Blue skies, warm sun, and the sparkling emerald waters of the Costa Smeralda greeted the fleet of sailing superyachts on the first day of the 2015 Loro Piana Caribbean Superyacht Regatta.
The event, organised by Boat International Media and the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda, has grown to become a major fixture on the big boat racing circuit, and the huge variety of yachts the regatta attracts makes for exciting racing on the water and a legendary social scene ashore.
This year, the entry list is as diverse as ever, with yachts ranging from the 24 metre Oyster 825 Maegan – racing for the first time – and the Spirit Yachts modern classic Gaia, to the giants that include the 50 metre Fitzroy-built Ohana and the 55 metre Vitters ketch Marie. Divided into three classes and using the all-new ORCsy rating rule introduced with great success at the Loro Piana Caribbean Superyacht Regatta back in March, old rivalries look set to be rekindled while new challengers look to muscle in on the glory.
Baltic Yachts' WinWin. Image Credit: Carlo Borlenghi
Among them are the 33 metre Baltic Yachts-built WinWin, the 45 metre Perini Navi Clan VIII, a clutch of Southern Winds and the 46 metre Ganesha, who is hoping to repeat her success at the Dubois Cup which concluded just days before the Loro Piana got underway.
Early fears of a windless day were allayed when the race committee reported 5 to 6 knots of breeze in their chosen starting area by the island of Bresci, and with a custom course that would send the fleet up and back through ‘bomb alley’ – the passage between the mainland and the island of La Maddelena – the day was set for a real tactical battle in challenging conditions.
“There were two winds fighting each other with an inversion zone too,” explains Sime Fantela, a Croatian Olympic sailor in the 470 class who is calling tactics on one of the smallest yachts in the fleet, the 24 metre Nahita. “There were plenty of opportunities to win or lose the race. It was definitely challenging!”
Clan VIII got the racing underway with the five yachts in Class A leading the way using the time-on-time format. With starts separated by two-minute intervals, the results would come down to corrected times after the racing had concluded – but that didn’t stop both Ganesha and the Wally 148 Saudade pressing hard, quickly stretching their legs into clean air.
Ganesha, the winner of Class A. Image Credit: Carlo Borlenghi
For the more race-orientated yachts in Class B – WinWin, Mr Pier-Luigi Loro Piana’s yacht My Song and the Vitters yacht Inoui – today’s race was set on a simple pursuit format with the slowest rated yacht starting first and the result decided on the water. The Class C yachts began in pursuit format but with a time-on-distance scoring system.
First of the Class B and C yachts to start was Maegan, who showed an impressive turn of speed to lead the pack for most of the race until a dying breeze near the finish line on a course which was shortened put paid to her virgin victory.
The real story was developing in Class B, however. My Song had taken an early advantage and with some slick crew work had managed to hold her speed under kite in the early stages to overhaul all three of the Southern Wind yachts ahead of her. A quick drop and a smooth switch to a headsail meant My Song raced through the transition zone and into new breeze. From then, and with Inoui struggling in the light conditions, it was all about whether WinWin would be able to close the gap before the finish.
“We played the first transition zone perfectly,” enthuses WinWin’s captain, Clive Walker. “We found a nice passing lane to pass much of the fleet without any issues with the 40-metre exclusion zone rule.”
Winner of Class B, My Song. Image Credit: Carlo Borlenghi
The new breeze meant conditions at the top mark – southeast of Isola Spargi at the top of bomb alley – had picked up, with 12 to 15 knots and flat water giving the entire fleet the chance to power up. With spinnakers hoisted, there was still all to play for with several yachts enjoying tactical gybing battles. However, as the yachts sailed back towards the transition zone at the southern end of bomb alley the breeze began to fade, and the race committee took the decision to shorten course for the slower Class A yachts. Ganesha and Saudade had powered ahead, but when all five yachts had finished the results on corrected time told a different story – Ganesha held on to first, but by just 1 minute 28 seconds over second-placed Clan VIII, with Saudade coming in third.
In Class C, Maegan’s impressive lead started to slip in the closing moments as the Southern Wind Grande Orazio chased her down, and with the breeze fading to almost nothing the race committee chose to shorten course. Grande Orazio snuck over in first, with Nahita storming through to take second after a clever tactical call in the dying moments. “We stuck to the left side of the course, under the shadow of the land,” Fantela explains, “so I think we had less current and a bit more breeze. This is only our second regatta, and this was a huge day for us – we’re very happy with the result!”
Winner of Class C, Grande Orazio. Image Credit: Carlo Borlenghi
“We are very happy today,” beams the owner of Grande Orazio. “In fact, we’ve already drunk the champagne so we are even more happy! We would like to win tomorrow, and of course the day after that…”
The closest finish was between Maegan and Gaia, with the latter creeping in at the last minute to sneak third place in class by just four seconds.
In Class B, meanwhile, WinWin was doing everything she could to try to rein in My Song. “We tried our best,” rues Walker, “and we nearly got them a couple of times. But just when a bit of breeze came through and they accelerated a bit quicker than us, it was back to square one. It was like we were attached by bungee chord – we’d reel them in, they’d stretch away, then we’d get it back, then they would stretch away again… But they sailed really well and managed to keep us in check with loose cover, keeping between us and the finish line. It was an incredible race, and I’m sure My Song were sweating! I think it sets up a nice regatta between us.”
“It was a really stressy day, but that’s why we go racing – you get a lot of emotion,” smiles Mr Pier-Luigi Loro Piana. “I think we got perfect conditions. WinWin is a super boat, really fast, they were catching us and that puts you under a lot of pressure. But conditions today were perfect for My Song and it shows that if you have an old boat that is well maintained and has the right rating, you can still win. I’m very happy – it was a marvellous race today.”
Tonight, owners and their guests enjoyed the refined surroundings of the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda for the Loro Piana Owners' Dinner, which this year featured a performance from multi-award winning Australian singer-songwriter Delta Goodrem.
Racing resumes on Day Two of the Loro Piana Superyacht Regatta with the warning signal for the first start scheduled for 1200 local time.
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