From humble beginnings, les Voiles d’Antibes has grown into one of the most-loved regattas, kicking off the Mediterranean sailing circuit each season in early June.
Now in it's 19th year, the success of this event is largely down to locals such as Voiles Director Yann Joannon, who spoke to OnboardOnline at the recent Antibes Yacht Show.
The regatta was born from a conversation back in 1995 amongst crew who'd just finished racing la Nioulargue regatta in St Tropez.
‘Most of the boats were sailing back to Antibes after a great race,’ Yann recalls. ‘A lot of sailors were saying, we are going back to our home port but there is nothing like the Nioulargue in Antibes, so why can’t we create a new regatta? All the boats were based there so the feeling was, why don’t we try to do something like St Tropez in Antibes?’
Naturally, discussions continued apace at the pub and pretty soon, it was the main topic of conversation. As luck would have it, the pub owner Thierry heard about it and called his father-in-law, who had just been elected to the tourism office in Antibes. ‘He said that a group of sailors wanted to organise a classic regatta in Antibes and fortunately, his father-in-law said what a great idea, let’s get started,’ says Yann.
*Les Voiles d'Antibes- Cyril Jarno
The first edition in 1996 was a low key affair, with 14 boats taking part and a relaxed party atmosphere, something that the Voiles d’Antibes soon made its trademark.
‘At the beginning, it was a one shot regatta and we were going to just enjoy ourselves,’ says Yann. ‘We were called a Friendly Meeting, not a regatta, and it was about people going out, having fun and coming back for a few drinks and a party. The first edition went well, we had a great ambience and we were very happy. Three months later, the Mairie in Antibes asked us when our dates were for next year. We didn’t expect to do another one but the first was such a great success, we thought why not?’
The event became more professional with a growing number of entrants year on year and now it hosts around 80 yachts, with a special 20th anniversary celebration planned for 2015. ‘We don’t want any more than 80 boats because we don’t want to be too big and we also have berth problems in the harbour,’ explains Yann. ‘We like to organise nice courses on the water and not have moderns and smaller and bigger boats where it can get complicated. We prefer to have only classics and 75 to 80 is our limit.’
*Couleurs Improbables- Marc Pelissier
Over the last 10 years, with the creation of the Panerai Classic Yacht Challenge around France, Italy Spain, England, Antigua and America, there has been more of a competitive element.
In Yann’s opinion ‘everyone wants to participate in those regattas and be part of the circuit and people really want to win. There is a lot more competition than there used to be. Some people enjoy having fun with their family and friends when they do the racing and don’t care where they come but other boats come here to win. They train hard, some of them have paid crews and professionals on board and they want to come to Antibes and win here because it is special to them.’
*Maniska & Moonbeam IV- Laurent Masson
The Voiles d’Antibes started 15 years later than the Nioulargue, which kicked off in 1981, and Yann says it had been a long-held desire to have a regatta in the historic port, but that it proved difficult to put into place.
‘It was complicated because Antibes is a private harbour so you have to ask each captain or owner if they mind moving for a regatta or leaving to anchor elsewhere,’ he explains. ‘People had thought about it but they didn’t have the connections we had to make it happen. Les Voiles d’Antibes was started by sailors and people who had businesses in Antibes so they knew the harbour, the captains, the owners and the companies working around yachting and that made it easier to get help.
‘You cannot underestimate the importance of the support from the yachting community, they all love the regatta. Even the crews from the big modern yachts love it because there are parties every night and live bands. Everyone looks forward to it.’
*Retour au Port les Village- Laurent Masson
This year’s event, which runs for five days from Wednesday June 4th until Sunday June 8th, has 78 boats registered, including Moonbeam IV, Moonbeam III, Mariquita, Mariska, Altair, Elena, Manitou (JFK’s presidential yacht), Outlaw, Adria and Argyll, which is raced by Griff Rhys Jones.
‘Griff always races on his boat,’ reveals Yann. ‘She is available for charter- so for a fee, people can spend the day with Griff on Argyll and sail the regatta with him. It’s amazing to sail with someone like him. Griff is very famous in England but in France, no-one really knows him. We know him as a sailor, a captain and an owner but not as a TV personality. He likes that.
‘A lot of the rich and famous come to the Voiles d’Antibes and they just want to enjoy sailing with their crew. That’s one mistake that we made at the beginning of the regatta. We organised a Champagne party one year for all the owners because we didn’t want to serve them beer in plastic cups but nobody came. We spoke to them afterwards and they said, we do Champagne parties all year long, so here we want to have fun with our crew, a nice day of sailing and drink beer at the bar with everyone, we don’t want to dress up or talk business! People are more relaxed and accessible here. Griff will be here drinking his beer too!’
Yann’s ambition for the Voiles d’Antibes is to grow ‘little by little.’ He adds: ‘We want to keep it just the way it is, with the same atmosphere, ambience and conviviality that everyone enjoys. We already have the right sponsors and the right boats and now we need to maintain the standards we have set.
But most of all everybody needs to have fun!’