When four J Class yachts, Ranger, Svea, Topaz and Velsheda line up next week on the beautiful waters of the Costa Smeralda at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup, it will be the first time that there has been stand-alone J Class racing at the annual pinnacle event since 2014.
While these four majestic J Class yachts have all competed against each other among the Maxi fleets at the showcase event over recent years, – and indeed three of the four have won their respective divisions at different times since 2008 – there is great anticipation and building excitement among the fleet at the prospect of lining up against each other on some of the most exacting coastal race tracks in the world.
This strong fleet highlights the bourgeoning interest in the J Class once again. Indeed, the first two regattas this season have been won by passionate owners who are new to the class. A debuting Ranger crew triumphed in the Spring in Saint Barths for her new American owner, whilst in early July on the Bay of Palma, Svea now racing under her native Swedish flag with a trio of new Swedish co-owners, won the Superyacht Cup Palma regatta.
But the stakes at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup are undoubtedly the highest since 2014 when Lionheart last lifted the title on the very last race. After six races, the showdown started all-square – any of Ranger, Lionheart, Rainbow could have won the title – but the Dutch flagged team prevailed.
It is entirely possible that this 2022 regatta for the J Class will go to the wire again, there is so little to choose between the four teams. All have very similar levels of experience and successes on the Costa Smeralda and racing up through the La Maddalena archipelago. Velsheda won her class here in 2009, 2013, 2019 and most recently last year in 2021, whilst Topaz won in 2018 against Velsheda and Svea in their mixed Maxi division.
Svea set to repeat?
On paper the Svea crew maybe have least experience in the class, but they won the Superyacht Cup Palma on only eight hard days training, they are a team also rich in Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup experience, and have tactician Bouwe Bekking guiding them.
A winner of the Sardinia Cup, Loro Piana Regatta and the Settemina delle Bocche on these waters as well as at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup, Bekking masterminded the Lionheart success in 2014 and the hugely experienced tactician has trained the Svea team up to the same winning standards. Can they repeat their Palma success next week?
“I think we can give it a good crack,” smiles Bekking wryly. “We sailed pretty well in Palma and with a couple more days training in Porto Cervo we can be better still. We have some better sails now. Overall, I think we are positive, but equally we know how it goes in this J Class fleet now, it is easy too to come last. In Palma we were strong upwind in 10-12 kts, downwind we were not so fast so we will just have to see. But I think this is the big event. Everyone is always here and it is good sailing, it is a nice event to win.”
It will also be the first Maxi Yacht Cup together for the Ranger team which has America’s Cup winner Ed Baird steering, John Kostecki on tactics with Jordi Calafat supporting as strategist. Although they won the ‘Bucket in Saint Barths, the light winds in Palma were not to their liking. They are also the 2022 season leaders racing for the Kohler Cup and won the coveted Kings Hundred Guinea Cup in Saint Barths.
Greg Sloat, project manager of Ranger enthuses, “All the J’s are so even it is going to be interesting. And Porto Cervo is such a great regatta for the owners both on the land side and it is so beautiful on the water. And you can have big breeze or no breeze. Us? We would all love to have 15-16kts, all the boats are good in that kind of breeze. This is a very interesting regatta in that is it coming down to the season points. Anyone who has a good regatta has a chance of winning it. Our owner is really excited and we are already getting the one trophy – it would be nice to have a second trophy. It is hard to tell who will do well on these coastal courses. With the handicap system we all now have a pretty good handle on what to expect on true windward-leewards and in Palma there were set marks. But in Porto Cervo there are rocks and it can be down to how brave you are on certain parts of these courses.”
The Topaz team are relishing their return to fleet racing on the Costa Smeralda. Alongside helm Peter Holmberg and navigator Nacho Postigo, Italian tactician Francesco de Angelis has huge experience on these waters and has unfinished business with the regatta and the class. As tactician he previously guided Rainbow into a potentially regatta winning situation at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup in 2014 but missed out after the final race. Their crew is stacked full of talent too, project manager Timmy Kroeger, (whisper it), admits he did his first Sardinia Cup on these waters 40 years ago!
Topaz’s Kroeger says, “First of all it is wonderful to have four J Class yachts racing here and everyone loves racing in Porto Cervo in among the islands which takes a lot of effort from the crews and it is such a particular challenge. Windward-leewards are one thing but to go around the islands is a truly wonderful thing. I remember us before racing downwind against Svea doing multiple gybes towards the finish. And now with four boats on the start line I think this can be a very tight, very cool regatta. And every regatta on these waters you learn more and more.”
Velsheda have raced most often here and remain the benchmark team in terms of boat handling and boat on boat racing. Kiwi tactician Tom Dodson believes they might lack speed in some conditions on the longer, straight-line courses, but believes they have every chance of success. They will be missing talismanic navigator Campbell Field on this occasion but have four times America’s Cup winner Grant Simmer as navigator working alongside Dodson and strategist Andy Beadsworth. Mainsheet trimmer Don Cowie returns on board as does Ryan Godfrey.
Dodson comments, “We know our way around the track in Porto Cervo pretty well between Andy Beadsworth and Grant and myself. We have done a lot of mileage there and we should be good – in the Js now so much is down to the starts anyway. We have had a good few wins there in the past, we have won our fair share. But each year it is tougher. I think we like a course with a lot going on, some pressure changes things and that puts a premium on our crew work and manoeuvres.”
Stuart Childerley, J Class Association Secretary notes, “I think the racing will be very close. It would be good to see another different winner here as I think three different winners at our three regattas this season is an indication of how open it is. The Class is building slowly and steadily into a sustainable programme heading towards Barcelona at the time of the America’s Cup where we plan to race as a Class.”
Commodore of the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda Michael Illbruck concludes, “This 32nd edition of the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup promises to be an exciting one, with much-awaited debuts and many significant names returning. Seeing the fleet of the four J Class yachts sailing side by side around the islands of the La Maddalena archipelago, along with more than 40 other maxi yachts, will no doubt be a thrilling spectacle. We look forward to welcoming all the participants in the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup, the finest examples of international yacht design and construction.”
Racing starts Monday 5th September with one day of windward-leewards and four days of coastal courses during the week including a layday Thursday.