Swedish Svea assured of Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup J Class title for second year in a row
September 8, 2023
Studio Borlenghi / Francesco Ferri
In light airs on Sardinia’s shimmering, beautiful Costa Smeralda, Svea today further enhanced an already unbeatable position at the top of the J Class leaderboard with a sixth consecutive race win at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup.
With a sizeable eight-point lead overall and Saturday’s one race still to go, they are already convincing winners of the prestigious Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup title which they also lifted a year ago when the boat was debuting at the season’s annual pinnacle event with her new Swedish owners.
But while they, again, were winners - this time around a short, inshore course south out of Porto Cervo clockwise round the rocky islets of Soffi Mortorio – once more the wily team on the 90-year-old Velsheda took the challenge to the well practiced crew on Svea and led them round the early part of the of course.
In 6-9kts of NNW’ly breeze Velsheda’s afterguard – veteran Kiwi Tom Dodson partnered by two Aussies, four times America’s Cup winner Grant Simmer as strategist with young J Class first timer Andy Green - made the best call off the start line. Starting on port tack they went to the right of the course leg and found the lift on starboard tack and were four or five boat lengths clear of Svea and Topaz by the windward mark of the 16 nautical mile islands tour.
But on the next downwind leg of the course, the lighter Svea’s extra speed told, and the black hulled regatta leader slid away to win by 2 minutes and 37 seconds on corrected time from Velsheda, which is second overall, three points ahead of Topaz.
Svea’s winter optimisation program, removing 11 tonnes of weight, is very much geared towards next year’s planned J Class World Championships in Barcelona during the 37th America’s Cup period. And they have had more training and racing days this season than the other two teams.
Bouwe Bekking who is the tactician who leads the teams program hard, just as he did previously with Lionheart, the 2017 World Champions, asserts with a smile, “We keep pushing. That is the same whatever class you sail in. If you don’t keep pushing, you are shooting yourself in the foot.”
He notes, “We had a full team training for four days in Palma and raced at the Superyacht Cup Palma, that was a full squad session in May some days along with Topaz. And again, it’s like any class, the more you sail the better you get, and it is the same for our owners who want to get better.”
Of today’s race Bekking recalled, “It was really difficult today, especially with the leftover chop and the breeze was oscillating 20-30 degrees. Velsheda did the one tack and led at mark 1. We did a couple more costly tacks. We are faster than them downwind especially in this lighter wind. They gybed off early and we made a nice gain holding course a while longer. After the Soffa Island we were sailing a bit higher to give the dirty air and keep them back. It is easy once you are ahead.”
And with the Sardinia class victory secured he paid tribute to Svea’s owners and, especially, the often-under-appreciated permanent crew under boat captain Paul ‘PK’ Kelly. “It is great for the owners first and foremost. And for the permanent crew, they really deserve it as they have worked so hard over the winter with the sails, and the moding of the boat, which of course if you don’t try then you will never learn.”
The optimisation is ongoing and dynamic as he explains, “Some (outcomes) are maybe not what we expected but we can still make changes. We can make changes to the sails, even if you have the best sails in the world, you can keep trying to get better.”
Velsheda’s Simmer loves the challenge of J Class yacht racing. “I love it. It is such a team exercise to sail these boats with 30 people around the track. It wasn’t so hard today but as soon as it is over 15kts it is all hands on. I like that.”
A renowned perfectionist and winner, Simmer has ten America’s Cup campaigns to his credit. He described today’s race. “We made a good start on port which was a good strategy because we did one less tack. We went to the right where we expected the shift and so by the top mark we were comfortably ahead. On the downwind we were trying to hold them off but they got on our wind and so we gybed off and in fact the shift went our way. But they are quite a bit quicker downwind, and they went on to win. I think we are quite equal upwind.”
Velsheda are all but assured of second though Topaz would love to finish on a high, Peter Holmberg, helmsman comments, “We feel ok about today. We got a good start and got the left that we wanted. In light airs on a J Class yacht, you have to pick a side, you can’t afford to make two tacks. We got that but that gave us a split from Velsheda which was really our target for the day. We were all really close there. We are very happy with the boat, we have fresh sails, some new trimmers, it is not quite enough. I’d say the rating is doing a good job but here we are the slowest boat and we tend to get penalised by just being tactically disadvantaged.”
1 Svea corrected time 2hrs 09mins 09 secs
2 Velsheda corrected time 2hrs 11mins 46 secs
3 Topaz corrected time 2hrs 14 mins 16secs
Overall after six races
1 Svea 1+1+1+1+1+1 = 6pts
2 Velsheda 3+2+2+3+2+2 = 14pts
3 Topaz 2+3+4+2+3+3=17pts