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Festival of Sails 2024 LEADERBOARD

Natural amphitheatres

by Mark Jardine 11 Jul 12:30 PDT
Salcombe Gin Merlin Rocket Salcombe Yacht Club Week Day 1 © Olly Turner / Salcombe Stories

What is more important to you when you race your boat: a fair and even wind across the entire course, or an idyllic setting with a stunning backdrop?

Both have their place, but there are some venues which are so beautiful it doesn't seem to matter if the wind can come from multiple directions at the same time, and some of those directions seem vertical rather than horizontal.

In the UK it takes a lot to beat Salcombe Harbour for beauty. Cliffs on each side reach up to a thick covering of trees and rolling hills. The town of Salcombe is everything that a West Country seaside town should be. There are sandy beaches in little coves, estuaries and creeks and cruising yachts moored everywhere. It's a blissful and picturesque retreat which feels detached from the real world.

Great for cruising and eating ice cream, but surrounding each of those sandy coves are rocks, and the wind gusts, bends, and generally confuses, in and around every bay, so how come over a hundred Merlin Rocket dinghies choose this as their must-do event each year?

The racing can be tricky and frustrating, but it's the natural amphitheatre and surroundings which are a major draw for Salcombe Gin Merlin Rocket Salcombe Week. I've talked before about the formula of the event, which divides the fleet into two flights, each sailing a morning or afternoon race, which also proves popular for those wishing to make the event a holiday, but I believe the venue is as much a part of the allure.

I can't write an article titled natural amphitheatres without talking about Lake Garda in Italy. The B14s and Musto Skiffs are heading there right now for their World Championships.

The wind here is mostly thermally generated, and each has a name, with the northerly Pelèr in the morning and in the afternoon the Ora coming in from the south, which can often top 30 knots. Due to the shape of Lake Garda, where the northern end is thinner than the south, and squeezed by higher mountains, Torbole in the north ends up with the windiest Ora conditions, while Brenzone and Malcesine have it a bit lighter, and Campione somewhere in-between.

Garda is a bucket-list venue, and rightly so. Sailors from around the world do all they can to attend a major event there, all the way from the thousand-plus Optimists who take part in the Easter Regatta to the Moths, WASZPs and other classes at Foiling Week.

Last week saw the return of Match Cup Sweden, which historically has been one of the top match racing events in the world. Marstrand is a beautiful Swedish holiday town, surrounded by rocky shores, which provide an incredible backdrop and viewing platform for the racing.

The World Match Racing Tour has been through its up and downs lately, but the discipline is such an important part of our sport, so it's vital that it is supported and nurtured. Hosting events in great venues such as Marstrand gives the spectacular imagery that will help re-raise the profile of match racing, so let's hope this great event grows to its previous stature.

Having raced there in December 2019 in the Henri-Lloyd Frostbite Challenge I can attest to how beautiful it is, and how welcoming and engaged to sailing the locals are.

Sydney Harbour is another venue which is a natural amphitheatre, with a changing backdrop at every turn. Be it the Opera House, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the cityscape, the tree-lined shores, the many bays or the Sydney Heads, there's something stunning everywhere.

Having raced there a couple of months ago, the wind can be incredibly shifty, but this in no way detracts from the sailing experience, or the quality of the competition. It's just another dimension to try and master.

Far closer to home for me are The Needles, and just over a week ago the UK's famous Round the Island Race took part, with over a thousand yachts on the water.

July is a superb month for spectating yacht racing at The Needles, with a large fleet this past weekend passing the landmark during the RORC Cowes Dinard St Malo Race, and then on the 22nd we'll see the massive Rolex Fastnet Race fleet depart the Solent.

Baltic 111 Raven

Every once in a while, a real head-turner of a yacht is launched, and the 111ft Raven is certainly that.

This foil-assisted, ultra-lightweight superyacht is possibly the most extreme to have ever been built. Using foiling technology similar in look to that on the America's Cup AC75's, this moves things up in size and scale to a whole new level. She'll have a nine-ton keel for stability, and weighs in at 55 tons in total, so she may not fly in the same way, or at the same speeds, as the America's Cup yachts, but she will be a sight to behold.

What's more, this yacht has an interior. It may be spartan, but it's clear that she's designed to be comfortable at speed, although it may be tricky to sip champagne in the bird's nest cockpit while under way...

Every finest detail has been looked into from a weight-saving point of view, even down to the 'looks like bamboo' carbon seat in the shower compartment.

I was trying to work out in my head if this was proof of trickle-down technology in sailing, but Raven is about as far removed from mainstream as you're ever likely to see. Back in 2017 when the AC75 concept was released we all wondered if it would actually work, but now, less than six years later, to see it employed on Raven is extraordinary. This is one yacht that I cannot wait to see sailing.

Wherever you are sailing, and whatever the craft, take in your surroundings. We have an extraordinary sport and some beautiful locations.

Mark Jardine and Managing Editor

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