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Art on the Water

by Mark Jardine 4 Oct 12:00 PDT
Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez day 5 © Ingrid Abery / www.ingridabery.com

With Act 1 of Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez 2022 now concluded, it was hard not to marvel at the photos coming through from the event.

The exceptional photographer Ingrid Abery sent through her shots, which looked like classical paintings. Thousands upon thousands of square metres of white sail, the stunning French Riviera backdrop, and crews kitted out in impeccable sailing gear. It really is a sight to behold.

These yachts, while incredibly beautiful, are also notoriously difficult to maintain and keep in Concours condition, so what is it that leads owners to commit to them in their droves? Classics are in many ways pieces of art, like a great impressionist painting, and the scenes on the dock would be quite at home in a Claude Monet or Pierre-Auguste Renoir masterpiece.

Maybe it is better to compare them with classic cars, such as the Ferrari 250 GTO or Mercedes 300SL, but even that analogy is flawed, as so many of these rare cars are transported to shows, and hardly ever driven. The classics at Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez, and so many other events around the world, are raced... hard. Their crews try to gain every ounce of speed out of them, loading up the rig, pushing the old yachts to the limit.

The white canvas aloft may look the part, but they're every bit as complex as most modern racing sails and mange to drive the classics at speeds never seen when the yachts were new. These are wolves in sheep's clothing. Beautiful wolves, of that there is no doubt, but none of them are out for a leisurely sail.

The classic scene is also huge in the United States, with events such as the Camden Classics Cup on Western Penobscot Bay, Maine and the Herreshoff Classic Yacht Regatta at Rhode Island.

In the UK British Classic Week and Hamble Classics attract healthy entries, with a superb Concours d'Elegance competition at the latter.

Then in Australia there are famous yachts, such as the S&S Dorade, which compete in the Classic Division at Hamilton Island Race Week. Classic racing is a global phenomenon.

There are also a myriad of classic dayboats which are seen around the world. In the Solent, scores gather at Cowes Week, including the XODs, the Portsmouth Victory class, the Bembridge Redwings, the Solent Sunbeams and the Seaview Mermaids.

I remember taking part in XOD Class Centenary event at Cowes Week in 2011, where 146 of the open dayboats took part, where an extraordinary three-quarters of the fleet were built during the previous century!

Move up the East coast to Burnham and you'll find the Royal Corinthian One Designs and the Royal Burnham One Designs; go up the West coast and you'll see the thriving Conwy Fife One Designs racing from Royal Anglesey Yacht Club and creating scenes which could grace any wall as a painting.

Down-under you'll find fleets of Couta Boats, gaff rig centre-boarders which are one of the most iconic of Australia's native boat designs.

Even the small dinghy scene thrives with vintage and classic racing keeping beautiful wooden boats on the water. From the 1930s-built 18ft Skiffs still out on Sydney Harbour, to lost 1950s classes that have been resurrected in the UK, with ribbed International 14s in both locations.

These may be the days of SailGP, foiling America's Cup monohulls, 50 knot speeds, wingfoils, Moths and WASZPs, but classics are thriving too.

They may take an extraordinary amount of time to look after - and you'd better be good with a varnish brush, or know a good boatyard - but classic yacht owners love their boats and are happy to spend the time on them. Maintaining a classic can become an obsession, and many spend time in winter with their prized classic in barns and under cover, scraping and painting, as a way to wind down from the stresses of work - a cathartic escape.

Once again, sailing continues to demonstrate just how broad a pastime it is, and that whatever your passion or preference, there's a place for you.

Mark Jardine
Sail-World.com and YachtsandYachting.com Managing Editor

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