Les Voiles de Saint Tropez celebrated what is already its thirtieth anniversary in style with another timeless event, which is sometimes confined to the stuff of daydreams. This latest week, dedicated to triumphant and seemingly eternal yachting, went like a dream, and it is impossible to tire of the spectacle, day after day, of the most beautiful yachts slipping across the water. It is intriguing to learn then that this desire for fine sailing dates back nearly 140 years. Beyond the rankings and other Trophies, most memorable has been the fine tradition which has gathered together over 4,200 sailors, skippers and owners, from all the world’s oceans, in a celebration of watersports. In their own way they have thanked Ikra, Pride, Patrice de Colmont and Saint Tropez for having, back in September 1981, had this simple idea to celebrate the glorious way of life in this magical gulf. Today it is a torch carried in the same spirit with enthusiasm by the Société Nautique of Saint Tropez.
Echoes of the Nioulargue
“We would like everyone to remember, or learn, how the Nioulargue came about” explains André Beaufils, President of the Société Nautique in Saint Tropez, “when in 1981, Patrice de Colmont, through a sense of intuition which was typical of him, created a no stakes challenge, a race between a group of friends who got together to celebrate the end of the summer prior to the following sailing season.” Initially christened “Club 55 Cup”, the race was originally organised between two boats, Ikra and Pride, which were to be fleshed out the following year and then went by the name Nioulargue. It is a name inspired by the Provençal word “Nioulargo”, literally “Offshore nest”, after an area of shallow water situated 5 miles from the bay of Pampelonne and serving as a haven for the reproduction of numerous species of Mediterranean fish. It is also very interesting to note that it was this original race between a 12mJI classic and a modern racer-cruiser which really defined the Nioulargue’s character, before going on to become Les Voiles de Saint Tropez: which is all about bringing together boats from the latest generation and those which have written the history of yachting on the same race zone.
The yawl year
It is said that one of the first things President John F Kennedy did, when his term of office began, was to make the Manitou the Presidential Yacht to replace a powerful 92 feet motor boat. Kennedy adored this 62 feet Sparkman & Stephens yawl launched in 1936 and donated to the Coastguards in 1955. Equipped with all the modern communication means, Manitou was quickly nicknamed “The floating Whitehouse” by JFK himself. Five years after his assassination in Dallas, Manitou was sold to the Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship at Piney Point, Maryland for 35,000 dollars. Olin Stephens designed Manitou after taking inspiration from Dorade and Stormy Weather. It was a trio of enthusiasts who then purchased her and brought her to Europe to sail in the Mediterranean: Swede Claes Goran Nilsson, Newzealander Phil Jordan and American Pat Tierney. The three men and their very cosmopolitan crew have set about ‘familiarising’ themselves with the boat. 8th at the end of this week, they promise that the next year Manitou will be the yacht to beat in Saint Tropez.
Other much appreciated ‘newbies’ this year include Firefly, a Dutch 115 footer designed by Hoek Design and built in 2011 at the Jachtbouw yard, and the renaissance of Skylark, a 53 feet yawl launched in 1937 by the Pendleton yard in Maine, according to a Sparkman and Stephens design. Skylark is considered to be a development of Stormy Weather or Sonny. Another pleasant surprise this year was the excellent handling in light airs of another yawl; Runa IV, helmed by Bruno Troublé and built at the Nielsen yard in Denmark in 1918. Measuring 10m73, this petite gaff rigger couldn’t hide its Viking origins. This wooden long keel racer was saved from destruction in 2009 by Yves Carcelle, who brought her back from San Francisco to have her completely restored at the Guip yard in Brest.
The challenge of Thursday!
In line with tradition, 13 Challenges, the centenarians’ race and the Club 55 Cup livened up the race zone at Les Voiles on Thursday. Mariquita and Altaïr confronted each other in an almighty battle on the Nioulargue Club 55 course within the context of the Club 55 Cup. To celebrate the event’s thirtieth anniversary, a novel element in 2011 saw Pride and Ikra, with part of the original 12 M crew aboard, duelling. After a fine start on the right hand side of the race course, the scenario for the opening days of Les Voiles was repeated with the elderly duo running out of wind rather than puff as they left the gulf. As such the two challengers came together to shake hands on a tie, which was very much in keeping with the gentlemanly spirit of Les Voiles.
Avel wins Rolex Trophy
The gaff cutter Avel (wind in Breton) was designed in 1896 by Charles Nicholson. In 1990, Maurizio Gucci saved her, entrusting the restoration to Harry Spencer in Cowes. Avel joined the Classic Mediterranean circuit in 1994 where she still continues to shine brightly. Avel has became the first gaff cutter to win the prestigious trophy.
Photo Credit: Carlo Borlenghi / Rolex
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