The Gladiator crew recovered from a high-seas collision when their sailboat was T-boned by a competitor on the first day of the regatta only to have a lobster trap rope wrap around their keel on the last day.
Nevertheless, Gladiator managed to finish the second regatta of the 52 Super Series in one piece, on a breezy, picturesque Saturday off the shore of South Beach. Gladiator, owned and skippered by British billionaire businessman Tony Langley, placed seventh after a week of racing among the world’s top monohull sailors. Azzurra of Italy placed first, with Germany’s Platoon second and Turkey’s Provezza third. Quantum Racing, owned by American Doug DeVos, won the first leg in Key West six weeks ago. The series continues in Europe this summer.
“It’s not a Disney ride on these boats,” said Langley, who owns three of the $2.5 million boats. “I’ll never forget hearing that sickening crunch. But it could have been a lot worse.”
The U.S. boat Sled rammed into the side of Gladiator on Tuesday just as it was attempting to bear away to its stern.
“The impact ripped the wheel out of Tony’s hands,” said tactician Ed Baird of St. Petersburg. “I grabbed the wheel on the left side, we got the sails down, made sure we wouldn’t sink and limped back to the dock. We were a matter of inches from severe bodily harm.”
Another prestigious international event concluded Saturday in Coconut Grove as Bacardi Miami Sailing Week crowned champions in eight classes. Miami’s Magnus Liljedahl captured his sixth Bacardi Cup for the Star class, partnering with skipper Mark Mendelblatt, who won his third Star title on Biscayne Bay.
“We complement each other because we know each other well,” said Liljedahl, 2000 Olympic gold medalist in Star, which has a 90-year history with the Cup. “He’s got wicked intensity and I can handle it.”
Liljedahl and Mendelblatt scored finishes of 2-15-1-5-5 in the 71-boat fleet. They edged Xavier Rohart and Pierre Alexis of France by two points. Last year’s champ Augie Diaz of Miami was fifth with Bruno Prada as crew.
U.S. boats Terminally Pretty (Viper 640), Isabelita Con Queso (VX One), Relative Obscurity (J-70), Drifter (A Cats) and Mikey (Melges 24) won their divisions and celebrated with Bacardi toasts at Regatta Park.
In Miami Beach, the powerful 52-footers boasted rosters filled with America’s Cup, Olympic and Volvo Ocean Race sailors. Gladiator’s tactician Baird, the 2007 world sailor of the year and a 14-time world champion, has been a member of two winning America’s Cup teams and four 52 circuit championship teams.
“The boats are really big and fast but they respond well to the touch; they’re not all machinery,” Baird said. “What I really like is how close the racing is.”
A little too close in Race 2, when Gladiator was in second place approaching the windward mark and had the right of way when Sled slammed into its left side.
“They lost control and spun into us going well over 10 knots, and with that sort of tonnage and no brakes the damage was considerable,” he said. “Imagine someone crashes into the front door of your house and comes through the wall. They ripped out a steering wheel and winch, collapsed a large deck area and wrecked some systems inside. The hole was above the water line, but it was big.”
An older, backup Gladiator happened to be in Palm Beach for shipping out and the shore team readied it for racing by working 24 hours nonstop. Sled’s bow had to be repaired also.
Misfortune struck again in Saturday’s first of two races in 10-15-knot winds when a lobster pot line got tangled around Gladiator’s keel. The same thing happened to the Russian boat, Bronenansec, sponsored by Gazprom. Both boats fell behind early. The Russians decided to stop and a crewman jumped in the water and cut the line free. Gladiator decided to save time and keep sailing and removed it after the finish.
“Not sure it was the right decision because we were very slow,” Baird said. “It was like riding a bike after a plastic bag wraps around your head.”
Steering was difficult, too, “like balancing on a tightrope – or a knife, actually,” Langley said.
As post-race consolation, Langley and his crew were able to walk 20 yards down the dock and take refreshment aboard Langley’s 130-foot yacht, the Corinthian.
“She’s usually in the Mediterranean,” said Langley, 61, who turned his family’s struggling Nottingham coal mining equipment company into a billion-dollar manufacturing and engineering giant. “But I brought her here to be our mother ship.”