SPORT – Reaching for the sky at Perini Navi Cup


Some of the world's largest sailing yachts — with rigs towering upwards of 180ft off the water — have streamed into the picturesque harbour of Porto Cervo, Sardinia, for Perini Navi Cup, and among the stars of the fleet is the second largest traditionally-rigged sailing yacht in the world, Felicita West

, all 210ft of gleaming teak decks. 

This annual gathering — the third edition — is being hosted and organised by Perini Navi in conjunction with the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda.

From the (not-so) smallest, the 80-foot Elettra to the 288-foot Maltese Falcon, a technological marvel with it's three rotating masts, and a boat easily full of superlatives: 26,000ft² of sail area, 180ft masts, and a maximum draft of 36 feet.

Racing takes place today and tomorrow with one race per day. Officials said the thought of all 19 boats on a starting line is enough to give even the most hardened race officer pause, so the fleet will start pursuit-style, with individual boats going off at two-minute intervals. In theory, this allows boats to finish close together.

Principal Race Officer, Peter Craig, and the YCCS race committee have laid out courses in and around the nearby La Maddalena Islands, a scenic yet challenging course, which allows these behemoth yachts to show their true potential. The weather forecast for today is for westerly winds of 18 to 20kts.

Bruce Brakenhoff Jr, general manager of Perini Navi USA, said the number of entries has grown since the 2006 event. With 46 sailing yachts built to date, the company currently has eight yachts under construction, ranging from 125ft to 184ft, which in the current economic climate is no mean feat.

Brakenhoff explained the genesis of the Perini Navi Cup weekend, saying: "It was more about a rendezvous than the race. We really wanted to get all of our owners together in one place, for one big weekend. The first one in 2004, we were overwhelmed — it was such a fantastic hit. The owners loved it, the crews loved it, so we decided to do it again. This year is the biggest turnout, especially in this economic climate. The owners clearly wanted to go out and have some fun."

With a fleet of 46 sailing yachts cruising the world's seas, Perini Navi said it is a highly respected mega sailing yacht designer and builder. The company is known for its revolutionary automatic sailing systems as well as meticulous craftsmanship and attention to detail.

The latest launch in the Perini stable is the 184-foot ketch-rigged Riela, delivered in June 2009. The company seems to have hit a chord with this model: Riela is the seventh hull out of 10 built to date. The boat reportedly has great appeal and plenty of room to accommodate family and friends, with five staterooms, and requires a crew of 10 to 11, which is a relatively low number given the size of the boat.

Dockside at the YCCS are some noted guest crew members that will sail in the Perini Navi Cup, including Andrew Cape, fresh from the Rolex Fastnet Race (sailing on an Open 60, the other end of the design/performance spectrum) former America's Cup skipper Mario Pelaschier, and Dawn Riley, a former America's Cup and Whitbread round-the-world race sailor. Riley who arrived straight from a women's sailing clinic in the midwest USA, is more used to stripped-out racing machines, but this week she's traded up in the luxe living department sailing on board the 148-foot sloop-rigged Helios.

Talking about the differences between her usual rides, Riley said, "It's a boat with an engine to start with. I'm amazed at the size of these things: the lines, the sails, the mast. I was walking the docks and (the STP 65) Rosebud looks like a dinghy. It's really impressive, a photo doesn't do it justice."

With Helios' beam of 32 feet and a displacement of 362 tons, the racing is surely different than what's she used to, but then it's a fleet of somewhat similar gigantic boats going around the racecourse. Riley added: "I'm trying to temper my competitive spirit, because it's all about fun, but we're still going to adjust the leads, and put telltales on the sails. I think anytime you put more than one boat on the water, it's a race."

Farther down the quay, the slate gray-hulled 164-foot Ron Holland-designed Baracuda stands out in a sea of mainly navy blue or white hulls. Delivered in January of 2009, the yacht has hit the sea running, as it were, racking up 16,000nm over the past seven months. After launching, the boat sailed across to the Caribbean, then back to the Mediterranean to Spain and finally Greece, from where the yacht and crew arrived five days ago.

Sergio Lottini, the skipper, was understated when he said: "We had to try out the boat." Baracuda's non-stop schedule is likely to continue, after a brief yard period in Viareggio, the yacht will sail to the Canaries in the fall and across to the Caribbean. In fact, Perini Navis are extremely well-suited to distance and round-the-world voyaging — in the last 10 years, almost every year, there has been one family in a circumnavigation.

Baracuda is in Porto Cervo, says Lottini, because "the owner loves sailing; he enjoyed the St Barth's Bucket and then wanted to come here and sail in the Perini Cup."

Baracuda's stark interior was designed by John Pawson, the foremost proponent of a minimal aesthetic in architecture and design. Certainly the lavender-colored sails make a design statement, but Lottini and his crew aim to do well on the race course as well.

For further information on entries and results, 

Rolex, Marina Yachting, Axa, Acqua di Parma, Pommery, Icet and Audi are sponsors of the Perini Navi Cup 2009.

Photos: The 210ft Felicita West; Dockside in Porto Cervo; Dawn Riley four-time America's Cup sailor and David Hutchinson, guest crew members on Helios; Maltese Falcon masts.