Peter Dubens with his winning North Star crew - 2023 IMA European Champions. Photo: IMA / Studio Borlenghi
A quarter point secures North Star IMA Maxi Europeans victory
After seeing victory slip through his fingers in 2022 when his Maxi 72 North Star was becalmed on the final run into the finish of the last race, today owner Peter Dubens, tactician Nick Rogers and the North Star crew were vindicated: Having started the last day of racing at the International Maxi Association's European Championship second overall, their performance today squeezed George Sakellaris' Proteus from the top spot to win the regatta by a mere quarter point after discarding their worst result.
Held out of Sorrento, Italy, the IMA Maxi European Championship was organised by the Circolo del Remo e della Vela Italia (CRVI) in conjunction with the IMA, the body officially tasked by World Sailing to administer and develop maxi yacht racing internationally. It was supported by Rolex as Official Timepiece and Loro Piana.
With its combination of offshore, coastal and windward-leeward races, the IMA Maxi Europeans provides a complete test for competitors thus making it one of the hardest titles to win in the maxi yachting calendar. North Star got off to the best possible start claiming last weekend's Regata dei Tre Golfi offshore race. After a disappointing day for all of the former Maxi 72s on Monday when conditions favoured the smaller boats, North Star followed this with a consistent series, her worst result being a fourth.
"It was the English weather – I loved it!" Dubens quipped as to the reason for his team's biggest victory in 14 years of campaigning. While rain has been a dominant feature of the weather all week, the maxi fleet was at last granted a reprieve from it today.
While Sir Peter Ogden's 77ft Jethou was the star performer today, the lower rated North Star had been hanging on to her larger rival's coattails. Dubens continued: "Today was very tense. We had to put a boat between us and Proteus and it wasn't easy, especially when we had to do a penalty. We were lucky to get out of that."
All was going well until the final mark rounding off Punta Campanella, explained tactician Nick Rogers: "There was a big lift on port into it and an easy layline, but then the wind disappeared and suddenly we weren't laying and we had low boat speed and we had to tack. We couldn't get behind My Song and suddenly Vesper did what she had to do and we ended up doing a penalty turn just after the mark. But all the crew and Peter were mega-focussed and we got really good lanes of pressure into the finish."
As to the IMA Maxi Europeans itself, Dubens added: "This is a fabulous event - I really love it, sailing around Capri and Sorrento." His yacht was originally Niklas Zennström's supremely successful double Rolex Fastnet Race winner Rán II, since been converted to 'push button' permitting her to race inshore this week with a crew of just 13. At this afternoon's prizegiving Dubens was not only awarded the IMA Maxi European Championship trophy but also the trophy for the best-placed IMA member.
After today's final coastal - a course set by PRO Stuart Childerley, zigzagging around the southern Bay of Naples, between Capri and Punta Campanella - the former Maxi 72s claimed the five top spots overall in the Championship: Dario Ferrari's Cannonball was third while Jim Swartz's Vesper beat Sir Peter Ogden's Jethou, also by a quarter point after Vesper didn't sail on Tuesday and Jethou was disqualified from a race yesterday.
Following the Maxi 72s, in sixth place overall was Riccardo de Michele's Vallicelli 78 H20 ahead of Pier Luigi Loro Piana's ClubSwan 80 My Song and IMA President Benoît de Froidmont's Wally 60 Wallyño, which put in a superb performance today finishing fifth overall.
H20 finished less than two points from fifth in the overall championship results: "Today the wind was lighter than the previous days and we suffered because H20 doesn't enjoy winds lighter than 10-11 knots," explained de Michele, whose daughter Cecilia sailed onboard all week. "I must say that the whole week was very good for us, despite the rain - but this is part of the game. I found the logistics to be excellent, the hospitality top - for sure we'll come back."
Loro Piana and his My Song crew are still finding their feet with their radical and still relatively new canting keeler. According to tactician Ken Read since Monday they have gained a knot of boat speed upwind. "The week has been very exciting," said Loro Piana. "We had three days of heavy rain, but also good wind so we could work on the boat and try out many ideas. Little by little we are learning how to manage it. This part of the Sorrento coast is so beautiful with Capri, Punta Campanella, Li Galli, etc - there are so many things to discover, which is a huge reason to come here and race."
Outside of the Maxi 72s, in sixth in today's race and finishing miles ahead of the next boat, was Belgian Jean-Philippe Blanpain's Vismara-Mills 62 Leaps and Bounds 2."It has been very nice, having offshore, inshore and windward-leeward races," said Blanpain. "Today we had nothing to lose against the rest. It was all about starting well." Tactician onboard was Andrea Casale, who was pleased that their plan to start to windward of the fleet paid off and they had even been able to bounce away the all-powerful Maxi72 Cannonball.
Other teams have been treating this event as a means of mixing some serious racing with visiting this exotic corner of Italy and soaking up its extensive apres-sail. Winning the prize for the furthest travelled was Craig Clifford and his crew on the Marten 72 Aragon who herald from Tasmania and the UK. "We had a great week. It was very enjoyable with good comradery. The weather was a challenge but we finished on a great day," said Clifford who has raced considerably down under including his own Farr 40. "The crew got on very well together and we hope to keep the team together and do other regattas around the world."
Of this week's IMA Maxi European Championship, IMA Secretary General Andrew McIrvine commented: "Despite the rain, the weather conditions have permitted some exceptional racing this week and exceedingly tight racing. A worthy winner has been produced in Peter Dubens and North Star – and what a final result! I would like to thank the CRVI as well as our partners Rolex and Loro Piana for their help with laying on such a superb second edition of our Maxi European Championship."
The IMA's Mediterranean Maxi Offshore Challenge continues on 1 June with the 151 Miglia-Trofeo Cetilar offshore race from Livorno to Punta Ala, via the Giraglia Rock.