Inside Look at the Hard-Core Maxi72 Yacht-Racing Series
By Michael Verdon
“Competing in the Maxi72 racing series is anything but a breeze for the yachts’ owners and crews.”
“Competing in the Maxi72 racing series is anything but a breeze for the yachts’ owners and crews.”
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ANTIGUA, WEST INDIES (February 24, 2017) – Bella Mente Racing, led by owner/driver Hap Fauth, launched its 2017 campaign season with a major victory this week, winning IRC Overall, CSA Overall and CSA 1 at the RORC Caribbean 600 in Antigua; The team took home the coveted RORC Caribbean 600 Trophy for the IRC win as well as the Bella Mente Trophy, the team’s namesake award, for being the first IRC yacht to finish that is wholly manually powered. The 600-mile offshore race hosted a record number of competitors for its 2017 edition, with over 80 yachts hitting the waters off Antigua, but it was the battle between Bella Mente and rival Maxi 72 Proteus that took the spotlight. The yachts dueled up until the very end, with the lead switching hands on several occasions. After over two days at sea, Bella Mente ultimately prevailed, crossing the finish line on Wednesday, February 22 at 4:51 p.m. (AST), ahead of Proteus.
“This is such an important event for our campaign each year so it was just the best to be able to come back swinging,” said Fauth adding that this year’s RORC Caribbean 600 win was exceptionally sweet for the team, which came to the event last year hoping to defend its 2015 IRC Overall win, but were forced to retire halfway into racing due to keel troubles. “We’re looking forward to the rest of our 2017 season and ultimately the Rolex Maxi 72 World Championships in Sardinia. That is what the whole season is focused on from here.
“It was a very hard fought win. Over the course of the race, the team performed 85 sail changes and all but one were executed perfectly. The crew gave a 120 percent and we got a victory out of it – a crew and afterguard-driven victory.”
The 600-mile race circumnavigates 11 Caribbean islands, starting its fleet off Fort Charlotte in Antigua and then taking it north up to Barbuda and around Nevis, St. Kitts, St. Eustatius, Saba, St. Barth and St. Martin before heading south for Guadeloupe. From there, the fleet returns to Barbuda and rounds Redonda before finishing back in Antigua.
“Our playbook was pretty extensive for this race with this being our fifth RORC Caribbean 600 racing Bella Mente, however it was based on the trade winds blowing as they normally do this time of year,” said the team’s offshore helmsman Mike Sanderson adding that though the RORC Caribbean 600 racecourse was the same as previous years, the fleet experienced a completely different wind direction, which changed the tactics and dynamic onboard. That, coupled with intense competition with Proteus, made for an extremely tough race. “This year the wind conditions did a 180 in comparison to previous years, which made for an entirely different race. For me, that was the best part of this year’s event. It’s always great to have a new challenge because it means we really have to do our homework to prepare for the race. When we got out there on the course, everything looked so different going around the track even though we were in familiar surroundings.”
Tactician Terry Hutchinson added, “It was an absolute battle all the way through. Proteus got the better of us in the pre-start and on the first leg up to Barbuda, but we did a good job of keeping it close, and one rain shower later we were bow-to-stern with the Maxi 72. For the next 450 miles we were tied to the hip. Proteus held the lead through to La Désirade (off Guadeloupe), but when we started on the 90-mile leg back to Barbuda, Bella Mente’s upwind speed shined and we were able to slip around Proteus and extend. From Barbuda to the finish we were constantly looking over our shoulder; our lead never felt big enough and we were preparing for one more parking lot with no breeze on the racecourse ahead. In true Bella Mente form, a couple of slick sail changes at the end of our 53 hours on the water got us across the finish line.”
When asked how he thought the team performed for their first event of the season, Hutchinson responded, “The team fared well, but we have a lot of work to do. The competition this season is very good, and so like in 2016 we need to apply a consistent process to our performance and development, and allow Bella Mente’s number one resource, our people, to perform.”
Bella Mente will compete in one more event in the Caribbean, Les Voiles de. St. Barth in April, before the yacht is shipped across the Atlantic to race in Mallorca, Spain for the Palma Vela in May. The team will then relocate to Corfu, Greece for the inaugural Corfu Challenge in July and return to Mallorca for the Copa del Rey MAPFRE later that month. The season culminates with its final and most significant event, the Rolex Maxi 72 World Championship in Porto Cervo, Italy in September.
