The sailing calendar for classic yachts in the Mediterranean includes stops in idyllic ports including Antibes, Monaco, and Cannes. But it is the finale in St Tropez that is the not-to-be-missed conclusion for classic and modern yachts alike. This year Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez – which began life as La Nioulargue – marks the 30th running of this prestigious event.
Sunset of the Bay of St. Tropez
The nearly 300-boat regatta brings together the finest collection of traditional yachts (vintage and spirit of tradition), as well as the other end of the spectrum: modern high-performance racers. Today was the first scheduled day of racing for the Modern fleet, with the light 6-8 knot conditions on the Golfe de St Tropez causing a delayed start, all classes managed one race today. Racing for the Tradition classes begins tomorrow.
Les Voiles' fleet is divided into Modern and Traditional; with almost 200 boats, the Modern classes make up the majority. Boats such as Mike Slade’s 100-foot (30 metre) super maxi, Leopard 3, which held the monohull course record in the Rolex Fastnet Race until this year; the impeccably restored 1930s-era J-Class Shamrock; Swan yachts from the popular one-design Swan 42 to the Swan 112 Highland Breeze, as well as a good showing from the Wally fleet of 80 – 130 footers.
But it is the Traditional fleet – 84-strong this year – that impresses. The 'grande dame' of the fleet is the 136-foot (41.5m) Herreshoff schooner, Elena. She is not alone among yachts over the 100-foot mark, joined by Cambria, the Fife-designed 23m class sloop; the Herreshoff schooner, Mariette of 1915, and the Fife gaff schooner, Altair, which raced successfully for nearly 50 years before being brought back to impeccable condition in 1985 at Fairlie Restorations in the UK. Rounding out the ‘bigger’ boat fleet is the more recently launched Sunshine, built in out of teak and rosewood in Myanmar.
Equally impressive are the 15-meter class yachts, the elegant Tuiga (1909) and Mariska (1908). Though 15 meters (50 feet) on the waterline, with their long bow and stern overhangs and bowsprit, they stretch to 90 stunning feet overall. Along with these two is the recently re-launched Fife III-designed 15-meter Hispania, originally built for the King of Spain in 1909 – but unfortunately the Spanish boat had to withdraw from Les Voiles.
The idea for La Nioulargue is a now legendary story that took place in 1981 at Club 55, Patrice de Colmont’s ultra-chic beach bar and restaurant on Pampelonne Beach. It began as a casual barroom bet between the 12-metre Ikra, skippered by Jean Laurin and Pride, a Swan 44 owned by Dick Jayson, an American who was cruising in the Mediterranean at that time.
Three decades later the regatta endures, with tweaks and fine-tuning along the way. In the late 1990s, La Niolargue morphed into Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez and its popularity has only grown. Ikra still competes here. Now owned by Frenchman Yves-Marie Morault, the 12-metre won the Rolex Trophy in 2010 and Morault and crew are back this year to defend.
The Rolex Trophy is a competition within the Tradition division for all boats over 16 metres on deck. The winning boat receives the Rolex Trophy and a Rolex timepiece. First awarded in 2006, this year more than 50 boats are eligible for the Trophy, among these Graham Walker’s two-time winner Rowdy, a Herreshoff-designed New York 40. Past Rolex Trophy winners include:
2010 – Ikra, 12-metre. Originally built as Kurrewa V, a trial horse for the Royal Thames YC for the 1964 America’s Cup. Later owned by Baron Bich, who sold it in 1977, after which it was converted for racing/cruising in the Mediterranean.
2008 and 2009 – Rowdy, Herreshoff-designed New York 40 class. Commissioned by the New York Yacht Club and built in 1916, this design is 40 feet on the waterline (approx 65 ft LOA).
2007 – Agneta, 25-metre yawl, built in 1951. Agneta’s beautiful varnished mahogany hull and tanbark sails are unmistakable on the water.
2006 – So Fong, 25 metre Marconi-rigged schooner. Designed by the renowned naval architecture firm, Sparkman & Stephens and built in Hong Kong in 1937.
The Société Nautique de Saint-Tropez (SNST), organizer for Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez, hosts a number of regattas during the season including the Rolex Giraglia Cup. Though Les Voiles, with its incredible mix of the old and new, is unique and continues to attract yachts for what is to many competitors, their end of season rendezvous.
André Beaufils President of Société Nautique de Saint-Tropez
André Beaufils, Chairman of Société Nautique de Saint-Tropez, offered, 'For all regattas organized by the SNST our credo is: being serious on the water and conviviality on land.
These are already the two important things. And then I think the Port of St Tropez attracts a lot of people. We are lucky to have the port inside the village, a charming village. At the same time we have an expanse of water that allows great racing. All this together contributes to the success.'
With five days of racing planned, there is an equal amount of entertainment onshore. The overriding theme is fully festive, as the French do so well, with local marching bands featuring as prominently as sophisticated cocktail parties. Crews, in full costume, take part in the crew parade, a boules (lawn bowling) competition in the central square of Les Place de Lices, where each team ‘adopts’ a local boules expert to guide them in the nuances of the game, as well as music every night, along with generous amounts of the uniquely local foods, such as tartiflette and a sardine barbecue.
The fleet provides an international mix from France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, United States, United Kingdom, and Malta, among others. Given that the bigger yachts race with crews of 20-30, the port is awash with over 3,500 sailors, friends and family, creating a great camaraderie as many reconnect from prior regattas. Mixed in with a collection of mainly amateur sailors are the professional crews including competitors from the America’s Cup, Volvo Ocean Race and other grand-prix events.
Ambiance at the dockside
The classical and traditional themes embodied by Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez, follow on fittingly from the ethos of another Rolex-supported event: the Goodwood Revival, an annual three-day motor-sport extravaganza that takes place each September.
While the former showcases the finest in Mediterranean yachting, including a collection of lovingly-maintained classic and traditional yachts of 16 metres and over competing in the Rolex Trophy, the latter is a nostalgic gathering of vintage cars from the 1940s, 50s and 60s, reliving the glory days of the historic Goodwood Motor Circuit. Both Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez and the Goodwood Revival provide unique opportunities for enthusiasts to take a fascinating journey back in time, immerse themselves in the spirit of yesteryear, while admiring the elegance and designs inspired by the era.
Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez 2011 Event Programme:
Sunday, 25 September: Welcome for Modern yachts
Monday, 26 September: Welcome for Traditional yachts; Racing for Modern yachts
Tuesday, 27 September: Modern and Traditional yacht racing
Wednesday, 28 September: Modern and Traditional yacht racing
Thursday, 29 September: Challenge Day (match racing); Club 55 Cup between Mariquita and Altair; Centenary Trophy (yachts over 100 years)
Friday, 30 September: Modern and Traditional yacht racing
Saturday, 1 October: Modern and Traditional yacht racing
Sunday, 2 October: 11am, Prizegiving Ceremony at La Citadelle
Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez website