Vera on track for Palermo-Montecarlo ‘double’
Continuing what is evolving into a highly successful season for Miguel Galuccios Vera on the International Maxi Associations Mediterranean Maxi Offshore Challenge, the Argentineans navy blue 84ft maxi wafted across the Palermo-Montecarlo race finish in the early hours this morning to claim line honours. At the time of writing Vera was looking well placed to claim the overall trophy under IRC corrected time too.
Palermo-Montecarlo is the fifth and final event of the 2018-19 Mediterranean Maxi Offshore Challenge organised by the International Maxi Association, the World Sailing-recognised body that promotes maxi yacht racing and represents maxi owners globally.
The 15th Palermo-Montecarlo set sail on Wednesday midday from off Palermo’s Mondello district, home of the Circolo della Vela Sicilia, Challenge of Record for the 36th America's Cup and joint organisers of the Palermo-Montecarlo with Yacht Club de Monaco and Yacht Club Costa Smeralda. Winding its way up the east coast of Sardinia, through a gate off Porto Cervo, through the La Maddalena archipelago and Strait of Bonifacio, up the west coast of Corsica and then across to Monaco, the 437 nm race north this year has been slow, but ultra-tactical.
Vera made her ‘winning move’ soon after starting when she headed west, some 45° off course, as her competition stuck to the rhumb line to the Porto Cervo gate. This was to avoid high pressure off to the east. "There were maybe a couple of patches of breeze I thought we could catch," explained Vera’s Norwegian navigator Aksel Magdahl. This worked, but not as well as anticipated. "I thought we would be way ahead, but the other guys were lucky that a thunderstorm helped them get back in the game."
In fact Renato Azara’s Davidson 69 Adelasia di Torres did well to keep up with Vera, but through being closer to the Sardinian shore in the early hours of Thursday morning Vera edged ahead. She led through the Porto Cervo gate at 04:21:30, with Adelasia di Torres overtaken by Gerard Logel’s TP52 @robas 2, she and the Lithuanian VO65 Ambersail 2 and Martin 72 Aragon of Dutch joint owners Andreas Verder and Arco Van Nieuwland following between 08:00 and 08:13. By this time Vera was already through the Strait of Bonifacio. However, far from getting away, Vera slowed up north of Ajaccio, enabling those astern to close on her. 25 miles ahead at 10:45 on Friday, by 17:00 her margin had shrunk to just eight.
Vera’s tactician Bouwe Bekking explained: "We had the transition and maybe we were more unlucky with the timing, but we got into the new breeze nicely as the others got stuck." The trailing maxis were held up north of Ajaccio, with the first, Aragon only breaking free after four hours of wallowing as the others were stuck for another hour and a half. By this time Vera was half way to Monaco and enjoying the most breeze of the race. "We saw 25 knots for an hour or two - we even had a reef in," said Bekking.
Vera was inevitably held up approaching Monaco in the early morning, but made better progress than expected, in what Bekking described as "a last throw of the dice". Eventually Vera crossed the finish line at 05:13:08. With an elapsed time of 2d 17h 13m 1s, Esimit Europa 2’s race record of 1d 23h 46m 48s stands.
"We did well - I am happy to finish as we did," said Galuccio. "There are a lot of things we’ve done in order to perform and the part I enjoyed most was seeing the team coming together. The person who deserves special mention is Aksel our navigator."
While Vera was unchallenged, astern the four very dissimilar monohulls plus the 31-year-old ORMA 60 trimaran Ad Maiora were having a spectacular albeit frustrating race, with all leading at various times. Adelasia di Torres and Ad Maiora were ahead for most of the first night, only for @robas 2 to sneak in front at the Porto Cervo gate and up through Bomb Alley. In the Straight of Bonifacio waterline prevailed and Aragon and Adelasia di Torres rolled by with Ambersail 2 subsequently moving in front. After the lengthy park-up north of Ajaccio, Aragon got away with Ambersail 2 finally powered up fully and recovering miles.
Through smart tactics, @arobas 2 edged east enabling her to catch Aragon, the two boats then engaged in a light wind match race to the finish. Then, just when it appeared all over, in the very last metres Adelasia di Torres found her own personal breeze and nearly pipped them at the post. Ultimately Aragon claimed second on the water just 2 minutes 40 seconds ahead of Adelasia di Torres with @robas a further 2 minutes 40 seconds astern.
"It was long, hot and sweaty, challenging, but ultimately rewarding," said Aragon’s Arco Van Nieuwland."It was amazing that just within sight of the finish there was no breeze at all and we had a photo-finish!"
Despite the disparate group of maxis, it was surprising how closely matched they were. "It felt a bit like match racing," said Van Nieuwland. "We owe a lot to our navigator - Olivier [Douillard] did an amazing job. If there is no wind you want to do a lot of things, but really you need to stay put, don’t run around, be patient, then you’ll get out of there."
Exhausted French ace Douillard added: "There were so many moves and changes, all the boats caught up many times, there were several restarts. Even one just at the finish when Adelasia di Torres came in from far away with inertia and was close to catching us. We had a great match race all the way with @robas."
The most painful part was the lengthy park-up off Corsica. "It was very choppy," continued Douillard. "We were crashing all of the time and sometimes the boat was going south and it was hard to keep her sailing straight. We made three attempts to get into the northeasterly but each time we lost it because the transition was continually moving."
Renato Azara skippering Adelasia di Torres (the Davidson 69 better known as Pendragon VI) had a remarkable race considering this was his first outing with a new crew including some from as far afield as Oman (navigator Sami Al Shukaili) and Argentina.
Aside from the finish, their glory moment was leading on the first night. "There was thunder and it was raining - we were close to Vera but just before the gate the wind completely shut down," recalled Azara of the first night. As to the finish he added: "We knew the conditions off Monaco would be light so we stayed out and it came good."
Fifth home on the water, the Lithuanian crew on Ambersail 2 were also relatively ‘green’ to their powerful VO65 and as main trimmer Naglis Nasvytis observed. "In reality this boat needs strong winds and not so much tacking! Three times we got up to second but then when the wind went down we lost. Vera got away, but for the rest of the time we could almost always see the others."
Gerard Logel, despite sailing a 52 footer, was able to keep up with the maxis by virtue of his being a pure race boat sailed by outstanding sailors including top Figaro sailors Gerald Veniard and Solitaire winner Eric Drouglazet. Logel enjoyed leading the second wave of boats through the Porto Cervo gate but got frustrated in the park-up off Corsica. "We decided to go inshore and then we decided to go offshore. And nothing worked!"
From here the maxi fleet doesn’t have long to wait until it’s next event – the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup taking place out of Porto Cervo over 1-7th September.