Bella Mente is proud to announce our Tactician, Terry Hutchinson has been added to the shortlisted nominations for US Sailing’s 2016 Rolex Yachtsman of the Year award. The winners will be announced in January 2017! #ussailing #rolex #rolexyachtsmanoftheyear #terrryhutchinson
The coveted US Sailing’s Rolex Yachtsman & Yachtswomen of the Year Award
To find out about US Sailing’s Rolex Yachtsman & Yachtswomen of the Year Nominations: http://www.ussailing.org/yofy16-shortlist/
Hap Fauth fell in love with sailboat racing at the tender age of seven on the waters of Great South Bay off Long Island. Now aged 71 and the head of a successful business empire, Fauth remains as captivated by the sport as he ever was.
These days however he races on considerably bigger boats than the diminutive Beetle Cats and Penguins he cut his teeth on at the Babylon Yacht Club. This September he and his 19-strong crew aboard the Maxi 72 Bella Mente pulled off their second consecutive world championship victory in Porto Cervo, Italy.
Fauth still steers his own boat but now employs a thoroughbred line-up of pro-sailors of the likes of tactician Terry Hutchinson and crew boss Mike Sanderson to help him perform at the top level in regattas across the Unites States and Europe.
A renowned captain of industry and an iconic figure on the yacht racing world stage, Fauth is well known for his geniality and approachability. Not too surprising given that ‘Hap’ is an abbreviation of ‘Happy’ – his mother’s pet name for her son as a small child.
Fauth says he remembers his early competitive sailing days fondly.
“I grew on the Great South Bay, Long Island – that’s the body of water between Long Island and Fire Island – and I raced there from the time I was seven. My father was a very good golfer but he stopped playing and spearheaded a group at the Babylon Yacht Club to build 35 Blue Jays.
“So us kids went from learning to sail in Beetle Cats and Penguins – they were kind of the Optimist of the day back then – straight into the Blue Jays. We got really into it and we got quite good at the racing.”
Well and truly bitten by the sail racing bug, when Fauth turned 13 he started working after school packing sails for a local loft, Hard Sails. Meanwhile he was sailing every chance he got. He won his local division in the junior Midget Cup three times and finished second in the Sears Cup – a US national junior competition.
After serving his time in Thistles, in his late teens Fauth graduated to bigger offshore boats, sailing with the likes of the Bill Ziegler on his 49-foot yacht Gem. He captained the sailing team at Georgetown University where he also played football and majored in finance.
When he left university Fauth pressed the pause button on his competitive sailing to concentrate instead on his business career.
“When I went to work for City Corp after college I stopped sailing. I came out to Minneapolis to build a business for City Corp and then ultimately started my own business there and after that I was basically working flat-out. I got married my early 30s and we had kids, so I got them sailing in Lasers in the summertime up in Rhode Island. The only racing I did was ice boat sailing on the lakes in the winter.”
Fauth eventually returned to yacht racing in 2003 with the launch of Whisper a 120-foot Hood/Fontaine designed superyacht in Amsterdam.
“I started racing doing Bucket Races with that and we did quite well,” Fauth recalls. “I kind of got the bug again and one time when we were over in Saint Tropez putzing around on a beautiful day I saw Sotto Voce [a Dutch owned Judel/Vrolijk 62] and fell in love with it. I made an offer on the boat, which I didn’t ever think the guy would accept, but amazingly he did.”
Fauth shipped his new boat back to the United States renamed it Bella Mente – the previous owner declined to sell the name with the boat – and put together a half Corinthian, half professional crew together to do some racing.
On one of the first outings at the Newport to Bermuda Race the 66-foot Bella Mente upset the pre-race form guide with a stunning line honours victory in the 264-boat fleet which included the pre-race line honors certainty a 100-foot state-of-the-art canting keeler called Maximus.
“It was a very light race – more than four days for us. Before the start we put together a very good strategic plan. Everybody believed that there’d be a strong southeaster coming in and the fleet would come into Bermuda on this breeze. So the whole fleet went out to the east, but the breeze never materialized and they all ended up sitting out there. Meanwhile, we went up the rhumb line and got there first. It was the first time in 40 years that a boat under 70 feet finished first.”
Unsurprisingly, that victory remains one of Fauth’s most memorable races.
