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Giraglia Rolex Cup - More than a simple yacht race

by KPMS on 26 Jun 2014
Race Start - 62nd Giraglia Rolex Cup © Rolex / Carlo Borlenghi
The Giraglia Rolex Cup has always been more than a simple yacht race. It is a symbol of friendship between countries, yachtsmen and yacht clubs. The 62nd edition was no exception. 242 yachts participated in the event as a whole, some 206 taking part in the offshore race; 20 nations were represented; five clubs from three sovereign states cooperated in the organization; and, yachts from France, Italy, Slovenia, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom shared the major silverware. In all respects the 2014 Giraglia Rolex Cup exceeded its normal high standards of camaraderie and competition.

The dominant story ahead of the race was the decision to finish in Monte-Carlo. Since 1953 tradition dictates the Giraglia Rolex Cup offshore race starts in France and ends in Italy, or vice versa. It would take something exceptional to break this convention. The founding organizers, Yacht Club Italiano and Yacht Club de France, were united in the view that the inauguration of a new clubhouse by their twinned club, Yacht Club de Monaco, was appropriate justification. Rolex, a partner of the event since 1997, was fully supportive. The Yacht Club de Monaco is one of its partner clubs. Most importantly, the competitors endorsed the decision with a record fleet participating across the event.

The Giraglia Rolex Cup started life as a 241-nm offshore race linking two nations torn apart by the Second World War. The motive of the founding fathers was to help build bridges through the sport of yachting. Over the years the course has departed from different ports and finished in just as many. A single constant has been the rounding of the Giraglia, a rock off the northern tip of Corsica. Since 1997, the event has evolved considerably, growing in size, shape and popularity. In 1998, the decision was made to fix the starting port at Saint-Tropez and to add a series of inshore races. 10 years later a prologue race starting from Sanremo, historically one of the Italian start/finish ports, was added.

The success of these decisions lies in the number of entries. An impressive 107 yachts took part in the 58-nm sprint from Sanremo to Saint-Tropez. Setting off at midnight on Friday, 13 June, first across the finish line on Saturday morning was the French VOR 70 SFS, skippered by Lionel Péan. Richard Burton’s 35-foot Jet Lag took the overall win on handicap under IRC.

The three days of inshore racing off Saint-Tropez is always a spectacle. This year 172 yachts took part, at times filling the eastern horizon of the Gulf of Saint-Tropez with a blanket of sails. Competition was fierce as yachts across five classes sought to stamp their authority within their own division. Only one, appropriately named, achieved a clean sweep: Jean Marie Vidal’s Easy in IRC B. Most eyes were on the battle of the big boats, those yachts 60-feet and above, which included four 72-ft professionally crewed Mini Maxis. The three-time Mini Maxi Rolex World Championship winning crew on Ràn 5 set the pace, winning race one. The following day, Andy Soriano’s Alegre took victory. The third day witnessed a tense tussle from which Alegre once more emerged triumphant, enough to take the series win from Ràn 5 by virtue of a tiebreak.

The day of the offshore start dawned seemingly unaware of the major race about to leave from the Gulf of Saint-Tropez. An insipid sky and no wind set all the crews wondering not when they would finish, but how far from Saint-Tropez they would be that first night. The owner of the 45-ft Alizée and winner of the race in 2013, Laurent Camprubi, was on the one hand excited by a forecast of light winds with the possibility of breeze at the rock. Such conditions might favour his yacht once again. On the other hand, he had a real concern, which he expressed with a smile: 'I’m not even sure if I will be out of the Gulf tonight.'

Jochen Schümann, skipper of the fastest yacht in the race, the 100-ft Slovenian Maxi Esimit Europa 2, suggested the concern for the larger yachts would be the finish: 'All the models are showing the same: 10 knots in the beginning and then quite a bit lighter at the approach to the Giraglia rock, and the final leg. Tomorrow afternoon in Monaco if we are lucky.'

The models were almost spot on. After starting at midday on Wednesday, 18 June in light airs, the blue Maxi escaped Saint-Tropez unimpeded by virtue of a 44-metre mast-height and mammoth sail-area. Robertissima 2 briefly spoilt the party by leading off the start line, but Esimit Europa had established a race winning lead by the time she reached the first turning mark off Cavalaire-sur-mer.

