Written by James Boyd / International Maxi Association
Photography by Studio Borlenghi
16 May 2023
For its 26 competitors, the IMA Maxi European Championship set sail on 12 May with its offshore race, Regata dei Tre Golfi, running between Naples and Sorrento via the turning marks of Ponza in the north and Li Galli, off the Amalfi coast, in the south.
Supported by Rolex as Official Timepiece and Loro Piana, the 150 mile race is organised by the Circolo del Remo e della Vela Italia (CRVI) in conjunction with the International Maxi Association, the body officially tasked by World Sailing to administer and develop maxi yacht racing internationally.
Usually the race is a tricky light wind affair, but this year the leaders enjoyed breeze all the way. After a slight war of attrition and a tight fight between the front runners, the first two maxi yachts crossed the finish line separated by a minute in real time.
The first six finishers all beat the 16 hours 44 minutes and 13 seconds record time for the present course established in 2016 by Cippa Lippa 8, Guido Paolo Gamucci’s Cookson 50.
The ClubSwan 80 My Song and the five former Maxi 72s enjoyed constant boat-on-boat competition around the race track. At the finish line off Massa Lubrense, to the west of Sorrento at 08:35:01 on 13 May, it was Sir Peter Ogden’s 77ft Jethou that beat Dario Ferrari’s Cannonball into second in real time.
“It was amazing,” said Ogden, “the best race we have done here on the grounds that we didn’t park anywhere – we had wind all the way round.
“We did well on the back side of Ponza where we left Cannonball – they went inshore and disappeared for a while. Then it got really shifty. It was a nice race – we enjoyed it; it was good fun.”
For Jethou the race was one in light to moderate winds that peaked at 17 knots under a rain cloud. Ogden’s elite crew on his black extended Maxi 72 included tactician Brad Butterworth.
As to how they stayed in front, the America’s Cup legend explained: “My Song was leading and probably would have won, but they had problems off Ischia and had to bear away and we managed to pass them. Then we managed to put our elbows out.”
Jethou set a new record for the present Regata dei Tre Golfi course of 15 hours 30 minutes and 1 second, making her average speed for the course 9.7 knots.
My Song’s owner Pier Luigi Loro Piana explained that line honours had eluded them when, while passing Procida on the way back from Ponza, they managed to ensnare a giant moonfish with their rudder.
“We were unlucky – we went fishing… We had to stop the boat, reverse and lost two miles of the lead we’d built.” Later passing Capri they blew up a brand new spinnaker and had no back-up.
Among the leaders, having to work hardest was Peter Dubens’ North Star, last year’s overall winner. While last year she was up against Jethou alone, this year faced four other former Maxi 72s.
While it is too early to call an overall winner of the Regata dei Tre Golfi, North Star at present leads her class under IRC corrected time.
“It was amazing – a really quick race and the boat and team were great. There was quite a lot of reaching so we got to use our new water ballast,” explained tactician, Olympic silver medallist Nick Rogers.
Unique among this group for having powered winches North Star was able to race with just eight crew (usually 15).
As to the key moments, Rogers explained that after passing the islands exiting the Gulf of Naples they had been first to peel to their Code 0.
“We came hammering through the fleet, went straight through the middle and that set us up nicely for the whole evening bouncing around in Cannonball’s dirt, but powered up,” continued Rogers. “Then the wind shut down at Ponza, but we carried a spinnaker and were brave enough to hold it quite late with our hydraulic drop.”
Thanks to the smart calls from navigator Wouter Verbraak they tacked north after rounding Ponza, along with their competition, anticipating a giant left shift. From there it was a case of making the most of the shifts.
As Verbraak explained: “There was southerly gradient, but a new breeze was developing, shifting the wind left and the influence of the land breeze funneling out of the bays. Then the fun thing this morning that threw everyone were the rain showers. All of a sudden the long upwind leg, that was meant to be in a southeasterly, we were running downwind.”
Perhaps a greater surprise for Sir Peter Ogden and Jethou’s crew was claiming line honours. They were helped in this by My Song’s fishing, while line honours favourite, Furio Benussi’s 100-foot ARCA SGR had to retire from the race when she began taking on water.
This incident involved her canting keel and occurred at 2330 as ARCA SGR was leading the fleet around Zannone, en route to Ponza. The crew issued a Mayday and soon after their fellow Triestians on board the 90-foot maxi Shockwave 3 were standing by. They were joined by a Coast Guard patrol boat to which the majority of the crew was transferred. The patrol boat then towed ARCA SGR to the nearby island of Ponza.
“The most important thing is that all the crewmen are safe,” said skipper Furio Benussi.
“Thanks to the hard work and preparedness of the crew, despite the drama of the situation, we prevented injuries and ARCA SGR from sinking. I would like to extend a big thank you to the great sailors of Shockwave 3 who were the first to assist us and to the Coast Guard, who arrived in record time to assist in the rescue.”
Regata dei Tre Golfi is also the second event in the IMA’s 2022-23 Mediterranean Maxi Offshore Challenge.