“I would say it was my first major victory in the Bella Mente family and an outstanding race for all of us on board. It was the 100th anniversary of the race so there were about 300 boats. Such a great thrill to finish first in a fleet that large.”
The troublesome commissioning of the second Bella Mente, a Reichel/Pugh designed 69-footer, Fauth says with a sigh, “taught me a lot about the workings of velocity prediction programs”.
“I kept asking them, ‘Don’t you think we should go in the tank to verify some of your conclusions from this VPP shape that you’ve come up with?’ They kept telling me they didn’t need to do that, but as it turned out that boat couldn’t hold a line worth a damn. So I had to rebuild the aft 30-feet of my brand new 69-foot yacht. As I tell people, I paid for two boats and got one.”
Nevertheless, the modified hull proved to be a huge improvement and Fauth and his crew had a successful European season culminating in a win at the Mini Maxi World Championship.
For the third and current Bella Mente, Fauth turned to Judel/Vrolijk with the exacting brief to design him an uber-boat that was both good offshore and around the buoys.
“You know how tough that is to achieve, but I think we have basically gotten as close to that ideal as you’re going to get. The boat will do 30 knots – it just gets up and goes. It’s really fun to race around the buoys and I believe we’re the strongest boat offshore. That’s why it’s my favorite boat.”
Over the years Fauth has assembled a squad of professional sailors large enough to mount two Volvo Ocean Race campaigns simultaneously. Ashore the sailing team is backed up by an equally professional and similarly-sized technical and logistics team.
He runs his sailing team the way he manages his businesses, with a heavy emphasis on preplanning and preparation and plenty of honest analysis of what is working well and what is not.
“I built the sailing team the same way I built my companies. Respect is the main ingredient in that I treat everyone well and there are no ‘stars’ on the boat. I hold everybody accountable but we win, lose or draw together.
“I love to practice and so we probably do more of that than anybody out there. The idea is no mistakes. Execution is what it’s all about. We don’t have any bitching, moaning, or second guessing. If we make a mistake, it’s all about recovery. There’s a lot of teamwork and then questions like: How do we get better? What did we learn today?
“We’ve steadily built a team of guys that all bring a lot to the table in terms of experience and expertise so now we have a good time when we’re racing. There’s not a lot of screaming and yelling on board. We’ve had guys that didn’t fit the Bella Mente profile and they got booted.”
As any raceboat owner will tell you, this kind of on-board utopia is easy to strive for but hard to achieve. How, for example does Fauth manage the egos of 19 of the world’s best paid sailors together on one boat?
“Everybody understands how it all works on Bella Mente. I’m a very good overall team leader and Terry’s a very good leader as a tactician as is Mike as strategist. It works out very well because I basically say I’m just like everybody else on the boat. I have a job. I’m the helmsman. Terry’s the tactician. Mike is our strategist. The trimmers and everyone else all do their job.”
After racing the entire Bella Mente crew – Fauth included – spend an hour or so with team coach, Jim Lyne, going through every single maneuvers. They take apart every tack and gybe and dissect every spinnaker hoist and drop to find out if any incremental gains can be made. It’s a level of professionalism that wouldn’t be out of place at the America’s Cup, but according to Fauth it typifies what is required to run a successful Maxi 72 campaign.
“Racing on this circuit is not an inexpensive endeavor,” he comments. “You’ve got a crew of 20 including yourself and a traveling team maybe of 27 including a sailmaker, a chef, a hydraulic winch guy who takes care of all the moving parts and the boatbuilders who get on board to fix carbon fiber when you get off. In many ways we operate in the same way as a NASCAR team does.”
Not inexpensive is an understatement. A new Maxi 72 can cost up to five million dollars and according to Fauth annual running costs on sails, transportation, accommodation and crew wages adding up to roughly the same again.
Undoubtedly Fauth could afford to spend his money on any number of alternative recreational activities but he says only yacht racing really lights his fire.
“I’ve been doing it all my life. I’m obviously passionate about it. I love the team aspect of yacht racing and the fact that it’s different every race and every day and every year, which makes it very exciting.
“That’s what keeps me coming back.”
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The original Bella Mente Racing campaign kicked off in 2006 with Key West Race Week, and since then owner and skipper Hap Fauth has had two additional racing yachts in the program.
Launched in Spring 2012, the current Bella Mente is a 72-foot Mini Maxi designed by judel/vrolijk yacht design and built by New England Boatworks.
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