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The big show and sailing (Cannes Yachting Festival)

by John Curnow, Global Editor, 7 Sep 2023 08:30 PDT
Cannes Yachting Festival - celebrating the power and majesty of sailing © Cannes Yachting Festival

It depends on where you live and grew up. For some, going yachting means sticks, rags, and spray in your face. Conversely, for so many others, the term yachting describes large vessels, parties, luncheons, tenders, small ports where booking is essential, and marinas lined with bars and restaurants. What a contrast.

Now the Cannes Yachting Festival (CYF) is massive, held right in the centre of one of the most famous stretches of coastline for the latter kind of yachting, and quite rightly known the world over as the bees knees of boat shows.

So it might be surprising to remind ourselves that the sailing side of the festival only began in 2019, and has survived it all, including Covid. That's a pretty decent mark, right there.

Who better then than the Director of the CYF, Sylvie Ernoult, to ask about the state of play for the 2023 edition?

Just how big is it all?

"The number of sailing boats and sailing yachts represents a little less than 20% of the total number of boats and yachts exhibited at the show. This year, almost 700 boats are accommodated, with around 120 of them being new sailing boats, and around a further ten big ones being second-hand sailing yachts in the brokerage area," said Ernoult.

Is sailing in vogue with green the new colour for everything?

"There's no doubt that sailing boats are one of the most environmentally friendly forms of transport. It's a market segment that has been on the rise for some years now, especially since the Covid crisis.

"All the major boat builders such as Sunreef, Beneteau, Lagoon or Fountaine Pajot, or more recent ones such as Windelo, will tell you that purists prefer sailing, and young newcomers are also turning to it from concern for nature and to leave as small a carbon footprint as possible."

"Our exhibitors are telling us that they are happy about the sailing area and the business they do there, but as a show organiser we do not know the real numbers for business generated during the show!

"Still, as I sail regularly in the Med and the East coast of the US myself, I can confirm that there are mostly power boats on the water... So I hope that the youngest generation will change things, and that their green influence will push development of the sailing boat industry worldwide."

Go fast is under power!

Race yachts are not in the DNA of the CYF. If it is pace, it is in the burn Diesel section: "mostly small to medium sized 15m dayboats, and a few big yachts which are very fast and powerful."

Now that 'Leisure Vessel DNA' does extend to "...all sizes and gauges", as Ernoult puts it. So this year the Vieux Port has a new marina for 8-12m power vessels, and they can also conduct sea trials.

"There should be around fifty of them. Our visitors have always liked seeing small boats, and this year we were able to find extra space in the centre of the Vieux Port, so it was natural for us to add an area worthy of the name to this boat category to our show. In addition, this area responds to demand from exhibitors that generally prefer exhibiting their boats in water rather than on land. Boats from brands like Silent Yachts, Cormate, Hanse Yachts, and Nautic Yachts will be accommodated."

The reason we mention this is that in many markets, you often find owners with more than the one vessel, and just as often they have at least one of each type.

Dream gig!

Indeed being the Director of the big show would be, but Ernoult started sailing at a young age, so there can be no doubt that she is determined to see sail hold its sway at her show.

What's it like? "It's rather like a dream that's come true. Becoming director of the Cannes Yachting Festival was the opportunity to combine work with a passion! My job enables me to be involved in the boating world and stay in contact with this industry, which I've always been passionate about.

"In doing my job I leverage off my solid experience in the maritime industry. The most important thing in this marine environment is SAFETY, and I learnt that from the beginning of my career working with cargo and cruise vessels.

"So with liking sailing personally on one side, and my professional experience in the maritime and yachting industry on the other, I can say that I benefit from a good level of expertise to handle the challenging job of running and developing the Cannes Yachting Festival."

"46 years after it was started, the Festival continues to attract more and more prestigious exhibitors and visitors from all over the world. What's more, the Festival is constantly reinventing itself and innovating. It can be proud of its reputation to be one of the best and most beautiful shows in the world!"

Rich and varied history

"The bigger racing yachts today are definitely unbelievable. However, my heart also lies with big vessels, and my personal experience in building and running the Club Med One cruise ship in the late 1980s was something else! It was the biggest sailing vessel of its time. It was full of innovation, amazing technology, and was an impressive vessel able to sail, with a power/sail hybrid system, and more than 500 people on board. A great ship.

"In fact, her sister ship, Club Med Two, continues the legacy, and is still successfully sailing today."

Amazingly, Ernoult still gets to sail a bit herself. "It is not easy, but I am not complaining, I can still escape for a few days or weeks each year to go sailing with friends and family."

Club Med One certainly holds power in her mind (and heart no doubt), and is still her favourite vessel of all time. As for right here, right now? "My favourite are the Outremer catamarans. They look great, are high quality, and very fast sailing boats. In fact, the Outremer 52 will be launched in Cannes this year."

Showing a true sailor's humour, Ernoult closed by adding, "Another reason why the Outremers are my favourite is that they are a catamaran, which is much more comfortable for someone my age!!"

So the big show will once again be just that, and sailing's toehold could well expand further than just a beach head as fuel prices and environmental impact make their mark. Little wonder then that world over Cannes remains not only a show to go to, but a place where many reveal their wares for the very first time.

OK. We have stories, lessons, inspirations and history to regale yourself with. Please use the search window at the top of the home page if you are after something specific, as only the latest news appears on the website as you scroll down. We enjoy bringing you the best stories from all over the globe.

If you want to see what is happening in the other hemisphere, go to the top of the SailWorldCruising home page and the drag down menu on the right, select the other half of the globe and, voila, it's all there for you. Also, we have had a significant upgrade to our systems, and trainspotters will have seen that the button next door to 'Home' now says 'Editorial' which collects the latest from our team and also lets you see what each member has been up to of late.

Finally, stay safe, and let's see where it all goes now,

John Curnow
Global Editor,

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