Port Vauban’s Esplanade St Jaume was a hive of activity as a record number of yachts began arriving ready for Les Voiles d’Antibes and the first day of sailing on Wednesday 4th June.
One boat in particular stood out this year amongst the 80 entrants, however, and not just because of her majestic beauty. Moonbeam IV is celebrating her centenary and Captain Mikael Creac’h made sure he had everyone’s attention as he and his crew marked her milestone with a lively party to kick off the regatta in style on Wednesday evening.
The mood was upbeat as hundreds of classic yacht enthusiasts mingled with sailors to listen to a lone bagpiper play Happy Birthday before Mikael addressed the crowds to thunderous applause before inviting everyone to enjoy a rum punch or two.
With many rival crew happy to wear Moonbeam IV’s commemorative shirt for the event - Mikael had 1,000 made up especially to give away inscribed with the number 8 (the amount of years he has been captain) and the phrase 'Connecting Sailors' - we caught up with him for a chat before racing began in earnest on Thursday.
‘It’s a very special year for us,’ he told OnboardOnline. ‘My first idea was to make our birthday celebration in Monaco as this was the boat Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier spent their honeymoon on and the story of the boat was in Monaco. I love to go to Monaco but in 2009, we took part in an incredible race for the first time between Moonbeam III and Moonbeam IV in 30 knots of wind at Les Voiles d’Antibes.
‘It was so crazy and fantastic that I spoke to Yann (Joannon, director of Les Voiles d’Antibes) and told him it would be amazing to use this race for our birthday. Look at the view we have here. The 2009 race was so magical - it was one of our best that year - that I decided we had to come back here. We won and I hope we win again for our birthday!’
Mikael says the friendly welcoming atmosphere at Antibes is a big part of the attraction, adding: ‘It’s such fun here. We had a barbecue last night with a tuna I caught. This is what it is all about.’
As the racing got underway, OnboardOnline was invited to join Altair on Friday’s course around Cap d’Antibes, Cannes and the Isles des Lerins.
With an international crew of 25 and a steady wind that was building up to between 12 and 14 knots, Captain Stephan Benfield, who was racing Altair against seven other boats in the Big Boat class comprising Eleonora, Moonbeam IV, Mariska, Mariquita, Hallowe’en, Moonbeam of Fife III and Agneta, gave a crew chat just before setting off.
‘Communication is a big thing, boats like this are really about communication between the crew,’ he said. ‘We need to sail the boat pretty open and keep it moving. We’re two days in and everyone is doing great at the moment. We are treating this as a bit of a training run as we have a few regattas coming up later this season.’
As the minute by minute countdown to our start was relayed along the chain of command, the deck was a hive of activity with professional race crew, volunteers and friends of Altair working together while tenders approached with photographers ready to capture her in action.
As a sailing novice, it was a pleasure for me to be part of the race, helping to hoist the fisherman sail and bring it down while the golly went up and then roll the jib top after we crossed the line to a klaxon and a round of applause.
Sadly, Mikael's hope of victory wasn't to be as Moonbeam IV was beaten into a respectable second place overall by arch rivals Mariska. The special Antibes atmosphere was summed up by Andy Cully, captain of Eilean, the flagship yacht for Panerai, sponsors of the Classic Yachts Challenge for the last 10 years.
‘We have Yann at the head and he is a good guy and loves to keep everything relaxed and fun,’ said Andy. ‘These regattas are driven by the organisers in terms of atmosphere and hospitality and he is a massive influence.
‘Like Cannes, there’s usually a good breeze here, you’re in a lovely bay and Antibes is a massive hub for yachting so it’s an opportunity for everyone on the Riviera to come together on the classics. It’s the first major regatta of the year and it’s a festival of classic boats with everyone on them enjoying the camaraderie and the racing. It’s like a big happy family and it’s nice to be reunited.
‘But don’t be under any illusions about the gentlemanly classics. We are gentlemanly but there are some incredibly good sailors on these boats and good sailors don’t like to lose!’
The party atmosphere continued on Friday night with live music from Blah Blah and into the weekend as crew, visitors, family and friends enjoyed the hospitality. To see the full results table, click here.
*All images by OnboardOnline