Everyone participating at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup is arguably a winner. Yet after a week of racing, the titles can only go to one participant in each class: the best prepared, the most consistent, the most determined. Victors this year were: Highland Fling XI in Maxi, Vesper in Mini Maxi 1, Svea in J Class, Shamanna in Supermaxi, Capricorno in Mini Maxi 2 and H20 in Mini Maxi 3/4.
The Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup is an event like no other. Organized by the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda (YCCS), in conjunction with the International Maxi Association (IMA), it dates back to 1980. The partnership with title sponsor Rolex began in 1984. A walk along the docks, in front of the striking YCCS Clubhouse, offers an insight into the quality of boats and sailors in attendance. Powerful designs, emanating performance ideals from the 1930s and the present. Passionate owners, putting their reputation and yachts on the line in pursuit of their favoured sport. Elite crew, exuding the talent and experience to guide these stirring vessels around the challenging racetracks. Once on the water the spectacle is complete: the scenery beguiling, the starts intense, the courses demanding and the pressure approaching boiling point. The 2022 Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup perfectly illustrated why this regatta stands head and shoulders above most others, the substance behind one of the longest standing partnerships in yachting.
At the final prize giving, Michael Illbrück, Commodore of the YCCS, remarked that: “It has been an unbelievable week.”
Andrew McIrvine, President of the IMA assessed the contest:
“The Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup, the pinnacle event of our year, assembles the most impressive collection of racing maxis in the world. The near record number has surpassed any previous in terms of quality. We have seen the very latest designs, such as the new ClubSwan 80, My Song, and the most extreme, exemplified by the foiling Flying Nikka.”
Continuing, McIrvine expressed his sense of what makes people want to compete in a breath-taking, sometimes daunting environment:
“The owners, supported by an incredible collection of top sailors, tacticians and navigators, keep returning for very good reason: excellent race management, close racing on testing courses, reliable wind and, finally, the impeccable quality and ambience of the YCCS. Winning at this world class event is the most sought-after accolade.”
The 32nd edition of the annual gathering of imposing monohulls attracted a fleet of 50 ranging in size from 18 metres (60 feet) to 43.5 m (143ft) and in age from the 89-year-old Velsheda to FlyingNikka, launched in May. These two yachts are the very antithesis of each other in virtually every respect, except their originating concept: to be the fastest, cutting-edge racer of their period.
Unveiled in 1933, at the time, the J Class Velsheda represented the most advanced technical design in spars, rigging, sails, deck gear, halyards and control lines. Her mast was formed from aluminium plates riveted together. The sails relied on the latest synthetic polyester fibre threads and sheets benefited from winches. Over recent decades, Velsheda has evolved through modernizing refits to incorporate elements of today’s yachting. More comfortable below, significantly she performs to the best of her potential. A regular on the race circuit since the late 1990s, Velsheda won class in Porto Cervo on three occasions in 2009, 2019 and 2021.
This year, however, it was the superbly sailed Svea that outgunned the opposition to win the J Class comfortably. Velsheda came third, one point behind Ranger after six races. Bouwe Bekking, the round the world yachtsman, already a serial winning tactician at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup on the Supermaxi Nilaya in 2011, 2012 and 2013, and the J Class Lionheart in 2014, was in the afterguard of Svea. Bekking explained the attraction of racing a more traditional design:
“I think it is the most majestic yacht you can ever race on. It has so much heritage.
It is huge challenge to get a J around the track. It takes a team of 35 which needs training to work together. There is a massive sail area to handle during mark roundings, and huge spinnaker poles. Every person onboard has a job, one tiny mistake by anyone will reflect in the overall performance.”
For Bekking, racing boats redolent of a bygone era is just another aspect of a sport where passion and enthusiasm for the past matches the present:
“It is fantastic that we have owners who want to race the Js. The sailing world owes a huge thank you to those that reignited the idea of seriously racing them.”
In contrast, FlyingNikka is at the opposite extreme. Influenced by the AC75, first introduced at the 2021 America’s Cup, the forward-looking foiling Maxi was designed by Mark Mills, whose boats have won regularly at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup and on the international circuit. Moving the concept to reality, required the unstinting commitment of owner Roberto Lacorte, a four-time winner at this regatta. Drawing on the latest aerodynamic thinking and construction engineering, she was built as light and reliable as possible to sail in a wide range of conditions. The foil configuration has benefited from simulator research, while the wing sail articulation is custom-made to withstand the rigours of offshore racing. So innovative is FlyingNikka that she raced alone, a virtual demonstration class, revealing the possibilities and a reminder that design evolution is perpetual.
At the close of proceedings, the triumphant crews received their trophies, together with the plaudits of their peers. Inspiring performances, in the most exacting arena, rewarded in the most appropriate fashion. The Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup 2022 was an example of excellence from start to finish.