A very classy edition of Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez celebrated the end of the Mediterranean sailing season in true style with 330 classic and modern yachts and around 4,000 sailors taking part in one of the most spectacular regattas of the year.
The 15th edition of Les Voiles enjoyed exceptional conditions which made for a packed week of racing enjoyment with 20 competing classes and some surprises among the list of winners with newcomers like Olympian, which triumphed among the gaffers, and Dorade among the Marconis, as well as favourites like Magic Carpet3 among the Wallys and Robertissima III (ex Ran) among the large IRCs coming up trumps.
OO arrived at Saint-Tropez last Thursday for Challenge Day, which gives yachts of all denominations the chance to go head to head. This year’s duels included Rowdy vs Chinook, Ikra vs Sovereign, Trivia vs Emilia and Mariska vs Hispania.
We caught up with Rowdy captain Brendon McCarty afterwards, who said: ‘It was good, we got to go out and see some improvements that could be made on both teams. We were both pretty happy with how it went off. Chinook and Rowdy have the same hull but different rigs and launched within six months of each other in 1916 so there’s a bit of good natured rivalry.
‘Chinook used to own Rowdy until December last year so their team has moved to Chinook and it’s us new kids on the block trying to come and play! Chinook won today, and top hat to them, they were the better team. We’re racing tomorrow, we raced yesterday and we’re doing okay in the overall standing.
‘It’s my first time in a classics fleet and my first time here at the regatta so it’s all new to me. It is such a spectacle and the organisation throughout the event is fantastic. They have entertainment at night for spectators and competitors and it’s a very friendly atmosphere plus the racing is second to none. We raced last week in Cannes and all the same boats have come down to give it another go this week.’
Ikra, winner of the Trophée Rolex in 2010 and 2013, was evenly matched against her sister yacht Sovereign and Matthew Werner, from Ikra - which celebrated its 50th birthday this year - interrupted his celebratory beer on board to tell OO: ‘We are having a party on Friday night to celebrate the boat and her birthday. Yesterday we raced in the big classics and finished second behind Sovereign. Today, we beat her! We took off the engine, the shaft and the propeller to make it the original configuration.
‘I have sailed in many regattas and there is something really special about Saint-Tropez. The ambience between the classics and the modern yachts is amazing and the beauty of the boats here is fantastic. It’s a celebration of the end of the Med season and it’s become something of a tradition for Ikra, as she has been racing in Saint-Tropez since 1981 when she took part in the race to Club 55 alongside Pride.’
Sillinger, who provided the Presse boat, offered to give OO an exclusive look at their ribs - the first choice of the French SAS, Command de Marine and the military - and reveal why they are the best option for getting up close to competitors. As we raced across the choppy Gulf of Saint-Tropez at speeds approaching 40 knots in a sleek eight-seater 950 Rafale rib that wouldn’t look out of place in a Bond movie, we came within a couple of metres of Angel’s Share, Tango and Black Legend 2, perhaps three of the sexiest modern yachts at the regatta, as well as skirting Nan of Fife and other classics as they waited for the wind to pick up.
Sillinger spokesman Charles Gillibert explained the boat’s appeal. ‘Each boat is hand-made at our factory. They handle really well and are easy to manoeuvre so you can go at great speed but also stop dead if you need to. That’s why they are used for special missions.
‘We have sponsored Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez for seven years and it is a great event to invite our leisure and professional clients to so they can try out the boats in a wonderful setting. They can test them here and then enjoy the evening entertainment. It’s a good place to do business. Today the conditions are a bit slow but it’s amazing to race with the Wallys when the wind is really up.’
At a cocktail party at the iconic Byblos Hotel hosted by Pommery for partners and sponsors, André Beaufils, President of the Société Nautique de Saint-Tropez, described the appeal of Les Voiles to OO. ‘St Tropez is charming with a lovely ambience and this is the only regatta with modern and traditional boats. It’s the last regatta of the season so they come here to say goodbye until next year. There are so many different boats here, everyone wants to see them. We have a lot of spectators, but we hold this regatta for the sailors and for the competition. We had some bad weather this week (Tuesday was a no sail day) but it is good now. We have just enjoyed a beautiful edition.
