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Black Jack first home 15 minutes outside Loro Piana Giraglia race record

Yacht Racing Podcast

After Wednesday’s ultra-light start on the Golfe de Saint-Tropez to relatively benign conditions following a thunderstorm before arriving into Genoa, it was hard to believe that thanks to a big breeze sleigh-ride in between – to the Giraglia rock and beyond – the 100ft maxi yacht Black Jack had completed the Loro Piana Giraglia offshore race at near record pace.

In the early hours of Thursday morning, race followers were anxious to see if Black Jack could break the 14 hours 56 minutes 16 seconds race record set by Igor Simčič’s Esimit Europa II in 2012. Black Jack certainly knew the way – for not only in past livery was she Esimit Europa II, but before that was Neville Crichton’s Alfa Romeo II which set the previous Giraglia record in 2008.

Ultimately Black Jack arrived at 03:23:43 on Thursday morning in a time of 15 hours 11 minutes 43 second, just 15 minutes 27 seconds outside the record.

The event, which has a new title sponsor this year in Italian luxury clothing and textiles company Loro Piana, was organised by the Yacht Club Italiano in collaboration with the Société Nautique de Saint-Tropez. Loro Piana Giraglia’s offshore finale, from Saint-Tropez to Genoa via the Giraglia rock off northern Corsica, forms the fifth event in the International Maxi Association’s 2023-24 Mediterranean Maxi Offshore Challenge.

Sadly this year a forecast showing gale force winds of 35-40 knots caused many teams with more inshore-orientated maxis to pull out of the offshore race before it had started. Ultimately in addition to the far larger fleets of smaller IRC and ORC yachts, 12 maxis led the Loro Piana Giraglia out of Saint-Tropez. Among them were a few new additions that had not competed in the inshores including Black Jack, Furio Benussi’s 100ft ARCA SGR and Carlo Puri Negri’s 70ft Atalanta II. The latter two arrived race-fit from the 151 Miglia-Trofeo Cetilar where just a week previously ARCA SGR had won line honours and Atalanta II the maxi class under IRC corrected time.

Within the first few miles ARCA SGR was forced to retire with hydraulic issues leaving a two horse race for line honours between Black Jack and event sponsor Pier Luigi Loro Piana’s own ClubSwan 80 My Song.

Due to military exercises taking place to the west, the race committee amended the course: after an offset mark the fleet headed northeast to Le Chretienne mark, east of Fréjus, and then on a fetch southwest to a mark off L’Escalet before resuming the regular course to Giraglia and Genoa. This shortened the course slightly from 243 to 241 miles.

Main image: A Rolex Sydney Hobart veteran, Black Jack in her various guises has also secured line honours in most of the major events in the Med.  Image © Loro Piana / Studio Borlenghi.

The forecast for some time had been showing the westerly mistral blowing, with a severe accompanying sea. Competitors were expecting to feel the brunt of this between L’Escalet and on past Giraglia. Ultimately the leaders saw the most wind around Giraglia; My Song reporting 30 knots and Black Jack a gust of 37.

The gybe-free broad reach to the Giraglia rock was epic for all involved with several boats notching up record speeds. For Black Jack, built to withstand the Rolex Sydney Hobart, the conditions were not unusual, nor were her 28-30 knot peak speeds. “It was balanced and going really well – we always aim to be up to wind speed with our boat speed, until it gets up to around 40 knots…” remarked skipper Mark Bradford. “There was a short sea state, but everyone is invited to come and do the Sydney Hobart if they want to see sea state!

“Before the race the forecast was just doom and gloom and everyone was panicking a little bit, but to be honest it was a pretty easy race. There was some wind off Corsica when we had 37 knots, but it was downwind and this boat is made for it, with the right systems on board. We were in good shape.” Despite this, they still played it safe and sailed beyond Giraglia into marginally lighter winds before gybing north.

For Black Jack, Loro Piana Giraglia was the first event under new Dutch owner Remon Vos, who was sadly not one board due to an unrelated injury sustained before the start. Several of Vos’ regular crew, including his son Ruben and owner’s representative Tristan le Brun, were on board, being taught the ropes by Black Jack’s regulars like Bradford and navigator Alex Nolan. “We have our mentors and we are blending the two teams,” commented le Brun, who was also working on nav alongside Nolan. “We are hoping for many wins in the years to come.” Black Jack had been training with the mixed crews in the Mistral over the days before the start, so everyone on board knew what to expect.

At Giraglia Black Jack was on Esimit Europa II’s record pace. “In fact we were up with the record until about eight miles out from the finish,” continued le Brun. However, as usual, off Genoa the wind went flukey and turned on the nose, which Bradford reckoned cost them 30 minutes.

Pier Luigi Loro Piana’s ClubSwan 80 My Song eating up the miles en route to the Giraglia rock. Image © Loro Piana / Studio Borlenghi

Behind, My Song did an admirable job hanging on to the coattails of her 20ft longer rival. 10 minutes behind at L’Escalet, by Giraglia their deficit had only increased to 40 minutes. However sadly there disaster struck. The wind was still blowing 28-30 knots when they attempted, unsuccessfully to gybe and with the lazy runner caught around the end of the boom and unable to be released, their mainsail split in two horizontally. After such a blistering run into the Rock, owner and crew were frustrated, but continued on with mainsail dropped. “We finished the race and it worked out in the end,” said tactician Tommaso Chieffi. “The reality was that I knew that the wind was going to be aft of the beam most of the way to Genoa. We did the last 90 miles without main and still scored a reasonable result under IRC.”

Over the course of today, the rest of the Loro Piana Giraglia fleet has been arriving in Genoa with tired but exhilarated crew, adrenalin still rushing after one of the most exciting nights at sea most will have experienced.

by James Boyd/International Maxi Association

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