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Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez unfolds

by KPMS on 1 Oct 2011
Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez 2011 © Rolex / Carlo Borlenghi http://www.carloborlenghi.net
Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez is notable for the diverse fleet of boats that turn up each September on the Cote d’Azur for a week of racing. Nearly half the fleet of 300 modern and classic boats is sailing in the Tradition/Classic classes.

The Tradition fleet is made up of 130 boats spread across several classes including: the 15 Meter class, Grand Epoque, Epoque Marconi, Epoque Aurique, Classique Marconi, and the diminutive Tofinou, the modern French-built day-sailer. For the Tradition class, boats must be built prior to 1975, though most of them are quite a bit older. Loosely translated the époque boats are the older, vintage boats, while the 'classique' are the based on classic designs. All manner of sail plans and rig designs are seen across the fleet represented by 'aurique' which is gaff-rigged, 'Marconi' which denotes a Bermuda-rig, with a triangular mainsail and a jib.

Since 2006, a special award – The Rolex Trophy – has been presented for traditional boats 16 metres and longer on deck. This year there are 51 yachts in this group, and the Trophy is awarded to the overall low point scorer. The winning boat will receive the Rolex Trophy and a Rolex timepiece. The 2010 winner, Yves-Marie Morault, on the 12-metre Ikra, is back with his crew, including tactician former America’s Cup sailor Sébastien Destremau, to defend the title.

Today’s racing was postponed for several hours as competitors waited for wind – a familiar circumstance this week as a high pressure over southern Europe has produced unusually benign sailing conditions, not typical for a time of year that often sees the mistral. The modern fleet finally got their first race – for the week, while the tradition fleet also got a late start and again a shortened course, as once clear of the gulf the breeze died off. Many boats in both modern and traditional classes retired, when faced with not making the time limit. Results were pending at press time.

Leading overall for the Rolex Trophy after two days of racing (through Thursday) – theoretically the halfway mark in the regatta – were Avel and the two-time prior Rolex Trophy winner, Rowdy.

Avel, named after a wind found in Brittany, is striking for her clipper bow and varnished sheerstrake. The gaff cutter measures 57 feet on deck, and with her long, graceful overhangs, stretches to 75 feet overall. Truly from another era, she was originally built in 1896, commissioned by Frenchman Rene Calame to a design by Charles Nicholson, and built at the Camper & Nicholson yard in Gosport, UK. In 1990, she was discovered in a river in southeast England, neglected and in dire need of attention. An Italian purchased Avel and brought her to Harry Spencer’s boatyard in Cowes for, what was, a four-year restoration. In 2010, Avel was awarded the Prix du Yacht Tradition in Saint-Tropez.

The boats standing at the top of the Rolex Trophy leaderboard showcase the range of design and periods of classic yachts on display here. Rowdy is a New York 40 class, designed by Nathanael G. Herreshoff and built at the Herreshoff boatyard in Bristol, Rhode Island. She was built in 1916, one of twelve of these one-designs ordered by the New York Yacht Club.

Standing tied for third is the 15 Metre class, Mariska and the 23 Metre class, Cambria both Fife-designed and built by Fife in Fairlie, Scotland. Mariska is one of four 15M class boats restored and racing again; three of them are here in Saint-Tropez.

Tied in fourth place are several boats including White Dolphin and Stormy Weather. White Dolphin was built in 1967 for Sergio Rossi, then a Director of Fiat. The teak and mahogany 73-foot Bermuda ketch was the last sailboat built by Vincenzo Beltrami, at the prestigious shipyard Cantiere San Germani. White Dolphin has sailed in many of the classic yacht races in the Mediterranean, but it is also extremely comfortable and well suited for the extended cruising that she was designed to enjoy.

Stormy Weather is a 54-foot Sparkman & Stephens-designed yawl built in 1934, at the Nevins yard in New York. Launched five years after the famous Dorade, which was the first design from the young Olin Stephens’ hand, Stormy Weather had a long and successful yacht-racing career capped with wins early on in the Transatlantic Race, the Fastnet Race, and the Bermuda Race.

At the time of her launching and subsequent successes, she impressed sailors including noted English boat designer, Uffa Fox, whose comments then could echo true today, 'Stormy Weather is one of Olin Stephen’s favourite designs and her lines show her to be beamy and powerful, yet very easily driven, and therefore fast. She is exactly the type of vessel favoured by the new American rule for ocean racing, a type that should gladden the hearts of those who go down to the sea in such small ships.'

Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez is a treasure trove of yachts, some more than one hundred years old, others from more recent eras, many impeccably restored, while others are waiting to be -- but all appreciated and enjoyed by the sailors and enthusiasts who gather in the old port to keep the spirit of the past thirty years alive.

Saturday is the final day of racing for all of Les Voiles fleet. First warning signal is 1100 for the Moderns, 1200 for Traditional. On Sunday, the final Prize-giving ceremony will be held at La Citadelle, the 16th century fortress overlooking the Golfe de Event website
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