Les Voiles de Saint Tropez aka the elite of sailing REPORTAGE

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Voiles de Saint-Tropez 2021
Les Voiles de Saint Tropez (photo by Gilles Martin Raget)

“In Saint Tropez, sailing wakes up with you.” Banal, the tune that comes to my head paraphrasing Peppino Di Capri’s hit. But justified. I’m at Les Voiles de Saint Tropez, the big (in fact very big) French sailing festival: early in the morning I take a walk around the Vieux Port docks and hundreds of crews are already hustling aboard. Both on the Maxis (among the 250 boats entered, as many as 39 Maxis), among the vintage boats (86 queens of the sea), and among the “Modernes,” the boats that race in IRC (123 a total). Then, slowly, the crowd arrives. Tens, hundreds, thousands of people, drawn by the spectacle of the moored boats.

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Early in the morning, in Saint Tropez’s Vieux Port, where so many vintage and maxi boats are moored. Photos by Gilles Martin Raget

The Secret of Les Voiles de Saint Tropez

Here, in the beautiful Gulf of Saint Tropez, the pearl of the French Riviera’s symbol of the good life and Riviera life, the sailing elite gather each year for a week of racing. And it has good reason to. “And to think that it all began in 1981 with a gentleman’s challenge between two boats“, he tells me Titian Nava, tactician on Azzurra in ’83, then on the Moro, a “laghé” sailor with an impressive resume. He is aboard the Advanced A80 Mindfulness, the flagship boat of Marco Tursini and Antonella Di Leo‘s Italian shipyard, Advanced Yachts. Along with him on the crew are other very good sailors such as Elio Petracchi and Emanuele Cecchini (sales director of Harken Italy).

Les Voiles De Saint Tropez - 1
From left: Marco Tursini, Antonella Di Leo, Tiziano Nava aboard the Advanced A80 Mindfulness, the “flagship boat” of the Advanced Yachts shipyard

Nava is referring to the mythical Nioulargue, which was first staged 42 years ago as a match-race between two owners-Jean Laurain and Dick Jayson, respectively owner of Ikra (a 12-meter S.I. by Jean Rédelé) and owner of Pride (Swan 44, we will come back to talk about this boat). France v. US. The Nioulargue grew by leaps and bounds, becoming the must-attend event at the end of the season by opening up to Maxi and vintage boats as well. Until 1995, when a collision at sea resulted in one death and lengthy trials. The regatta was reborn in 1999 under its current name, growing steadily to the 250 boats (limited number) of today.

The Advanced A80 Mindfulness racing among the Maxis at Les Voiles de Saint Tropez.

One of the reasons why, at least once in your life, you should attend Les Voiles de Saint Tropez, besides the beautiful place, is just the atmosphere there. The formula is a winning one. One sea trial a day and then all ashore, friends, drinking together, joking“, Antonella Di Leo tells me. “The allure of the regatta is the secret of its success. At sea we did well and we are very satisfied, our boat proved to be comfortable and fast, especially at carrying gaits. And on the ground we had a great time“.

The village of Les Voiles de Saint Tropez
The village of Les Voiles de Saint Tropez

The great return of the Pride, legendary classic boat

Let’s go back for a moment to talk about that challenge, a mythical one, between Ikra and Pride. Twenty-two years later, it was repeated this year. The Pride, Sparkman & Stephens’ 1973 Swan 44, returned to St. Tropez to celebrate her 50th birthday after long vicissitudes-a beautiful story that I was told by Alfonso Vesentini, the boat’s former owner and, in some ways, its “savior.”

Dick Jayson, its owner, stopped racing in 1995, and in 2001 (when the last challenge between Pride and Ikra was staged, with the original crews on board) he was not on board, stranded in the U.S. after the 9/11 attacks, and subsequently his health deteriorated. His son, Bill, was busy with the Farr 40 racing circuits-no one had time to devote to the boat, which remained in a state of semi-abandonment near St. Tropez.

Until, in 2005, Vesentini enters the scene: “I saw the boat and fell in love with it. I inquired about its history and sent a love letter to Dick Jayson, saying that a boat with that pedigree SHOULD keep sailing. He understood me immediately, in two weeks the sale was completed“. The boat was refitted and brought from Saint Tropez to Lavagna, and from there by sea from Venice where it was based for many years, being used mainly for cruises in the Mediterranean. And when there was racing to be done, in local championships, Alfonso never backed down: good boat makes good board. There was no shortage of satisfaction.

