The 2014 Giraglia Rolex Cup enters its final phase tomorrow, Wednesday, with the start of the 241-nm offshore race. Some 213 yachts are expected to take part – a new record fleet. The mythical course which, in a normal year, takes crews from France to Italy, via the Giraglia rock off the northern tip of Corsica, offers something exceptional this year: a finish in Monte-Carlo. The unique opportunity to combine the finish of this celebrated race with the inauguration of the new Yacht Club de Monaco clubhouse has been embraced by the organizing clubs, race sponsor Rolex and, most significantly, the competitors.
The 62nd Giraglia Rolex Cup fleet ranges in size from 100-feet down to 30-feet. If conditions permit, Esimit Europa 2 - the largest and fastest yacht - will seek to dent its record time of 14 hours, 56 minutes and 16 seconds set in 2012 over a similar distance albeit with a finish in Sanremo just up the coast from Monte-Carlo. The yacht’s owner, Igor Simcic, is a member of the Yacht Club de Monaco so there is particular significance in his yacht’s quest to add a fourth line honours to her victory roll.
Skipper Jochen Schümann understands the added importance of doing well, especially given the presence of a special crewmember onboard for the race: Pierre Casiraghi, younger son of Caroline, Princess of Hannover, and member of the YCM Management Committee. 'The Giraglia Rolex Cup is one of the classic races in Europe alongside the Rolex Fastnet and Middle Sea Races,' he explains. 'The start and finish are always spectacular. Saint-Tropez is one of the most scenic places in the Med, and this time we have a special finish in Monaco.'
Schümann is cautious when discussing prospects for the race record. According to the German Olympian the unsettled weather of the past few days looks set to continue with light airs across the racecourse: 'If we get good steady breeze, there’s a chance for the record. Otherwise it will probably be slow.'
Behind the Slovenian Maxi, an intriguing battle is shaping up among four highly competitive 72-ft Racing Mini Maxis. Andres Soriano, owner of Alegre and another member of the Yacht Club de Monaco, is excited by the prospect of finishing in Monte-Carlo. He has tasted success in this race before with a Line Honours victory in 2010 with his previous yacht. Soriano has enjoyed the competition of the Inshore Series over the past three days: 'The Mini Maxis are very even, there is not much in it. Some are better in different conditions and a little luck with a wind shift can make the difference in getting one’s nose ahead.' He thinks this bodes well for a tight contest in the offshore race even if the larger yachts are not favoured by the forecast: 'Ideally we’d be hoping for more wind at the beginning of the long race to take us down to the rock. The approach there early in the morning is always difficult.'
Another Olympian, this time Frenchman Thierry Peponnet, who has been coaching Niklas Zennström’s Ran 5 crew ahead of the offshore race, has also assessed the challenge this year: 'It is special with the finish in Monaco. Normally the leg after the rock to Genoa is very smooth, dominated by light winds. This new course will make things a bit different, as the wind angles will change on the leg from the Giraglia to Monaco. We are waiting for the latest weather information to develop an appropriate strategy, but the team is very motivated; it is a race they want to win.'
Even though a professional yachtsman, Peponnet recognizes the Giraglia Rolex Cup delivers a distinctive flavour: 'It is such a mythical race. Similar to the Rolex Sydney Hobart, enthusiastic and passionate amateurs come together and challenge themselves against the most professional of boats like Ran, Alegre etc… It unites sailors from all over the planet, Corinthians or professionals all together on the same starting line.' Peponnet has done the race a number of times and finds it an attractive challenge even if sometimes long. 'You have to be patient,' he advises.
Patience may be virtue further down the fleet. The current forecasts suggest a hole in the wind over Monaco on Thursday that may favour the smaller yachts if they bring the wind from the Giraglia. Last year’s winner Laurent Camprubi, the owner of French yacht Alizée, was thinking of only a class win in 2013. He ended up taking the overall trophy and the Rolex timepiece. What does he think about his prospects in 2014? 'We came last year to win our division, we never imagined winning overall. We are here again to win our division and funnily we have started thinking that we really could have a chance to win again. It is a crazy dream but we have analysed the conditions and… yes, … may be.'
Camprubi would not be first to secure back-to-back victories, but he knows he needs favourable conditions, for his crew to work together, and good decision-making. That was achieved last year and: 'It was really a perfect race.' If he had to give an advice to a crew doing the race for a first time it would be to never forget you are racing for fun: 'You should come because of your passion for sailing and if the results go with you then of course it is magic. If you have given everything and the result is not so good, it should not be a drama.'
In encouraging those who have never done the race, Camprubi is a persuasive salesman summing up the virtues of an event that captures the imagination of all who participate: 'For someone who has yet to discover the Giraglia Rolex Cup I would let them know that the race is just magic. The ambience here in Saint-Tropez, the small picturesque town, the huge numbers of competitors, the beautiful yachts, the quality of the crew, the course, the passage at the Giraglia Rock… the great welcome you get at the arrival, it is all quite extraordinary.'
According to Carlo Croce, President of the International Sailing Federation, President of the Yacht Club Italiano and, therefore, another passionate advocate for the race the opportunity to finish the 62nd Giraglia Rolex Cup in Monte-Carlo was too great to be missed: 'The arrival in Monte-Carlo was decided upon because the Yacht Club de Monaco opens its new base this year and the inauguration of this new clubhouse will be exactly the same day when the most of the boats are crossing the finish line.' Croce emphasizes that the decision was made easy on other grounds: 'The participants liked the idea; they are really enthusiastic about joining the opening party on Friday night. Furthermore, the Yacht Club de Monaco is twinned with the Yacht Club Italiano and we are pleased to share this special moment, even more so since Rolex is a partner of both clubs and has been fully supportive of the idea.'
The 62nd Giraglia Rolex Cup race gets underway tomorrow at noon CEST.
For more detailed information about the 2014 Giraglia Rolex Cup including results and race tracking please visit the Yacht Club Italiano website