Mini Maxi fleet not for the fainthearted

Published on September 2nd, 2014

The appeal of the Mini Maxi Rolex World Championship is clear. Cutting-edge racing yachts crewed by skilled professional sailors, driven by the energy and passion of their owners. “The 72-footers are simply the top boats that exist in monohull racing,” reveals Vasco Vascotto, calling tactics on Robertissima III.

The Mini Maxi Class is in the ascendancy; interest is high, enthusiasm palpable and new designs in the offing. Principally featuring 72-ft length boats, the fifth running of the championship is one of the standout features of this year’s Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup, sailing’s annual rendezvous for Maxi yachts in Porto Cervo, Sardinia on September 1-6.

“The boats are powerful, great to sail, versatile and the owner/driver rule allows the owners to go out and win,” explains Niklas Zennström whose Rán crew is the defending champion, winner of three of the four titles to date.

Leaving nothing to chance on water requires dedicated preparation. The working day for the Mini Maxi crews begins in earnest as the sun rises; physical conditioning and mental wellbeing are treated seriously. All teams have their own approach; whether it be hours in the gym, cycling northeast Sardinia’s mountain bike trails, or swimming lengths in the sea.

Alex Schaerer’s Caol Ila R have their own personal trainer to ensure the crew are in shape to face the demands of each day’s racing. “Exercises and a stretching class help the boys wake up ready for the day’s sailing,” explains the crew’s Swiss fitness coach Andre Winterfield, who runs a beach session each morning. “On the boat you have to sprint quickly in different directions, lift heavy sails, be flexible when the boat is moving. We do a lot of group exercises: this improves spirit, creates trust between teammates.”

The emphasis on physical preparation is embraced by Caol Ila R’s rivals. “It’s a heavy boat so everything you do is loaded, especially for the grinders,” explains Terry Hutchinson, a key member of the afterguard on 2012 champion Bella Mente. “These guys train hard, go to the gym everyday. It’s a balance between physical and cardiovascular strength.”

The Mini Maxi fleet arrived in Porto Cervo in the week ahead of the event, allowing themselves crucial training days. “Time on the water and on the boat is the most valuable thing,” reveals Alegre bowman Matt Cornwell. “The ethos of our team is to keep guys together year on year and build on it. It’s a strength of ours.”

“You need a well-honed crew of professionals, we are racing and practicing for up to 75 days a year,” reveals Bella Mente’s American owner Hap Fauth. “It’s a big programme, we move with 2-3 containers, our travelling crew now is 30 (people); 22 sailing and the rest support crew: cooks, carbon fibre and winch guys, sailmakers. It’s not for the fainthearted; it needs to be organised and orchestrated a year ahead.”

Each training session and race is closely analysed, the boat’s performances assessed, data crunched and analysed, the results shared with the team. The quest is continual improvement. “We have a full time data analysis person who collects information and debriefs on the boat’s performance,” says Hutchinson. “When you get to 100% of the boat’s performance and you still get someone going faster than you that’s when you scratch your head and see what you can do in specific situations to race the boat better. It’s the pinnacle of our sport, you fight for every single inch.” “Each day we will make mistakes,” admits Vascotto, “but every day we try to improve, this is the important part.”

There is widespread belief that this is the toughest Mini Maxi Rolex World Championship to date. Last year’s runner up Alegre, owned by Andres Soriano, appears to have found her ‘sailing legs’ having been the new entry in the 2013 Championship. Meanwhile Zennström is helming a new boat having launched Rán 5 earlier this year. Zennström’s crew can rely on the latest thinking in Mini Maxi design including a wider hull and narrower waterline, but have had little time to adapt; Bella Mente is hungry to regain her crown after disappointment in 2013; Robertissima III and Jethou are consistent performers; Caol Ila R and Shockwave may be the two smaller, older boats but remain highly competitive especially in light air.

“Everyone is strong and has their different modes and conditions they are good in,” adds Cornwell. “We consider Rán the benchmark in this Class, they have won the championship so any times. However, this year all the teams can win races and the championship.” “This is the event that these boats are built for,” explains Bella Mente’s Mike Sanderson, ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Year in 2006, “all seven Mini Maxis are slightly different approaches with the same goal. There are some very successful businessmen and multiple world champion sailors racing against each other. Everyone is used to winning.”

“The 2014 Mini Maxi Rolex World Championship is going to be the toughest one ever because competition is getting better every year – we are improving yet so is every team. There’s going to be tight racing,” promises Zennström.

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