‘We are considering making some minor modifications to the race village, if only to adapt to the work of the harbour master’s office, which will be in effect next year. We’re certainly going to address the balance between the number of traditional and modern yachts and we’re reconsidering our categories so as to best respond to the desires of certain categories of boats. All our teams, both on shore and on the water have done a remarkable job in a great atmosphere. I am a happy President.’
As the sun set and the racing drew to a close each day, Saint-Tropez’s traditionally outstanding array of parties, cocktail soirees and entertainment would kick off, creating a carnival style atmosphere on the harbour and village streets. Events included a Sardinade barbecue party on the port where revellers were entertained by a Ray Charles tribute jazz band, a crew parade led by colourful drum-beating clowns from Race Village and around 70 street artists performing on the harbour. Up to 80,000 visitors a day were expected on each day of the eight day event, which wrapped up on Sunday with a prize giving brunch for the elated winners.
‘Grand Tradition’ group
As its name suggests, this group gathers together today’s largest classic craft and naturally it was dominated by the power of the immense schooner Elena of London (Herreshoff 2009) and her 1,300m2 sail area, ahead of Mariquita, the large gaff cutter by William Fife (1911) and the young centenarian Moonbeam IV (1914).
Epoque Aurique A (Period Gaffer A) group
This year the category gathered together 14 sumptuous gaff-rig cutters, schooners or sloops, measuring 9 to 19 metres in length, half of which were over 100 years old. Up against the stalwarts of the podium in Saint Tropez, Nan of Fife (Fife 1896) and Bonafide (Sibbick 1899), it was newcomer Olympian, an American P Class from 1913, which triumphed supreme, leaving Chinook (Herreshoff 1916) to battle over the runners-up prizes with another surprise newcomer, Folly (Camper and Nicholson 1907) helmed in Saint Tropez by German Frers.
Epoque Aurique B (Period Gaffer B) group
A category placed under the glare of the spotlight this year by the awarding of the Rolex Trophy, this highly prestigious group is very coherent in terms of performance and is widely considered to be the ultimate expression of the classic spirit. The group’s triumphs went to the oldest yachts in the entire Les Voiles’ fleet. Launched in 1885, the gaff cutter Partridge honoured her fabulous creator, John Beavor Webb, by getting the better of the formidable yet dynamic ‘small gaffers’, Jap (Fife 1897) and Lulu (Rabot-Caillebotte 1897).
Marconi A group
Among those carrying triangular sails or Marconi rigs, a most splendid spectacle was offered up by one and all, both in terms of pure aesthetics and the sporting intensity of the races. The American 12 m JI Seven Seas of Porto (Crane 1935) showed herself to be a cut above the rest, utterly dominating every race. The pacy sloop Rowdy (Herreshoff 1916) hadn’t experienced such stiff competition for a long, long while. However, she managed to salvage something from the wreckage by securing second place ahead of another star of Les Voiles, the famous Marconi yawl designed by Olin Stephens, Manitou (1916).
Marconi B group
The Class Q designed by Paine (1930), Jour de Fête, entrusted to the expert hands of Pascal Oddo, triumphed during each of the three races validated in this group. Leonore, the other Q Class designed by Johann Anker, was unable to respond other than by keeping the Marconi sloop Sirius (Stephens 1930) astern of her to snatch second place.
Epoque Marconi C (Period Marconi C) group
This was another group, which was remarkably well balanced and gave rise to some delightful battles. Of these, it was the now legendary newcomer (Sparkman and Stephens 1930) Dorade, helmed by her American owners Matt and Pam Brooks, which triumphed after a superb hand-to-hand combat with the no less legendary Skylark of 1937 (Olin Stephens) and Cholita (Potter 1937)
Epoque Marconi D (Period Marconi D) group
Smaller in size, the protagonists of this group from between the 1920 and 1950s raced entirely coherently. The May design Arrow from 1924 imposed ahead of the Cornu design Jalina (1946) and Sonda, a sublime 8m from 1951 designed by Gruer.
