September 17, 2004
Sailing is often likened to standing under the shower tearing up hundred dollar bills. Unless you race in a stellar class such as Maxi Yacht's that is - then you can add a few zeroes to the denominations you're turning into confetti. In early September, 2004, the class got more expensive to run - way more expensive, thanks to the advent of the canting keel.
Every boat running at the pointy end of the racing in what are effectively the world championships for Maxi yachts had one of the new canting keels, relegating last year's champ, Alfa Romeo, into sixth place.The Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup has just concluded at the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda, in Sardinia, Italy. The Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup is effectively the World Championships for the class and it gathers the best boats in the world. Unlike most sporting contests, nearly all of the competitors have another claim to fame - nobody can afford to play this high stakes game unless they have achieved spectacular business success and a discretionary income sizeable enough to feed a small third world country. Sailing is a sport for people of immense resource.
Sailing a race boat is like running a business. Elite sailing is moreso ... much moreso. Sailing a Maxi competitively at this level requires the technology and resources of a Formula One team. Success at this level requires having climbed two mountains - sailing and business on a global level.The event was won by Roy Disney, vice chairman of the board at Walt Disney Corporation and the entry list included Lindsay Owen-Jones, CEO of L'Oreal, New York real estate mogul Harry Macklowe the UK's Carphone Warehouse CEO, Charles Dunstone with the 76-foot Nokia Enigma (handicap winner at the Rolex Fastnet and Rolex Middle Sea Races in 2003). Even the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda, where the championships were held, emphasises the calibre of the competition.
Located in Porto Cervo in Sardinia, Italy, it was founded in 1967 by His Highness the Aga Khan, as a non-profit club for those passionate about the sea and marine sports. In addition to its superb yachting facilities, the YCCS features a clubhouse the likes of which only a few yacht clubs on the planet can match, being the only club in the Mediterranean and one of only four Yacht Clubs worldwide to have a reciprocal agreement extending mutual privileges to their members of the New York Yacht Club.YCCS also has reciprocal agreements with Yacht Club di Monaco and the Royal Yacht Squadron (UK).
Sponsor Rolex could not find a more upmarket partner event. Unlike most yacht racing around the world, the crews are not comprised of primarily businessmen sailing enthusiasts enjoying their leisure hours in like-minded company - these crews are all highly trained, well paid athletes.
The entourage that follows these boats around the world numbers at least 25 such people. And the boats are technological showcases.
We've followed Alfa Romeo's progress in Gizmo keeping our readers updated on the boat's incredible run of success across 70 wins and every major yacht race in the world. If you have an hour to spare, check out the press statements issued by Alfa Romeo over the last two years, detailing a pageant of race records and wins in every major event for the class.
Built as the biggest and baddest Maxi yacht in history, and using the very latest technology, from water ballast to carbon fibre, Alfa Romeo had never been beaten in two years of competitive sailing.
Skipper Neville Chrichton is one of Australia's Captain's of industry, also having competed with distinction in two sports at an international level - car racing and yacht racing. His Shockwave series of yachts had won a lot of races, but he wanted to win the Sydney-Hobart and it had eluded him. So he set out to build the Maxi to end all maxis, and took the Sydney-Hobart, then marched around the world over the following 18 months winning every race he contested.
The boat had NEVER been beaten prior to the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup yet Chrichton knew before the event that his run would end. The reason was simple.He had engineered a competitive advantage with the Alfa Romeo's movable water ballast - six tonnes of it pumped around the bottom of the boat enabled the boat to be better balanced and capable of using the power its huge sails delivered.
When the boat was raced in the Sydney Hobart event, which banned this system, extensive modifications were made and weight had to be added to the boat to achieve a sailable result.
This year, the technology of moveable ballast was about to be bested by the canting keel - the next generation of canting keel yachts made their debut at the Rolex Maxi World and, as Neville Crichton had predicted, they were quicker than Alfa Romeo.
Disney's New Zealand-built Pyewacket won the title, ahead of Australian wine maker Robert Oatley's Wild Oats and US Healthcare magnate Randall Pitman's Genuine Risk. Both Wild Oats and Genuine Risk were built in Sydney by elite yacht builders McConaghy Yachts to Reichel/Pugh designs, as was Alfa Romeo some two years earlier.
All three of the placegetters were of the new canting keel design, reflecting the rapid movement of trends and innovations in super-maxi design in recent years and all three boats took a win during the six race series, with Pyewacket taking four of the six races.
Alfa Romeo had gone from never having been beaten, to not even running a place in any of the events - it's best result was fourth. "Canting keel is regarded as the new frontier in sailing technology," explains Neville Crichton.