I wake up at dawn, enraptured by the landscape I am lucky enough to admire from my hotel room window. They are in Mahón, Balearic Islands, where Wally and J-Class are starring in the Menorca Maxi: dream boats, in a dream place. The Menorcan natural harbor is a sight to behold, early in the morning, and deserves an in-depth visit, but no time: I’ve been busting the event’s press office’s chops so much that I’ve managed to get myself on board for today’s coastal regatta: 31 miles from the Mahón inlet exit to the Isle de l’Aire (in front of Punta Prima, southwest of Menorca) and back. I would have liked to have been accommodated on a J-Class, to experience the thrills of vintage sailing, but there were no seats available and I had to “settle” for the Wally Tango G, a beautiful 80-footer from 2006 recently optimized for the racing world after a leisure boat past.
Tango G is a three-cabin version of the Wally 80 (whose naval architecture is by Farr Yacht Design) created as a performance cruiser with significant interior volumes (created in collaboration with Lazzarini Pickering Design). Like every boat churned out by Luca Bassani’s yard, it is marked by easy sailing and ease of handling in a small crew: there are only 4 winches in the large cockpit, dedicated to halyards, mainsail, jib and gennaker. 24 meters long (and 5.96 wide), it fishes 4 m and has a displacement of 433.5 tons, with a pre-impregnated carbon composite hull. The sail area is 321 square meters.
BELIN, YOU COULD HAVE SAID THAT RIGHT AWAY!
The day promises to be interesting: northwest wind, 10 to 14 knots. I show up at the dock with my backpack equipped with my camera, ipad and “media-man” paraphernalia convinced that I can take videos and photos on board but I quickly realize that in racing it will be very difficult, the Wally’s “flush” deck offers few points of support. I introduce myself to the crew, it’s all “nice to meet you,” “I’m Eugenio,” and so on, except to find out later that most of the team is made up of Italians, or rather, Ligurians like me: “Belin, you could have said that right away,” the Genoese Paolo Torre tells me. I also recognize Edoardo Bianchi, a two-time Olympian on Tornadoes and an old friend of mine from my 420 racing days. As we get ready for the regatta, I manage just to get a few shots with my tablet, then it gets serious, the water invades the deck (next purchase: a waterproof tablet case on Nauticplace!) and I have to limit myself to taking a few photos with my phone in the “calm” moments. “Boating,” jokes one crew member, “is a sport that should be played on the couch at home, in the dry.
VIDEO – GETTING READY FOR THE REGATTA
“Five minutes, guys!” the French tactician shouts. In five minutes we’re off: we’re in front of the mouth of Mahon Inlet, along with the other 8 participating Wallys (including Lindsay Owen-Jones’ stunning 100-foot Magic Carpet 3) and the three J-Class Hanuman (the replica of Endeavour II), Lionheart and Ranger. The boat’s owner, Lebanese Sharif Suki, is at the helm: the Wally class requires an owner-driver, my compatriots explain. The start is a real tussle, I linger amused watching the very rich owners as they send each other off just like in dinghy racing: sailing is still sailing, at whatever level you practice it.
OF STERN LIGHTNING
We don’t get off to a great start, covered by Magic Carpet, which immediately sneaks away strong with its greater length, and while the rest of the fleet takes the left side of the field, we find ourselves attempting an initial stoke to starboard. Upwind the boat reaches 9-10 knots (with 13-14 true), but the heading is not the best and we round the first buoy in ninth position. Out of nine boats. “Not too bad,” they tell me, “at the carriers we are lightning.”. And it is true: during the long aft side, all the way to the Illa de l’Aire, we walk hard under gennaker recovering meters and positions: when we turn the buoy and resume upwind, we have passed Ryokan, our twin, and the 94-footer Kenora, and we are a spit away from J-One, the former Magic Carpet, also 24 meters long.
UPWIND TO MAHON
The crew on board works hard, it is a constant adjusting of sails and shifting of weights in search of the best pitch. Upwind, however, Ryokan and Kenora catch up; they are really just a spit away. We do not lose heart and manage to turn the mark one length ahead of Ryokan, and we reassure ourselves: the stern is our forte, and there remains a short leg to the mouth of Mahon’s natural harbor. Despite trying hard to cover us, under gennaker we gain those meters needed to cut the finish line calmly. With the calculation of compensated times, we finish in fifth position, behind Ryokan who we pay a few minutes.
(cover photo by Jesus Renedo)