Classic Marconi A group
The large Italian Marconi sloop Il Moro di Venezia was embroiled in a fierce combat throughout the week but ultimately managed to resist the attacks of the formidable 12 m JI Sovereign skippered by the Bérenger brothers (Boyd 1963) and Ikra (Boyd 1964). Eventually Philippe Monnet was able to get his 1956 Sparkman&Stephens design Lys onto the podium to conclude the achingly tight racing in this group.
Classic Marconi B group
The André Mauric design Marconi sloop Fantasque took the win ahead of Maria Giovanna (Stephens 1969) and Outlaw (Illingworth 1963).
J Class: Ranger supreme
Four J Class boats really were a feast for the eyes amongst amateurs and experts alike offshore of Pampelonne. These giants managed to complete four races and Ranger, a beautiful replica by Jackson dating back to 2003, utterly outwitted her adversaries Velsheda (2nd) and Lionheart.
15 m JI: The Lady Anne’s revenge
Though the Annual Trophy for the 15 m JI was already in the hands of Mariska (Fife 1908) before Les Voiles even kicked off, the Britons on The Lady Anne (Fife 1912) made it a point of honour to conclude this fine year with victory in Saint Tropez. Mariska snatched second with one Pierre Antoine Morvan at the helm, ahead of Hispania (Fife 1909) and Tuiga.
"Vintage" 12 m JI
Four Vintage 12 m JIs were competing in their own race circuit at Saint Tropez. Wings (Nicholson 1937) secured the win with two victories of the three races run, ahead of Vanity V (Fife 1936) and Vim (Stephens 1939).
Tofinous and Code 0
They represent the classic spirit in its modern version and so it was that the Tofinous and Code 0s were able to race on the same race zone as the classic yachts, combining their carbon sails with the large cotton sails. It was the Tofinou 12 Camomille who bagged the win ahead of the other Tofinou 12 Milou and Aloha 2, François Bouy’s Code 1.
Five groups from the IRC rule were this year accepted on the Modern round in Saint Tropez.
This category witnessed an absolute jewel of a battle between the impressive Maxi 72 prototypes, with Robertissima III (Judel Vrolijk 2009) taking victory and Jethou (JV 2012), just beaten to second place by My Song, the Nauta 84 designed by Reichel Pugh in 1999.
The X Yacht INXS RD by Philippe Frantz made a stunning comeback after a calamitous first day to rack up four race wins and dominate the densest and most homogenous group of the modern yachts. She was some three boat lengths ahead of Les Voiles’ stalwart, James Blackmore aboard Music, the large Frers-design Swan, and the other Music, a Swiss Baltic 590.
Another newcomer to Les Voiles that really made her presence felt is the TP 52 Nanoq and her "all star" crew led by James Spithill, who secured victory thanks to a marvellous start to the week. Astern of her was the other TP 52 Gladiator skippered by Tony Langley, and Spirit of Malouen VI skippered by Sébastien Petit Huguenin.
Some of the greatest international builders can be found amongst this eminently competitive group. Adrien Follin and Give me Five were victorious by a narrow margin against Frédéric Bouillon and his Wallis. Michael Mueller on Pappes made it onto the third step of the podium.
It was a fine victory for the A35 Chenapan with three successes out of the five races validated, ahead of another A35, Tchin, skippered by Jean Claude Bertrand and the Lago 950 Java Bleue, skippered by Jacky Maitre.
Equalling the record, some twelve Wallys graced Les Voiles in their dedicated round off Pampelonne. Magic Carpet3 took the win, though the grand slam eluded them after they lost their hold on victory in the third race to Magic Blue, which managed to secure second place overall ahead of the 94-footer Galma.
Rolex Trophy (1st Period Gaffer B yacht): Partridge
Edmond de Rothschild Trophy (1st Modern yacht over 16m): Robertissima III
BMW Trophy (Wally Class): Magic Carpet3
Town of Saint Tropez Cup (1st Modern yacht outright): Robertissima III
Yacht Club de France Trophy (YCF): Alcyon
Trophéminin (Women’s Trophy) (1st female crew): No Limit