The Pride, Swan 44 S&S, freshly refitted and ready to participate in the challenge against Ikra at Les Voiles de Saint Tropez

Then, in 2011, the Société Nautique de Saint Tropez, organizer of Les Voiles, contacted Bill Jayson, Dick’s son, to invite the boat to the 30th anniversary of the Noiulargue. Bill contacts Alfonso, who tries his best to come, but a mistral hit prevents Pride from getting to St. Tropez. In 2013 Dick dies. Enter his granddaughter, Gillian Graves, Will‘s wife, a great sailor with experience also in the America’s Cup with Dennis Conner. Finding out that Vesentini wants to sell the boat, the two get in touch. Gillian and Will go to Venice to sail aboard the Pride. They also fall in love with the boat.

A moment of the two-way challenge between the Swan 44 Pride and the 12 m S.I. Ikra

They decide to buy her: they want to take her to France for a refit to update her sail plan and deck, but Vesentini insists: “Have the work done in Italy. Nearby, in San Giorgio di Nogaro, there is a perfect place for refitting, both in terms of facilities and skilled personnel, Shipyard and Marina Sant’Andrea. And I also have the designer for you, Maurizio Cossutti“. Will and Gillian are persuaded and do not regret it. In 2023, at last, Pride returns to Les Voiles: with a new sail plan, a more streamlined deck, a carbon mast 2.3 meters taller than the original, the long-bladed rudder more aft. Perfect work, and Made in Italy. Gillian and Will, of course, invited Alfonso on board for this grand return to St. Tropez.

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Pride owner Gillian Graves with the boat’s former owner, Alfonso Vesentini

Thursday was the day of the challenge against Ikra:“With little wind we win, if it goes up a little Ikra will win,” Cossutti’s predictions. Unfortunately for Pride a little wind has arrived!


Bertelli’s hat trick

This is one of the many, many stories of Les Voiles de Saint Tropez. If we move on to the vintage boats, we find the créme of sailing: Mauro Pelaschier, Torben Grael, Pietrino D’Alì are all embarked, for example, on the Nyala, the 12 m S.I. of Mr. Luna Rossa Patrizio Bertelli (also present, of course!) who, of Voiles, does not miss one.

Patrizio Bertelli's Nyala racing at Les Voiles de Saint Tropez. Photo by Gilles Martin Raget
Patrizio Bertelli’s Nyala racing at Les Voiles de Saint Tropez. Photos by Gilles Martin Raget

This year he was a winner in the 12D category. One second, three first courses. Right in front of Ikra. Bertelli in 2021 and 2022 had won, however, aboard the other boat in his “collection,” Scud, a wonderful 1903 yacht designed by Nat Herreshoff.


The Moor of Venice I and other mythical

Also moored in front of Nyala on the Jean Reveille pier is Massimiliano Ferruzzi‘s Moro di Venezia I, the boat that started the most famous Italian boat dynasty.

Launched in February 1976, the progenitor of the Italian Maxi Yacht IOR class, she was commissioned by Serafino Ferruzzi as a gift for his son Arturo and son-in-law Raul Gardini, with the agreement that they would divide their weekends between sailing and working in the company. The initial idea was to entrust the project to the New York firm of Sparkman & Stephens, but once they arrived in the Big Apple, the two young men were picked up at the airport by an Argentine boy, then an assistant at the famous firm: his name was German Frers. And this is where the fairy tale begins.

The crew of the Moro di Venezia I celebrates victory. First on the left in the green shirt is owner Massimiliano Ferruzzi

This year’s Moor of Venice was also an overachiever: one second, one third and two firsts to dominate ahead of Encounter and Sagittarius.

Stern mirrors: from left to right South Australia, France, Nyala, Kiwi Magic

Moored on the Reveille Pier, continuously photographed by passersby and onlookers, were also old glories of the America’s Cup such as the 12-meter S.I. Kiwi Magic, the first New Zealand boat in the America’s Cup in 1987 (with then skipper Chris Dickson), French Kiss (the French challenge to the Cup that year), South Australia, France. In Saint Tropez, a sailing enthusiast feasts his eyes. Really. Also because crews often let you on board …

Once I see the boats moored, I am invited out to sea to watch the races: what a sight in the Gulf! A riot of vintage sails, regular boats, “space” maxis provide a glimpse that is truly difficult to describe in words. Then in the evening, big party on the ground.