Rounding the Giraglia by moonlight at 03:00 CEST on Thursday, Schümann’s 11-nation crew, including Pierre Casiraghi of Monaco, faced a difficult last leg to Monte-Carlo. Estimated times of arrival were as variable as the wind. In the end the line was crossed at 12:35: 'We were lucky to finish much earlier than expected. Aside from a critical point off Saint-Tropez where the wind was very light and Robertissima was really close we got our strategy just right. We always had breeze even if it was down to 2/3 knots at times.'

Casiraghi, a member of the YCM Management Committee, was delighted to be the first Monacan to finish the race and to dock off the magnificent new clubhouse: 'It’s fantastic to [be part of] the first real race to arrive here with this new building. I’m really happy.'

Esimit Europa’s arrival did not open the floodgates, as the next arrivals dripped in over several hours. The bulk of the fleet would arrive in the early hours of Friday. However, she did mark the beginning of 48 hours of festivity and celebration in Monte-Carlo.

Friday was to be a remarkable day as HSH Prince Albert II, accompanied by the royal family and the building’s architect Lord Foster officially opened the new premises of the Yacht Club de Monaco. It was a historic occasion attended by 4,000 guests, including government ministers, members representing 66 nationalities, and crews taking part in the Giraglia Rolex Cup.

The official part of the proceedings started at 16:00 with the cutting of the ribbon and a blessing bestowed on the building by Monaco’s Archbishop Bernard Barsi. Later that evening, HSH Prince Albert II crossed the harbour by boat to deliver the club’s flag from the old premises to the new. He was greeted on arrival by members of his family, to the cheers of members who lined two levels of the yacht club, and by the Giraglia Rolex Cup fleet, which filled the marina in front of the clubhouse.

HSH Prince Albert II, President of the YCM for the past 30 years, said this about the building: 'The flag I have just raised today flies proudly on the mast at the top of our new premises. It marks an important phase in the life of our Club, for Port Hercule and for the Principality. With this architectural masterpiece we wished to affirm Monaco’s yachting identity, our ambition being to continue to orient our country’s future prosperity towards the sea.'

And, of the show of support from the organizers of the Giraglia Rolex Cup, he commented: 'We have had a great relationship with the Yacht Club Italiano and the Yacht Club de France for many years. We’ve been talking about this for quite some time and to have it actually come to realisation is a wonderful testimony not only to what these two friendly yacht clubs mean to us and what they wanted to do with us, but I think it’s a tremendous honour and I think it’s a great part of the celebration.'

Shortly after the ribbon had been cut, the Yacht Club Italiano added to the excitement by announcing the overall winner of the offshore race. The victory of Bernard Vananty and his Swiss-French crew on the 42-ft Tixwave further contributed to an overriding sense that this edition was something exceptional: 'It was quite special to do the Giraglia Rolex Cup this year because it is exactly 40 years ago that I did my first one. I was 18/19 years old. It was very windy, we had a prototype boat and we could not finish the race. Last year we came back to do the race again, we were second overall and this year we have won!'

It had not been plain sailing for Tixwave, after effectively managing her race strategy for 241-nm it almost all fell apart: '20 to 30 metres from the finish line there was hole and we were in trouble. We started to check the time, thinking that all our efforts had been ruined in these last metres… it took us 14 minutes to cross the finish line!'

The euphoria on Tixwave echoed that elsewhere in the marina as crews and YCM members celebrated well into the early hours of Saturday morning the closing of another chapter in the history of the Giraglia Rolex Cup and the opening of a new one in the history of a yacht club founded by remarkable coincidence in the same year as the race: 1953. Sometimes the script just writes itself.

The final prize giving on Saturday brought the events to a fitting conclusion. Rolex timepieces and trophies were awarded to Vananty and Igor Simcic, the owner of Esimit Europa 2 in recognition of their successes. And, while no one was in the mood to end this year’s festivities, fortunately the 'old lady of yacht-racing', as Carlo Croce, President of the Yacht Club Italiano, described the race will return again next year to provide a platform that proves the passion and dedication associated with yacht-racing knows no boundaries.

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