Racing at the 15th edition of the biennial Rolex Swan Cup starts Tuesday, with 100 yachts, divided into four divisions, all gunning for glory and the much sought after trophies - the mythical Swan Cup and the Rolex Chronometer.
There is more than this at stake, of course. The Swan family is like any other family. Competitive rivalries exist. On shore these are forgotten in the midst of the post-race celebrations, but on the water expect every start, every mark rounding and every finish to be intense, nail-biting and no place for the faint hearted.
Nautor's Swan is not the most famous brand name in yachting for nothing. The company builds beautiful looking, powerful boats and one could be mistaken for thinking that Costa Smeralda was created to be their playground. With entries from 16 nations including Australia, Japan, the USA, Canada and Lithuania as well as the usual spread of Mediterranean and Northern European countries, plus representation throughout the model range stretching from the 11.23 metre, Swan 371 of Tanu-Matti Tuominer, Rosinante (FIN) up to the gargantuan 35.5 metre Swan 112 Highland Breeze (SPA), Nautor's Marketing Director Enrico Chieffi is understandably delighted.
Chieffi also is impressed, 'the strength of this event is that it is held every two years and people come from all over the world to take part. The key pointers to its success include, for sure, the number of countries represented. But, in my opinion, two elements stand out: one is the Swan Maxi Class with over thirty entries of boats over 60-feet, this is incredible for one company; the second is that this event incorporates the ISAF recognized Swan 45 World Championship with twenty-three entrants. Not only will the best Swan 45 win its division, it will be World Champion. Otherwise, the overall number boats and number of models represented also stands out for me. I think this will be the second highest level of participation ever.'
High participation and a wide range of competing yachts will make for a fabulous spectacle during racing as the fleet races on the waters off the incomparable Porto Cervo. But does the number of entrants pose a headache for Principal Race Officer, Peter Craig and his team from the event organizers, the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda? It seems no, certainly according to the consummate professional Craig, 'I'd never want to call the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup a tune-up regatta, but having to deal with forty big boats and four starts last week has certainly helped the team prepare for this one. I'm confident we will have another quality event this week.' Will the diversity of yachts racing, including two one-design divisions (the Swan 45 and the ClubSwan 42) create problems on the start line? Again the answer is no, Craig and his team have thought this one through too;
'It's a difficult one. When you do a proper starting line for thirty-plus boats averaging 70-80 feet long in the Swan Maxi fleet, you are looking at a line close to a nautical mile. As such, we're going to implement a two-part line, with a mid-line boat so, importantly, we can help the competitors and also we can be confident on calling boats over and keep the peace during the start. It also allows us to give the World Championship fleet of Swan 45s a proper size line of 500-metres or so.'
Where does one look for winners this week?
Well, all four divisions have their form boats that have been successful at regattas around the world, but there is only one returning champion - Danilo Salsi's DSK Comifin (ITA) is back to defend his 2006 title in the Swan 45 Class. Salsi will have his work cut out this year. Glynn Williams and WISC showed at Rolex Capri Sailing Week that success in the colder waters of the UK will translate into success in the warmer Med.
Marco Salvi's Vertigo (ITA) with Vasco Vascotto calling his usual mercurial tactics snapped at the heels of WISC that week and will be looking to reverse the result. And, undoubtedly, there are dark horses afloat. One of which may be the only female owner/helm in the fleet, Tea Ekengren-Sauren who has Jeff Madrigali whispering in her ear. For Ekengren and Blue Nights (FIN), this regatta is the culmination of three year's planning and preparation,
'It's really great to be here, since we have had it as our aim for some time. Hopefully we will do our best, and when we do our best we could finish in the top five.' Ekengren is not fazed at all by being the only woman, commenting that 'two years ago we stood out, but now the others take us for what we are, just another part of the class. There is a very nice spirit throughout the 45s and when we did really well in Palma this year coming third, our competitors were very nice and complimentary about how well we sailed. The great thing is that you meet people from all over the world and the common thing is sailing, so you have always something together. My big hope is that beautiful weather we have today will stay as long as possible!' And beautiful it is with blue skies and 15 knots of warm breeze encouraging the fleet to go out and practice. Smallest boat in the Swan Maxi fleet is the all-black carbon Spirit of Jethou (GBR). Being the smallest at 60-feet is an irony not lost on Ogden. Nor is the importance of this event being underestimated. Spirit leads the Swan Maxi circuit by one-point from Roel Pieper's 80-foot, Favonius (BVI). Winner of that circuit will also take home a Rolex Chronometer.
'We're looking forward to the week. We've come from the UK where it has rained for a month, so it nice to see some sunshine and the weather ahead looks reasonable, there's no sign of any 30-knotters coming in, but we'll find out as we go along' said Ogden, smiling as he continues, 'we're the small boat in the fleet at 60-feet, but I think we'll do OK. We've got the usual crew of amateurs and have been doing well. First in Portofino, second in Capri and first at the Giraglia.' So expect a battle royal amongst the big boats too.
In the Classic Division, for yachts under 60-feet, at least eighteen different models will be featured, including the Swan 46 that helped forge the reputation of the Nautor brand, and the Swan 51, the first model designed by German Frers. The two other house designers over the forty-year history of the company, Sparkman & Stephens and Ron Holland, also have boats participating. And, with thirteen different national flags in the thirty-seven boat division there is plenty of pride at stake.
The Classics will race under NSR (Nautor's Swan Rating), a hybrid version of IRC Rating that takes into account the adherence to and retention of original design features. It also incorporates a liveaboard allowance for those crews where members will be staying aboard their yacht throughout the week. The ClubSwan 42 one-design comprises eight boats. Small will beautiful, but no less competitive than the other divisions.
Leonardo Ferragamo, President of Nautor's Swan, has nailed his colours to the mast of this Division and will be looking to record his first success at the Rolex Swan Cup. With yachts journeying from the USA, Greece, The Netherlands, Lithuania and France to compete, Ferragamo and his Italian compatriot, Enrico Scerni, should expect a fight on their hands if either is to prevent the Swan Cup for this class traveling overseas.
The Rolex Swan Cup is well-regarded not just for the activities on the water, but also those ashore. The week starts with an aperitif in the Piazza Azzurra in front of the clubhouse. Later in the week crews will have a party of all parties to look forward to, whilst the owners and guests will also be entertained at the Rolex Gala Dinner at the Colonna Pevero Hotel. All in all a fabulous week ahead.
The 2008 Rolex Swan Cup will end with the Final Prizegiving Ceremony on Sunday September 14th. The Swan Cup Trophy and a Rolex timepie