New York Yacht Club, Newport, R.I. — When you’re sailing in a fleet of state-of-the-art 72-footers manned by some of the world’s top sailors, there is never an easy button in sight. That said, for skipper Hap Fauth, tactician Terry Hutchinson and the rest of the Belle Mente team, the inaugural Maxi72 North American Championship, was a very challenging regatta, full of enough twists and turns to keep a professional wind whisperer up for many a night. The four-day championship was part of the 162nd New York Yacht Club Annual Regatta presented by Rolex.
“The MOMO guys, and all the teams in the regatta, have really raised their games,” said Hutchinson. “The MOMO and Proteus are both newer designs, and you can see their performance gains in certain conditions. Today, it was who beat who with MOMO. We hung in there, it was always close, they never crossed us once, but we were just continuously battling.
After five buoy races over three days, including one in some gear-busting gusts to 30 knots on Sunday, the fleet was sent on a 30-mile coastal race to conclude the regatta. The track included at least seven distinct legs and, as it was sailed in a dying northerly, more passing lanes than is normal for a race with a lot of straight-line sailing.
This much was apparent from the get go. Belle Mente executed their planned start, tight to leeward of rivalMOMO, skippered by Dieter Schoen, and then sheared away from the other two boats in the fleet thanks to the funky current and wind conditions in Narragansett Bay. Fauth’s team had a strong lead at the top mark, but a half-mile into the long run to Rhode Island Sound it had all but disappeared. This give-and-take flow continued for the next three and a half hours.
“It was never comfortable,” Hutchinson said. “They sailed a really good race. We tacked on them a lot and they kept coming at us.”
At one stage late in the race, the fleet was faced with a tricky convergence zone of little breeze and lots of speculation. During Friday’s Around the Island Race—which didn’t count toward the class’s championship—Belle Mente saw a hard-fought lead evaporate just boatlengths from the finish in a similarly confused bit of breeze. Today, however, Lady Luck provided a little payback.
“Our luck on Friday was horrendous,” said Hutchinson. “But we got it back a little bit today coming under the Newport bridge. [Strategist] Ado Stead was up the rig, and he called some great lines of pressure. Hap and the trimmers kept the boat moving really well. It’s 100 percent a team sport on Bella Mente; 20 people earned that one today.”
While the boats are each unique designs, and there are subtle difference in performance in certain wind conditions and at specific points of sail, Hutchinson says it’s effectively a one-design fleet.
“There’s not enough in it that [anyone else in fleet is] going to sail by you,” he said. “If they go sailing by you, it’s not something they’ve done, it’s you who have screwed up.”
Three of the four Maxi72s, including Belle Mente and MOMO, will lock horns again on Friday when they start the 50th Newport Bermuda Race. While a 635-mile distance race does tend to spread out the fleet a bit, it wouldn’t be surprising to see these boats shadow each other all the way across the Onion Patch, with the winner decided in the race’s closing miles.