You may have noticed a handful of young Italian men sporting Team Maserati shirts in Point Richmond over the past few months. Whether their espressos are pre-paid is a question for Giovanni Soldini, team leader, world-renowned skipper and owner of the Multi70 trimaran — or MOD70 — Maserati. Truth be told, they have been working full-time to prepare the boat for the start of the Transpacific Yacht Race on July 6.
And truth be told, Soldini and the Maserati team were nice enough to give us a ride on Sunday, along with a few other members of the media and a handful of other lucky souls.
The Maserati team arrived in Pt. Richmond in March following February’s RORC Caribbean 600. Buoyed by a tight race with their closest competitor, Lloyd Thornburg’s MOD70 Phaedo3, where Maserati lost by just 13 minutes of elapsed time, and are excited for a rematch in the Transpac, which will be no small feat — in May, Phaedo3 (narrowly) broke the Transpacific speed record from Los Angeles to Hawaii, making the trip in 3 days and 18 hours. The previous record was held by the 105-ft maxi-trimaran Lending Club 2.
Soldini was sober about his team’s chances: “I think it is very difficult to break the race record [to Hawaii]. Before we break a record, we have to beat Phaedo3. And even that really depends on the conditions. It will be close competition.” The rematch comes as Maserati is fine-tuning their foiling systems, and Phaedo3 has been showing remarkable speed sans foils.
To say that Soldini has come to the Bay to prepare for the Transpac is a bit of a misconception. “It’s not just preparing for the Transpac, it’s more evolving the boat,” said Soldini. The team has been experimenting with a combination of foils, daggerboard and rudder systems to eke out a little more horsepower. It’s a tricky balance of creating phenomenal speed, but still maintaining stability in the open ocean.
“We are very happy with the shape of the foil," Soldini said. "It’s just that we need to find a way to effectively control the boat at sea, when we are not in flat water. This is the big question.” Testing their new boards on the ocean, Maserati found that the retracted foil sometimes touched the water, creating a shock so great that it damaged a variety of their systems. “Hitting waves like this at 35 knots . . . we have plenty of problems with this situation,” Soldini said.
Latitude Goes for a Ride
In the America’s Cup, we’ve grown accustomed to teams whose accents can differ wildly from the flag they sail under. The Maserati team, and the brand surrounding and promoting them, is unmistakably, undeniably Italian. On Sunday, a row of beautiful cars bearing the namesake sat in the Corinthian Yacht Club parking lot, while a crew of elegant, well-dressed people ushered guests onto a RIB, and out to the 70-ft, multihull yacht. Bottles of prosecco were chilled, and chic desserts were on display.
But don’t be fooled by the polished sponsor. Stepping on to Maserati itself, there is nothing fancy or polished. Three burly Italians, some tattooed with gold hoops in their ears and knives on their belts, ushered us on board as Soldini watched. There was nowhere to sit, and once underway, we were shocked to find that there was little to hang on to. The luxury brand helps facilitate a pure, ultra-advanced sailing machine, and supports one of the world’s great sailors.
Giovanni Soldini has been an accomplished racer for over two decades. He’s competed in two singlehanded round-the-world races, and won in 1998-1999, while famously rescuing Isabelle Autissier, which earned him the Légion d’honneur, France’s highest honor. Soldini finished second overall in the 1995 BOC Challenge, has competed in six Québec-Saint Malos, with one victory in the monohull category, competed in six OSTARs with two victories in the 50-ft and 40-ft classes and three Transat Jacques Vabres, with one victory in the 40-ft class.
Soldini sat in a small chair on one of Maserati’s amas, and took hold of an unremarkable tiller. The 51-year-old Soldini’s face is dark and weathered, his hair long, his beard graying, and his hands thick and calloused. If you didn’t know he was a legend, would you still have gotten a sense of the man’s gravitas?
There wasn’t much hint of Maserati’s speed, until we hit the wind line just beyond Raccoon Strait, and aimed for the stern of a ferry going to Sausalito. You didn’t notice the speed as much as the noise. Suddenly it was deafening, like sticking your head out the window while doing 65 down the freeway. As we hit the wake, Maserati lurched violently — several of us went tumbling, grabbed on to whatever we could, and assumed our widest stances.
