Rolex Giraglia 2022. Magic Carpet Cubed pips scratch boat to the postGenoa, 17 June 2022
Among the 20 maxis that set off from Saint-Tropez at 1200 CEST on Wednesday June 15 among the 141 strong Rolex Giraglia offshore race fleet, Furio Benussi’s 100ft grand prix maxi ARCA SGR was the line honours boat to beat. The yacht, that was once first home in the 2003 Rolex Sydney Hobart, was the Rolex Giraglia ‘scratch’ boat, with the highest IRC rating across the fleet of 1.920 and the kudos of having claimed line honours in last year’s unique edition, which rounded the Giraglia Rock off northern Corsica and finished in Genoa, but started from Sanremo.
Fifth event of seven in the International Maxi Association’s 2021-22 Mediterranean Maxi Offshore Challenge, this year’s Rolex Giraglia offshore race returned to its traditional route, starting from Saint-Tropez. However with light airs forecast the organisers – the Yacht Club Italiano, in collaboration with Yacht Club Sanremo and Société Nautique de Saint-Tropez - wisely chose to remove the usual first leg to the southwest, around La Formigue. This reduced the course by 40 miles to 200.
While the others Wallys, Charif Souki’s Wallycento Tango, Jean-Luc Petithuguenin’s 107 Spirit of Malouen and Andrea Recordati’s 93 Bullitt were in the mix, the most serious line honours challenger in addition to ARCA SGR was Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones’ Wallycento Magic Carpet Cubed. Owen-Jones’ various Magic Carpets have probably entered more Rolex Giraglias than any other team. Magic Carpet Cubed alone previously claimed line honours in 2013 and won outright under IRC corrected time two years later. When she and ARCA SGR lined up last year, ARCA SGR had won on the water by just 15 minutes. But this year’s light conditions, with large ‘holes’ in the wind, favoured those chasing.
In the light southwesterly, for the first leg from Saint-Tropez to the Giraglia rock, Magic Carpet Cubed’s Dutch uber-navigator Marcel van Triest said they had a plan, but had to remain ready to adapt. “From Saint-Tropez to the Rock initially we played the north – there was more pressure and we saw this massive cloud over the land (France/Italy) sucking wind in, so there was more pressure to leeward, where Spirit of Malouen and ARCA were. We stuck to them, accepting that they had a little bit more breeze and were making some really nice gains on the boats to weather. Then once the cloud stopped developing there was a shift in the plan and we went further south because we knew it was going to die to leeward. So that worked and we gained.” Sailing closer to the Corsican coast on the way into the Giraglia, Magic Carpet Cubed further benefitted and at the Rock found herself overlapped with her rival.
But the Giraglia to Genoa leg was more of a lottery, said van Triest. “You want to do something - go east/west??? I’ll show you a model that agrees with you!”
To start with they again set up to leeward but “in the end there was lower pressure over Italy. There was going to be the end gain with a light, but hard, shift right, but it was unclear how to get there. So we got ready for that southwest shift by going further east and getting some thermal pull.” Ultimately that thermal pull proved the winning ingredient: “We were to leeward and headed and two miles to weather they [ARCA SGR] were lifted. Then we got a bit lucky: We laid in [to the finish] while they had to come down.”
As a result this year Owen-Jones’ “cruising boat” beat the older, but her fully fledged grand prix racer ARCA SGR by 26 minutes, and substantially more under IRC corrected time.
Owen-Jones, the former L’Oreal CEO and Chairman, was delighted: “We were surprised to beat the scratch boat, because we didn’t think that was probable. We made some very good navigational choices. Marcel [van Triest] is such a good guy, who has been with us for many years and we are very confident with the choices he makes. He dares to say ‘look, it may sound wrong, but we are going to go this way’ and we all follow that. That was very important today because we came in on a much better angle than our competition who had to come down in dying air…”
While this year’s race was slow - Magic Carpet Cubed’s 34 hours 7 minutes to cover 200 miles compared to 26 hours 24 minutes for last year’s longer 240 mile course – it was not Owen-Jones’ slowest. “When we started, I remembered the longest, lightest wind race there ever was, I think in 1998, when it took three days and only five boats finished. But I was confident because, although Magic Carpet has a traditional rig and is quite heavy, it is a very good light airs boat, because it has a very high mast and it finds wind up there that others don’t. It is also very good upwind, with a very deep keel so this boat surprisingly goes very well, despite the fact that it has got air conditioning and an interior…”
Magic Carpet Cubed’s crew is a ‘Who’s Who’ of world class sailors, including the likes of three time Olympic gold medallist and America’s Cup winner Jochen Schuman, Volvo Ocean Race skipper Neal McDonald and Volvo Ocean Race winner and two time Olympic silver medallist Ian Walker.
According to Walker while they were often slow, they never really stopped. “We had the windseeker up a lot and managed to keep moving, but we didn’t put the spinnaker up for the whole way.” Regarding the competition with ARCA SGR he added: “They were so much faster and would get five miles ahead and then they’d get stuck in a hole and we’d sail around them and then they’d get five miles ahead again, etc. They had a masthead zero [which Magic Carpet Cubed didn’t have], which was the biggest problem because half the race was under that.”
Magic Carpet Cubed’s winning move, according to Walker, was en route to Genoa: “We got stuck far west and were losing to all the boats inshore so we took everyone’s transom and dug in, hoping there would be more sea breeze inshore from 50 miles out. In fact it was more a slight difference in pressure near the mainland. We were long way behind after we did that. To be fair we weren’t certain it was going to be right, but we were certain that if we followed the quicker boat we weren’t going to beat them. If someone is inside you on a sea breeze, you get lifted and light and they have got pressure and are lower - you can’t gybe down to them. It would have taken a lot of courage to gybe back 120° into us.”
48 minutes after ARCA SGR, third home was Lebanese-American businessman Charif Souki’s Tango. How did he find it? “It went okay, not so okay, very okay and then not okay!” summarised Souki. “It was a wonderful race. Magic Carpet did a fantastic job. They never lost their cool. It was miraculous. With COVID, I have been stuck in the US for 2.5 years so I am delighted to be back travelling, back on my boat.”
Fourth home was Andrea Recordati’s Wally 93 Bullitt. This was the third Rolex Giraglia for Recordati having sailed it previously in his 80 footer, then on his Wally 101 Indio and this year aboard his most recent acquisition, the former Nahita. According to Recordati, the wind shut down for Bullitt around 20 miles out from the finish. “It was a very light race, so quite challenging. It was difficult to make any strategic calls because the models were all over the place, so we did very well to keep up with the fleet. Finally we finished not too far away from Tango. 15 miles out, when Magic Carpet Cubed went into the shore, they were the same distance to the finish line as we were, but then they caught the breeze…
“This was our first offshore race and we have a lot to learn and a lot of ideas to improve our performance. The boat is getting better and better as is the crew.”
Sadly, this year’s Rolex Giraglia did not favour the big maxis, with Magic Carpet Cubed at the time of writing lying 16th in the full IRC fleet and sixth in the IRC Zero maxi fleet.
(James Boyd / International Maxi Association)