ARCA SGR ghosts around Li Galli, the southernmost turning mark of the course. Photo: Rolex / Studio Borlenghi
IMA Maxi Europeans kicks off with light intriguing Regata dei Tre Golfi
A strong turn-out of 25 maxi yachts competed in the Regata dei Tre Golfi, the 67th edition of Italy's second oldest offshore race which set sail on Saturday 14 May. This year it was also the opening event and offshore part of the International Maxi Association's new Maxi European Championship which is now followed for the remainder of this week by the Maxi Yacht Sorrento Trophy.
Supported by Rolex as Official Timepiece, the IMA Maxi European Championship is part of Tre Golfi Sailing Week, organised by the Circolo Remo e Vela Italia (CRVI) under the patronage of the Italian Sailing Federation (FIV) and in cooperation with Yacht Club Italiano, Reale Yacht Club Canottieri Savoia and the IMA.
The Regata dei Tre Golfi is typically a light race but this year's was especially so. Fortunately the 155 mile course is an intriguing, complex one, with numerous twists and turns: setting off from Naples' Porticciolo di Santa Lucia, home to the CRVI's clubhouse at 1900 on Saturday, the maxi fleet headed north through the bays of Naples, Salerno and Gaeta to the northerly turning mark of Ponza. They then returned south to the Li Galli rocks, the turning mark off the Amalfi coast, and on, round the south of Capri to the finish off Marina Grande.
The two MOD70 trimarans Giovanni Soldini's Maserati and Riccardo Pavoncelli's Mana are among the fastest offshore race boats in the world. Permitted to enter the Regata dei Tre Golfi for the first time, they were the scratch boats and started 30 minutes prior to the maxis. But even they struggled in the light and in a scenario that would never normally happen, Furio Benussi's 100ft long scratch monohull ARCA SGR managed to beat Maserati's elapsed time by 13 minutes, with Peter Dubens' former Maxi 72 North Star (ex Rán 2) only taking 13 minutes longer than the Italian trimaran.
ARCA SGR's race was hampered when the massive hydraulic ram for her canting keel broke. Her crew was able to lock it centrally and they sailed like this for the race's final 20 miles. According to Benussi they were scheduled to replace the ram in July, so this work will come forward, hopefully in time for the next event in the IMA's Mediterranean Maxi Offshore Challenge, the 151 Miglia – Trophee Cetilar starting on 2 June. "It was light wind, but we sailed really well. We were even in front of the trimarans until Capri. The boat is going really well in light winds despite using an old mainsail and our old jib from last year... The race is really nice for the maxis. Next year we will come for the whole thing," Benussi said.
The two former Maxi 72s, Sir Peter Ogden's Judel/Vrolijk 77 Jethou and Peter Dubens 72ft North Star enjoyed their own intense race with the lead frequently changing between them, mostly to the benefit of the lower rated North Star which ultimately won the Maxi division overall by 1 hour 45 minutes under IRC - ironic outcome given that they had only entered the Regata dei Tre Golfi at the last minute.
"It really came down to a couple of key points," North Star's tactician, former Olympic 470 medallist, Nick Rogers explained their victory. "[Navigator] Wouter Verbraak did a stellar job of understanding the weather forecast and where we were going and we had a moment where we flew a Code Zero which was critical."
A highlight for Rogers was when early on, Jethou, on which America's Cup legend Brad Butterworth is calling tactics, landed a leebow tack on them with metre accuracy. "That completely sunk me – but I was almost quite flattered!" Getting their Code Zero to really work en route to Ponza in 3-4 knot winds enabled North Star to recover two kilometres from her rival. Returning from Ponza North Star stayed closer to the land and a couple of gybes later was able to roll Jethou, but then shed their advantage when they got stuck off Capri. Significantly they then stayed in breeze to the finish, while boats astern did not. Thanks to this North Star and Jethou ended up first and third overall under IRC respectively. "Peter [Dubens] is very keen to do it again next year," recounted Rogers. "It is like doing a St Tropez race, but a lot longer!"
Separating the two former Maxi 72s on the podium was the immaculate 1995 vintage IMS maxi Capricorno campaigned by Alessandro del Bono and numerous Italian sailing legends many of whom were once part of the Capricorno 1995 Admiral's Cup winning team led by Alessandro's father Rinaldo. Capricorno won Class 2 from Terry Hui's usually all-conquering Wally 77 Lyra by a significant three hours and 12 minutes under IRC.
"It was a tough race with many different wind conditions and we were unhappy approaching Ischia because the fleet caught us up," recounted del Bono. "Then after Ponza in the morning the wind returned and we took advantage of that." Had the wind not disappeared as evening fell while they approached the finish line they would certainly have won the Maxi class overall.
Also sailing a spectacular race was IMA President Benoît de Froidmont's Wally 60 Wallyño, which finished fourth overall, winning Class 3 also by more than three hours under IRC from Yacht Club Gaeta President Vincenzo Addessi's Mylius 18E35 Fra' Diavolo.
"It was my first Regata dei Tre Golfi and it was as I expected – beautiful, but complicated too," said de Froidmont. "From a tactical point of view the race was quite difficult." Even the tactical skills of tactician Cédric Pouligny was unable to prevent Wallyño losing out at the finish, when she was becalmed for three hours. "Wallyño has always been good in the light and we have improved that," continued de Froidmont. "The wind shut down at Ponza, Li Galli and also behind Capri, and then the others came back into us...but that is what made the race interesting."
When Wallyño won the inaugural IMA Mediterranean Maxi Inshore Challenge in 2019, she had beaten Jean-Pierre Barjon's Swan 601 Lorina 1895 in the last race of the last event of the series. For this season Barjon has a new boat, Spirit of Lorina, the Botin Partners 65 former High Spirits, (sistership to Caro) that had previously sailed just one race – the 2016 Rolex Giraglia. Barjon's aim for his newer, more racing-orientated yacht is to remain on the IMA maxi circuit but compete in more offshore races. However it is early days – they only took delivery of her two weeks ago.
Spirit of Lorina finished half way up the fleet but the light conditions were perfect for her first outing: "We started learning how to handle the boat and check everything was working well," said boat captain Benjamin Enon. "We were fighting with Lyra, Ryokan 2, etc. We were happy to be up there because we know the boat is not made for light air."
The Regata dei Tre Golfi was the third event in the IMA's Mediterranean Maxi Inshore Challenge, which began with the Rolex Middle Sea race last autumn and finishes with the Palermo-Montecarlo in August.
The IMA Maxi European Championship now continues this week from Tuesday 17th to Friday 20th May with the Maxi Yacht Sorrento Trophy. According to PRO Alfredo Ricci, this will comprise one day of windward-leewards and otherwise coastal courses in the Bay of Naples and, if conditions allow, around Capri.