Day one of the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup brought some close, tactical, light airs competition in the five divisions. Fortunes ebbed and flowed in some fleets such as the Maxi 72s where no team dominated. But in the 13-strong Wally Class, Open Season was the clear winner of the day.
The 40 entries, this year’s event has brought back design icons such as the 1997 Wally, Genie of the Lamp, and even older examples such as the Swan 65 ketch Shirlaf, sistership of the boat that won the first ever Whitbread Round the World Race in 1973/74. The likes of the 219-foot ketch Hetairos and the searingly fast 100-foot Comanche show just how far yacht design has come in the 35-year history of the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup. “This regatta,” says Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones, owner of Wally Cento Magic Carpet Cubed. “It’s the one we all love because it’s the most difficult. Here everything is always so different and unpredictable. It’s never quite the same twice, no matter how much you practise.”
Open Season’s owner Thomas Bscher is known for his prowess behind the wheel of fast cars, but today he proved equally adept at steering his Wally 107 in the light breezes of the Costa Smeralda to victory in both of today’s windward-leeward races. With three-time Olympic Champion Jochen Schümann calling tactics, Open Season’s early advantage is going to be a tough challenge for the other Wallys to overcome, although defending champion Lindsay Owen-Jones will be as determined as anyone to beat Bscher’s crack crew.
Owen-Jones shares Bscher’s passion for motor racing, and both owners are long-standing members of the Wally family. After scores of 3,2, Owen-Jones’s 100ft WallyCento lies in second overall and he is determined to do better during the rest of the week. A change of course tomorrow could bring a change in fortunes. At least that’s what Owen-Jones will be hoping. His two previous yachts – Magic Carpet and Magic Carpet Squared – are the most successful in the 20-year history of the Wally racing circuit. Indeed the 1997-vintage Magic Carpet, a 77-footer now known as J One, sits on equal points with scores of 2,3 from today, a testament to the longevity of this German Frers design and of current owner Jean Charles Decaux’s ability to get the best out of this perennial performer.
The boat that launched the Wally revolution, the one that is widely credited with transforming the look of the modern cruiser/racer, is Genie of the Lamp, a 79-footer built in 1995. Twenty years ago, Genie’s sleek aesthetic was light-years ahead of her time. Genie’s owner for the past eight years, Prince Charles di Borbone des Deux Siciles, was delighted to be helming his family yacht at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup – even if he wished for a better result on the scoreboard.
“Genie is a very pleasant boat to helm and after 20 years she is still timeless and able to be competitive. But I haven’t done much racing this season and what I’ve seen is that the level has risen. If you step away from the group even for a little bit, it’s hard to catch up!”
What Wally’s founder, Luca Bassani saw 20 years ago, was that yacht design was too much enslaved by the demands of racing rules of the time. “The racing rules might be good or bad, but for sure they limited the development of boats, they limited the use of new technologies and materials, just because that was the tradition. All the boats were following those rules, and for me, that was wrong. Today at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup we can see boats, not only like the Wallys, but like Comanche for example which are moving forward the rules and the performance of the boats – and the fun of the owners.”