Maxi yacht racing is on a roll. Both inshore and offshore numbers have been very healthy in 2023; we wrapped up the inshore season with a successful Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez; and the offshore season too with a nail-biting climax to the Rolex Middle Sea Race.
Saint-Tropez this year was unusual in that we were able to race the full planned programme! Nearly always this regatta loses day(s) from too little wind or a Mistral.
We have reverted from having a separate week for maxis alone and now there is an overlap with the classic and modern fleets. Though this makes things crowded at times, the atmosphere of the event felt reclaimed. The magic of the mixture of classic schooners and the most modern maxis side by side in the harbour is a unique and wonderful spectacle of which one never tires.
This year’s format meant that on the first day we were on our own and able to race on the Baie de Saint-Tropez. Then when the other fleets arrived we moved with our own committee boat to Baie de Pampelonne where races were started and finished. Overall this appeared to work well, although despite the use of robotic marks we were unable to lay true windward-leeward courses… So room for improvement there. The lay day was also different from the other fleets and we finished our racing two days earlier – in terms of logistics this slightly staggered schedule worked perfectly.
On the Tuesday evening our members and guests enjoyed an exceptional moonlit dinner in the regatta’s new VIP entertainment suite, now located on the harbour pier overlooking the Baie – a most magical setting.
Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez concluded our 2023 IMA Mediterranean Maxi Inshore Championship. Going into St-Tropez at least four boats could have won, but in the end IMA President Benoît de Froidmont, in his ‘vintage’ 60ft Wallyño, had an impeccable regatta winning his class in every race and comfortably reclaiming the trophy he first won in 2019. My congratulations to Benoît, his tactician Cedric Pouligny and the whole team.
Nevertheless, as with all our events, it is difficult to please all of the people all of the time; while Les Voiles is very special it is also a quite different type of regatta. The local organisers see it more as an end-of-season festival, a celebration of yachting in general and less of a competitive, hard-fought racing event. Meanwhile the attitudes of the competitors cover the whole spectrum and this makes the already difficult planning of courses and class splits even more contentious than usual.
Some attitudes are too polarised for there ever to be consensus, but decisions have to be made and then we have to live with them. This may result in unhappiness, but overall the big picture is very much one of satisfaction. While we continue to rely upon the inexact science of rating systems to compare very dissimilar boats’ performances, these do of course take little account of the varying age and condition of equipment – or crews! Easy to write, not always easy to persuade a team who are feeling hard done by.
The Rolex Middle Sea Race was as fascinating as always – although sadly the fierce conditions on the first night resulted in a lot of irreparable damage and retirements – disproportionately among the large maxi fleet. Even more surprising was the dismasting off west Sicily of Lucky, a boat well used to these conditions and this racecourse as the former Rambler 88.
In the end the battle of the maxis was decided early by the wind and current in the Messina Strait. Bullitt and Leopard stole a march on the rest by escaping, leaving everyone else pinned or even going backwards at the northern exit of the Strait. These two then match raced the rest of the way to the finish and, although the smaller (93ft) Bullitt finished behind on the water, on corrected time she was just under two hours ahead.
Then came the nail-biting wait of nearly two whole days to see if they could hold their time against the much smaller boats arriving so much later. In the end the double-handed Sunfast 3300 Red Ruby corrected out to an agonising 24 seconds behind the mighty Bullitt…
After two days wishing the wind to drop, or at least not increase, Bullitt skipper Andrea Recordati was understandably ecstatic about his unexpected overall IRC win; but he also did the honourable thing at the prizegiving inviting Christina and Justin Wolfe, the American couple who raced Red Ruby, up onto the podium to share the glory. Leopard 3 held onto fourth overall.
With all the different weather conditions on different parts of the course at different times, it is more than remarkable that any rating system can come up with such a close spread of results. Take a bow, IRC.
There is now a pause before the joint RORC IMA Transat from Lanzarote to Grenada. Although we will have a number of maxi contenders this time, the favourite for monohull line honours and the IMA Trophy is certainly Leopard 3. Although she has raced across the Atlantic many times before, in her recent transformation she has been turbocharged and is now more racer than when Mike Slade launched her in 2007 as the ultimate dual-purpose yacht.
The race between the four former MOD70s will also be required viewing this time; with the record falling yearly – these well-built former one-designs are consistently crossing the Atlantic in five days.
All the MOD70s then go on to do the Caribbean 600, after which some head north to compete in the Quebec-St Malo while Argo returns to Europe for the Aegean 600. There is a clear desire among the MOD70 teams to consolidate the calendar for these high-octane but now highly reliable speedsters.
We are also continuing with our IMA Maxi Caribbean Challenge, again comprising the RORC Caribbean 600, St Maarten Heineken Regatta and Les Voiles de St Barth.
Overall we have had a very successful 2023 with terrific participation from a very wide range of maxi yachts. Our organisation has continued to grow and prospects for 2024 are excellent with ever more maxis being launched and joining the IMA circuit.
Andrew McIrvine, secretary general, IMA
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