonara, followed by two Whitbread skippers, Paul Cayard aboard Boomerang, and Knut Frostad on Nariida. And the khakis, golden oranges, greys and blacks of exotic fibres, keep sliding effortlessly past the sun blasted green shrub, and sand fractured rock.
The spectator fleet is no less glamorous – the gleaming, spherical glass windows of Larry Ellison’s superyacht Katana dazzle as she churns by, engines barely ticking over, a froth of azure blue wake in her trail. She is surrounded by a flock of camera boats and RIBS. Then there is Gianni Agnelli’s motor yacht F100, from which he watched the early part of the racing. High technology and high art are followed by the Classic’s from the Cruising Division, clouds of towering white cloth amidst the sparkling blue water. Traditional elegance from the age of sail. A much louder groan this time and the headsail aboard Adela is eased, a rattle as she comes into the wind, and finally a huge bang as the fully battened mainsail flops onto the new tack.
Technology, it seems, has reached all parts of this fleet. And, short-tacking past the Isola Santo Stefano in eight knots of breeze, the crews of these huge boats need all the help they can get from electric winches and fly-by-wire sail trimming. The Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup is a contrast filled, parade stopping sight, as it wends its way over a twenty five mile course, through the bays and islands of the Costa Smeralda
It all looked like it would be so different last night. With the wind whistling round the terracotta tiles and white-washed walls of this pretty Mediterranean port, Knut Frostad might have got a chance to show us that he could gybe his 105 foot, 68 tonne Wally Yacht, with fifteen of his friends. But by the morning, the storm had broken and passed on, leaving owners and crews in the glowering heat, under an oppressive grey sky. The Rolex flags barely rustled, and the ocean settled into an oily calm. But like yesterday, the clouds broke up, the breeze filled in, and after a short postponement, the fleet set off on a new test of their skills.
Which, for the IMS Division, was very different from yesterday’s windward-leeward, short course racing. The first problem for many in the fleet, was that the postponement was too short – when the ten minute fired, there was barely a mainsail raised. And several yachts in the Cruising Division were still struggling back to the line as the others departed. But ten minutes later, the ILC Maxi’s were ready and champing at the bit – Sagamore finding herself closed out at the committee boat and having to tack round, after an aggressive luff from Alexia.
But it wasn’t enough to stop Boomerang rolling into the gap and over Alexia’s air, on a perfectly judged approach. But Boomerang had only grabbed second, because to leeward, half way down the line, Chris Dickson and Whitbread winning navigator Mark Rudiger had judged the reaching angle to Capo Ferro better than all of them. They popped out ahead as the ILC fleet came together.
The race wasn’t completely over, the wind dropped light as the fleet approached the turning mark, Isola Barettinelli di Fuori. Sagamore came through Alexia and Boomerang, who slipped to last. But Sayonara was leading the whole fleet as they turned downwind for home. With the gradient north-westerly