Spartan crew celebrates winning the Gstaad Yacht Club Centenary Trophy 2023

Among the various parties organized, I go to the one celebrating the
Gstaad Yacht Club Centenary Trophy
, or the trophy, as part of Les Voiles, organized by the Gstaad Yacht Club and the Société Nautique de Saint Tropez in which only boats over 100 years old participate (this year there were 23, a record!). A challenge where boats start staggered according to a predetermined rating. Whoever gets to the finish line first, wins (for the record, the New York 50 Spartan of American Charlie Ryan won after a no-holds-barred struggle with the P-Class Olympian, helmed by French icon Bruno Troublé.

The New York 50 Spartan winner of the centennial boat regatta on the dock at Les Voiles de Saint Tropez

In the evening, since the challenge partner is a Swiss dairy company, I attend an unlikely milking competition in the square in Saint Tropez: starring a fake cow and the crews of the boats participating in the trophy.


Barbara aka Roberto’s passion

These include Barbara‘s, (18.00 x 3.30 m), designed by the legendary Camper & Nicholson shipyard in Gosport in 1923. Who turned 100 years old this year. To celebrate them, Florentine shipowner Roberto Olivieri tells me, he decided to attend all the rallies in the central and northern Tyrrhenian Sea, Spain and France. A story of unending passion for sailing. On board with him in Saint Tropez were his son Edoardo, Vincenzo Zaccagni, Serena Laudisa and Oliviero Carducci, among others.

Barbara (photo by James Robinson Taylor)
Barbara (photo by James Robinson Taylor)

Barbara is design number 318 built by the Camper & Nicholsons shipyard in Gosport, England, in 1923. Built in teak planking and pitch pine on oak framework, she has had among her former owners Harold Francis Edwards, a well-known English yachtsman and successful racer; Baron Amaury de la Grange, who made her based in Cannes since 1928; and Count Robert-Jean de Vogue, general manager of Moët & Chandon and creator of the Dom Pérignon brand, who owned the boat until the 1960s.

In 1982 Barbara was used as a support hull for the Atlantic windsurfing crossing completed in 24 days. In 1998, philological restoration was initiated in Spain by Astilleros Mediterraneo and later transferred to Viareggio and entrusted to the care of the Francesco Del Carlo shipyard.

The philological restoration work involved renovation of the hull, deck plan, interior, plumbing, and sail rig.

Roberto Olivieri happy at Barbara’s helm

By getting Barbara around as much as possible, lots of people take turns on board and we try to invite as many people as possible. I think it’s a great vehicle for boating culture” says Olivieri.


With my Starkel 64 good the first one!

The next morning they are back on the docks in Saint Tropez. I see a nice crew, wearing neon yellow uniforms, aboard a peculiar boat.

It’s Stella Maris, Matteo Fossati ‘s Starkel 64 on his first Les Voiles de Saint Tropez: “The regatta at sea is nice, but the “highlight” begins when you return with the shore parties. Kind of like the Barcolana. Someone had told me that Les Voiles de Saint Tropez, with due differences, is the “Barcolana of the French.” He had a point! This year, in fact, we decided to come here instead of doing the Barcolana, and I must say we were not disappointed.”

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The colorful crew of the Starkel 64 Stella Maris at Les Voiles de Saint Tropez. Matteo Fossati, the owner, is second from left above.

The boat, peculiar in its shape with a reverse stern, was recovered by Fossati: “I had found it in a state of disrepair in Olbia, I was struck by its lines and its seaworthiness. Every summer we go with my family to the Aegean, and we really needed a solid, functional boat.” Functional, solid and fast, this boat designed by Roberto Starkel: in fact, it won among the Maxis in its category (Maxi D).

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Achille Onorato’s Melges 32 Mascalzone Latino racing at Les Voiles de Saint Tropez (photo by Gilles Martin Raget)

So many, too many sailors “seen” in Saint Tropez. Vasco Vascotto embarked on the Maxi 72 Cannonball that Dario Ferrari has just surrendered to Peter Harrison, Luca Bassani (lots of Wallys competing among the maxis, of course), Achille Onorato on the Melges 32 Mascalzone Latino, Giorgio Benussi (on Pigi Loro Piana‘s ClubSwan 80 My Song), German Frers and his granddaughter Zelmira on the Recluta, the family boat, Beppe Zaoli on the Resolute Salmon.

Pigi Loro Piana at the helm of ClubSwan 80 My Song

 

The list would be very long. Because truly Les Voiles de Saint Tropez, for every sailor, is the “place to be.”

Eugene Ruocco


All the rankings of Les Voiles de Saint Tropez

 

 

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