We can only call it a little scary. All of us are sailors, some of us windsurf and would like to think we’ve gone ‘fast’ before. But there was little that could prepare you for the way and the force with which the boat moved — or the spray, which wasn’t spray at all, but torrents of water blasting through the cockpit. In an instant, we were soaked (welcome refreshment on one of the hottest days of the year).
Sailing at about 30-35 knots and topping out about 40, we went from Marin to Pier 39 in what we’ll guess was five to seven minutes, then did a slow tack, and were back in Tiburon in about 10 minutes. If you blinked, you missed it.
Soldini, in shorts, a polo shirt, light jacket and Topsiders, was also soaked head to toe, as he sat happily in his captain’s chair, occasionally sliding a transparent spray guard in front of him, and generally looking like any sailor sailing their boat.
Just six minutes separated the first two finishers in the third Race to Alaska. Both trimarans arrived in Ketchikan on Thursday, June 15. Team Pure & Wild/Freeburd — Tripp, Trevor and Chris Burd — sailed and pedaled the 750-mile course in 4 days, 3 hours, 5 minutes, winning the $10,000 in cold, hard cash. Team Big Bröderna — Sean Huston, Nels Strandberg, Mars Le Baron and Lars Strandberg — arrived six minutes later on their F-31 to claim the second-place prize of a "pretty good" set of steak knives.
When Tripp Burd, captain of the winning team, was asked how it felt to finally take first in R2AK after three years of competing he said, “We finished in half the time as year one with twice as much work.”
The weather this year has been extremely erratic, with breeze ranging from flat calm into the high 40 knots. Many entries remain strung out along the course. See http://tracker.r2ak.com to check their positions.
It’s starting to look a little familiar: Team Emirates New Zealand is walking away from Oracle Team USA, and seems to be in a league of its own, taking a 3-0 lead after winning the first four races handily (remember that the Kiwis started with a negative 1. We don’t get it either).
But while the 2013 Cup in San Francisco saw Team New Zealand pounce all over the Americans early in the regatta, something looks different this year in Bermuda. New Zealand looks untouchable. We’re not making any predictions, and only a fool would say that Oracle, the comeback kids, are out of it. We’re just saying that the Kiwis are looking very, very fast.
Race 1 on Saturday saw some of the lightest conditions of the regatta. Oracle took a penalty for being over early and never really recovered. Race 2 saw Team New Zealand take a huge lead but run into some light air on one of the middle legs. Before even the announcers knew what was going on, Oracle came back from a 400-meter deficit and was right behind the Kiwis at a windward gate.
Following Team New Zealand, Oracle went to jibe, and absolutely parked their boat, losing every bit of speed and taking almost 10 seconds to get back onto their foils, while the Kiwis were at full speed. Race over.
On Sunday, Race 3 saw Team USA get a slightly better start but slowly fade, fade away through the course of the race. In the pre-start of Race 4, New Zealand helmsman Peter Burling stalled the boat as Jimmy Spithill was at full speed and seemed to be going in for the kill.
Commentators Nathan Outterridge (skipper of Artemis Racing) and Chris Draper (Team Japan) assumed Spithill would go for a ‘hook’, or get to leeward of Burling, luff him up, and push him away from the line. But Oracle took a more neutral position, was more or less even with the Kiwis at the start, and once again faded throughout the race, losing by over a minute.
Racing resumes next weekend, giving Oracle a chance to tweak their boat and find a way to claw their way back into the regatta.
Meanwhile, the J Class Regatta started with a bang. Ron Young of the St. Francis Yacht Club was sailing aboard Tom Siebel’s recently launched Svea, when he called in with this report:
"Great start, we were on starboard headed to second weather mark, a quarter mile away, when the top of the headstay broke at the mast. We dropped the sails and are heading in now."
We wish the J a speedy recovery and hope she’s back on the course soon.
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