Heaven on Earth

I know how much work went in. I know how desperately hopeful the top dogs at the Maxi Association were of getting the event underway. And I am fully aware of the relief that the pro sailors are feeling at finally getting a pay day after a seemingly interminable Covid-induced lay-off. So it’s absolutely wonderful to see the Rolex Maxi Cup back and better than ever. The hackneyed phrase of ‘good things come to those that wait’ is perhaps apt as the Blue Riband event of the big boys’ calendar gets underway at the pitch-perfect Yacht Club Costa Smeralda this week.

©IMA / Studio Borlenghi

As venues go, it really doesn’t get much better than Sardinia in the late summer and I’m not sure there’s a better slice of yacht club real estate anywhere in the world than the clubhouse looking out over the Tyrrenhian Sea with Bomb Alley to the left and crystal blue twinkling waters ahead. If your numbers came up and you retired to Porto Cervo there’s probably not a finer place on planet earth to see out your twilight years. Join the club, potter down with the grandkids, throw them in the blue-water tension pool, grab a glass of wine, do a spot of shopping in the in-house Prada store and bake responsibly under the Italian sunshine surrounded by the coolest sailors on the planet. It’s a lifestyle you could get used to. Isn’t it.

The Maxi Association gets it right and its members, sometimes tricky old coots, are gratefully playing ball in the world’s ultimate uber-rich playground. And it’s a tricky skill to corral this bunch – how do you say ‘no’ to people who have grown accustomed to ‘yes’ men all around them? Everyone wants to win on this circuit and as money-no-object goes, it’s the pinnacle. Powerful forces are everywhere. It’s a pretty elite and rarefied club. The rich are different (we know that for sure) and the pros are subservient to the pay cheque. But none of that diminishes the spectacle. If you landed from another planet you’d think all was right in this curious world. And the boats are spectacular. If you don’t like heavy machinery and impossible acres, football fields if you like, of sail being set and the wonder of pro crew co-ordination of the highest order then there’s not much more our sport can do for you.

©IMA / Studio Borlenghi

The racing’s tight. It’s a full-on IRC battle and in the light winds they’re experiencing this week, the thunderous water-shifters are being out-gunned by their nimble light-air flying compatriots. Irvine Laidlaw’s Highland Fling XI with Bouwe Bekking doing nav is the hot-shot of the moment but I’m loving the photos and videos of boats like Wendy Schmidt’s Deep Blue, George David’s up-for-sale (yup I’ll buy it) Rambler 88, the sublimely beautiful Wallycentos and the off-the-scale J-Class replicas all duking it out in paradise.

What a scene…let’s face it, the results are largely irrelevant when you look through the lens of such spectacle. And what’s more, this scene is thriving. You’d think that this pinnacle end would suffer with the world in crisis-mode but oh no, it’s absolutely kicking -all hail to the money-printing machine of the Federal Reserve.

New owners such as the secretive Russian that’s bought Comanche are mixing it with the usual suspects who can’t get enough of the maxi scene – Hap Fauth, Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones, North Sails owner Pete Dubens, Guido Miani, Sir Irvine Laidlaw, Hans George Naeder, Jim Swartz – the list of serial maxi addicts is long and storied. And the pros they are attracting is a roll call of sailing geniuses, names that are so recognisable in our sport from all corners and disciplines forging a whispering or muscle career and pocketing big dollars. Good for them – make high whilst the sun shines.

©IMA / Studio Borlenghi

As a more relaxed yet intense respite from the high-octane Cup and Olympic circuses, the maxis deliver. The owners are keeping the marine industry not just alive but thriving and their largesse and determination for the best is gratefully received down the scale. The money being spent at this end of the sport is considerable and not to be sniffed at whilst the technology push eventually benefits us all. Seeing the rich at play is a step into the impossible but the sport is moving relentlessly forward – albeit not at the foiling pace we become so accustomed to seeing these days. The maxi circuit is still highly relevant.

Amidst all this glamour and testosterone, it would be remiss not to mention the force of nature that is Andrew McIrvine – former Admiral of the Royal Ocean Racing Club and an offshore (and inshore) sailor of the very highest order who is the current Secretary General of the Maxi Association.

As hospital passes go, this is the sort of gig that can ruin a stellar sailing career but Andrew has navigated the shark-infested waters of the International Maxi Association with consummate ease since 2013. The class is richer for his guidance, none more so than in these Covid times as a more expert physician on the subject is hard to find in the world, let alone the sailing community. The Rolex Maxi Cup this week is the culmination of Andrew and his team’s considerable hard work and I sincerely hope that the owners and crews recognise and appropriately acknowledge his brilliance – they are extremely lucky to have him at the helm.

With light winds forecast from the north-east this week we’re unlikely to see too many dramas in the maxi fleets – goodness how we love a ding in these boats – but the spectacle is rare and beautiful. The photos are magic. The scene is glam. The racing is just fine.

Heaven is a place on earth called Porto Cervo.

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