Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez bounces back with bumper maxi fleet
The second half of Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez sets sail tomorrow exclusively for the maxi yachts. Organised by the Société Nautique de Saint-Tropez in conjunction with the International Maxi Association (IMA), the second week of racing has a bumper turn-out of 45 maxis. These range in size from the two magnificent J Class yachts, Topaz and Velsheda, Topaz being fractionally the longer at 140ft (42.7m), down to numerous 60 footers such as IMA President Benoît de Froidmont's Wally 60 Wallyño.
Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez will be deciding event in the IMA's Mediterranean Maxi Inshore Challenge, following the Maxi Yacht Capri Trophy, Copa del Rey MAPFRE and the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup (Rolex Giraglia inshores were cancelled).
All are racing under IRC. Here the IMA-defined Maxis (80-100ft) and Super Maxis (100+ft) are competing in IRC1 or IRC2, depending upon their speed. The Mini Maxis (60-80ft) are divided between IRC 3 and 4.
Most of the maxi fleet has been berthed since yesterday in Saint-Tropez's famously picturesque port, with artists dotted around the quayside along with street performers, classic car rallies and famous bars such as the Sube and Café de Paris. The faster boats moor offshore due to their extreme draft. Among them is George David's all-conquering Rambler 88, plus, the fastest boat in the fleet, the 100ft Verdier-VPLP designed Comanche and last year's IRC1 winner, the Farr 100 Leopard, now under Dutch ownership but with many of original owner Mike Slade's crew still on board.
"I think that both here and Porto Cervo are amazing," said Brad Butterworth, the America's Cup legend who runs Rambler 88's racing. "This is on the mainland and is more accessible and the owners like it and the crews love it." As to how well Rambler 88 may do this week, Butterworth adds: "It depends on what the wind speeds will be. If it is windy it could be quite good, but it is all good fun especially if the sailing is good."
Also to watch are the local heroes on Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones' Cogolin-based Wallycento Magic Carpet Cubed, and Claus-Peter Offen's Y3K, fresh from her second place at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup. That event was the first ever for American Wendy Schmidt's crew on her new Botin 85 Deep Blue who will be looking to improve on their performance.
There is one supermaxi – the Swan 115 Odin - competing in IR1, but the majority, including the Js are competing in IRC2. This includes the plush Dubois 121 Silvertip and the immaculate Wally 107 Green Eyes (ex Kauris 3), now owned by Portugal's Paulo Mirpuri. While the Js will be undertaking their usual match racing, with Topaz hoping to turn the tables on Velsheda after her performance in Porto Cervo last month, top competition is also expected in this class between Philip Rann's Swan 80 Umiko and the longer, but slightly lower-rated Swan 82FD Kallima of Paul Berger.
For British America's Cup and Olympic sailor Andy Beadsworth, who is sharing tactical duties with American Mike Toppa on Velsheda, it is his first time racing here since Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez was extended to two weeks. "It is a great event. People want to be here and they have a lot of fun," he said, adding that although they are in a class with other similarly rated boats, they really only have their eyes on Topaz.
IRC 3 is the largest of the four classes and with numerous battles expected to play out within it. For this reason the fastest boats, the three former Maxi 72s and the VO65 round the world racer Ambersail 2 have been separated out into their own sub-division, IRC Three A. The ex-72s include Jim Swartz's Vesper, Sir Peter Ogden's Jethou (some 1.5m longer than her rivals) and North Star, the former Rán 2/Proteus, double Rolex Fastnet Race winner and World Champion, recently acquired by Britain's Peter Dubens and modified to run powered winches.
Among the remainder of IRC 3 are several Wallys, including Wallyño, which won the IMA Mediterranean Maxi Inshore Challenge in the last race of this event in 2019. However IMA President Benoît de Froidmont will be up against Philippe Ligier's Wally 80, Ryokan 2, winner here last year, sistership Rose (formerly Tango) with the hottest boat in this line-up being perennial winner, both here and in Porto Cervo, the Wally 77 Lyra of Canadian Terry Hui, racing with a powerful pro-laden crew.
Two boats are making their race debuts here. Pink Gin Verde, the Baltic Yachts works boat, is the first example of the Finnish boat builder's Café Racer 68, designed by Javier Jaudenes and with strong 'eco' credentials, half of the fibres used in her construction are hemp and she is fitted with electric engines. Black Legend 6 is from Nantes-based Black Pepper Yachts, who put together the IMOCA campaign L'Occitane en Provence and have returned to French designer Sam Manuard for this speedy, spacious, lightweight 74 footer.
Once again there is a strong turn-out from Italian manufacturer Mylius Yachts, top of the list being CEO Luciano Gandini's Mylius 80 Twin Soul B. There will be tight racing between the two Mylius 60s, Sud and Lady First 3.
"Les Voiles is a wonderful way to end the sailing season in the Med," said Gandini. "Saint-Tropez is lovely, and in October you can still experience some nice weather. Twin Soul B did not race here last year - travel restrictions due to COVID-19 pandemic were still very strict at that time - so we are now very happy to be back. The 2019 edition was a good one for us Twin Soul B was first in her class."
An older boat that still looks immaculate and remains highly competitive is the IMS-shaped Reichel/Pugh 80 Capricorno, sailed by a well seasoned Italian crew of former Admiral's Cup competitor Alessandro del Bono. According to tactician Flavio Flavini they are hoping to do better this week than last year when they broke their mainsail just after the start of the first race. "We have been sailing the boat for the whole season and so far it has been good. Saint-Tropez is a nice place and a pleasure to be in summer. It is very attractive for the owners and the sailors. Sailing-wise it can be a bit of everything. - quite tricky inside the bay here. If we have the Mistral they have good courses and it can be beautiful. We are lucky to be here."
Similarly strong and always raced well is Arco Van Nieuwland and Andries Verder's well-travelled and heavily campaigned Maarten 72 Aragon, winner of the 2016 RORC Transatlantic Race, one piece in their crammed trophy cabinet. The Vismara-Mills 62 Leaps & Bounds 2 comes with a strong pedigree from when she was Roberto Lacorte's multi-race winner SuperNikka.
The smaller cruiser-racers are to be found in IRC4. A strong manufacturer turn-out here is that of Construction Navale Bordeaux (CNB) who are represented by the 76s Dikenec and Zampa, the BX60s Criollos and Nina and the Bordeaux 60 Ila 2. IRC 4 could also be renamed the 'Philippe Briand' class as the French naval architect has not only designed all these boats but was lead designer on the French 1987 America's Cup challenger, the 12m French Kiss that is also entered.
Longest boat in IRC 4 is the Judel-Vrolijk 82 Ikigai followed by the Southern Wind 78 Elise Whisper, while Nautor's Swan is well represented by the Swan 65s Saida and Cassiopeia and the 651 Geronimo. An unknown quantity is the Shipman 63 Bambo.
Racing starts tomorrow and continues until Saturday when the prizegiving will take place.