Swedish flagged Svea, with owners steering a race each, made the best possible start to their defence of the J Class Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup title today, when they opened with two wins in light to moderate NE’ly breezes on a sparkling first day for the three-boat fleet off Porto Cervo.
Svea sailed fast and smart to lead at every mark to win Race 1, despite Velsheda having the best start and crossing Svea initially. The newest J Class in the fleet – which is racing at a lighter displacement than last year – was able to set up to windward of Velsheda and was visibly quicker and able to slightly lift away.At the top mark they were a boat length and a half clear of Velsheda with Topaz the same distance behind in third. The two chasing boats gybe set or gybed early and downwind they were able to gain back slightly on leader Svea which had their spinnaker sheet under the jib and could not respond immediately.The breeze picked up slightly on the second round and Svea extended away to win by nearly two minutes on the water which corrected to victory by 1 minute and 26 seconds over Topaz which crossed third through the finish line.The second start was won by Topaz, America’s Cup and match racing ace Peter Holmberg showing a deft touch, but whilst Svea and Topaz were drag racing upwind, Velsheda hooked into a nice windshift out to the far left. Coming into the turn on port tack, they were able to round just ahead of Svea and Topaz.Flying a symmetrical spinnaker, Velsheda gained a few metres on the gybes and made a very tidy mark rounding through the leeward gate. In the 15-16kts wind they extended upwind but by the finish still needed another 30 seconds more of an advantage to beat Svea on corrected time.And so, while Svea lead with their two well-earned wins today, Topaz and Velsheda both scored a second and third apiece. On the first race Topaz took second place by only eight seconds ahead of Velsheda.
The sleek, black hulled Tore Holm design may have proven unbeatable today but Tuesday is forecast to see winds well over 20kts which should mean an exciting, demanding coastal race into the La Maddalena gulf – or bomb alley as it is better known.
Svea’s tactician Bouwe Bekking was happy with their day, recalling, “We were going well downwind and we have done quite a bit of work on our spinnakers and that’s made a difference. The second race was full on. Velsheda has the heels on us in that breeze. You can see she is more upright, stiffer.”
Considering this was the first day this year that the three boats have lined up against each other, the standard was generally very high. The starts showed just the right mix of being prudently conservative – as required on these giant, powerful machines – finding the perfect time on distance and some that just missed just mark by a few seconds here and there.
Bekking recalled their second start, “We pulled the trigger just a little too late on the start. We could have gone up on the Topaz guys, we had the opportunity, but you just don’t go there on these boats. We all have to be careful.”
Velsheda’s tactician Tom Dodson was happy to have outperformed Svea on the second race, but was left wondering what more they could have done to win: “I don’t think we could have done much more against them. We got a good shift out on the left, we were happy over there and could see the maxis getting left shifts at the top of the beat and the other two boats overlaid and that brought us more into the game. We got some good help from our guys at the back of the boat to sneak round ahead of Svea. It is never easy to come in on port at the last minute. You get to a point with these boats where you can’t dip but Grant Simmer and Ronald were confident, and we were good. We did not really know what the timings are. At this stage in the regatta we are just trying to go as fast as we can.”
Peter Holmberg, helmsman on Topaz, was very happy with the changes they have made, adding some new sails, new trimmers and bringing in Andy Horton for this regatta as tactician. Of their starting strategy he explained, “We feel a little vulnerable in our turning ability, so we have a particular style that keeps it reasonable. The second start we got out of there OK, our first start was ‘off’. We still achieved OK from ordinary starts. The positives are that the boat is fast enough as this is the first time we have lined up this year since all the changes everyone has made.”
Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup, J Class results:
1 Svea elapsed time 1h05m35s corrected 1h04m09s
2 Topaz 1h07m27s, 1h05m35s
3 Velsheda 1h06m36s, 1h05m47s
1 Svea elapsed 1h03m43s corrected 1h04m41s
2 Velsheda 1h02m47s, 1h02m11s
3 Topaz 1h04m28s 1h02m26s
Standings after 3 races:
1 Topaz 3pts
2 Velsheda 6pts
3 Topaz 6pts