Geist, the magnificent Spirit Yachts 111. Photo: Gilles Martin-Raget
Maxis prepare for their Mediterranean inshore grand finale
One of the most anticipated maxi events of the season, Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez, sets sail tomorrow (Sunday, 1 October) for the 39 boat modern maxi fleet. They will be joined subsequently by the smaller 'Modern racers' on Monday, and on Tuesday by the magnificent classics for which this end of season regatta is renowned. The maxis are divided into five classes - A1, A2, B, C and D - based on their IRC rating. They have a layday on Wednesday with their racing concluding on Friday, and with the classics finishing on Sunday (8 October). Thus the two week format of the last two years has been compressed into 10 days.
Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez marks the conclusion of the International Maxi Association's six event 2023 Mediterranean Maxi Inshore Challenge (MMIC). This started in May with PalmaVela and continued with the IMA Maxi European Championship in Sorrento, the inshore races here in Saint-Tropez for Rolex Giraglia and Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup.
Past winners of the IMA MMIC have included IMA President Benoît de Froidmont's Wally 60 Wallyño in 2019 and Alessandro del Bono's 78ft Capricorno last year.
Jean-Luc Petithuguenin's 107ft Spirit of Malouen X won what was effectively the Super Maxi class here last year and returns but this year is grouped with the highly competitive fleet of 100 footers. This includes V (ex-Tango), Galateia and Magic Carpet Cubed of perennial competitor and Saint-Tropez resident Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones, who prevailed among the 100 footers here last year, plus the brand new Wally 101 y3k of Claus-Peter Offen, again another long term Saint-Tropez competitor.
However distinctly on-form this season is Galateia, being campaigned here by co-owner Chris Flowers, who also steered her here during the Rolex Giraglia inshores in June. So far the white Wallycento won her class at Palmavela, was the first 100 footer at the Rolex Giraglia inshores and comfortably came out on top at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup.
"It is looking light for the first few days – [Magic] Carpet has been pretty good in light airs, but we have improved our light airs sailing with sails and the way we are sailing the boat," commented Galateia's tactician Kelvin Harrap. And the attraction of Saint-Tropez? "Being able to come into the dock area plus the atmosphere and the coastal courses are quite interesting and there are a lot of opportunities. Quite often the wind can shut down just off the finish. It can be quite technical."
While Magic Carpet Cubed is always threatening, Andrea Recordati's massively refitted Wally 93 Bullitt did well at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup when she won her class in the last two races. Also to watch in this class are Wendy Schmidt's 85ft Deep Blue and the ClubSwan 80 My Song of Pier Liugi Loro Piana.
While these will all race in the Maxi A1 class, the trio of former Maxi 72s – Sir Peter Ogden's 77ft Jethou, the 72ft Cannonball and Peter Dubens' 72ft North Star are competing on their own in Maxi A2. Cannonball was top of this trio in Porto Cervo, despite being sold to Peter Harrison, who will race here this week with Dario Ferrari's crack squad of crew led by Michael Ivaldi and tactician Vasco Vascotto. Under Ferrari, Cannonball also prevailed here last year when she dropped just one point, and followed this with a perfect scoreline during the Rolex Giraglia inshores in June.
"It will be light most of the week, which are Cannonball conditions," observed Ivaldi, who is strategist on board. "We feel good with this boat. The competition with North Star is pretty high and often with Jethou too. Our boat likes windward-leewards, so we are happy to go to Pampelonne."
The program this week for the Maxis comprises a coastal course around the Golfe de Saint-Tropez tomorrow (Sunday), before they move to the bay off the famous Cote d'Azur hotspot of Pampelonne Beach over Monday-Tuesday and Thursday-Friday from where windward-leewards or coastal courses will be held. Wednesday is the scheduled layday for the Maxis.
In Maxi B the favourite must be Terry Hui's Lyra. While she hasn't otherwise raced this year, the black Wally 78 and her crew, including Danish tactician and SailGP skipper Nicolai Sehested, has a formidable record both here and in Porto Cervo. She won her class in Saint-Tropez a year ago in the same year as the Chinese-Canadian's team was crowned the first ever IMA Maxi European Champion. In Maxi B she will face some of the bigger slower superyachts like the 34m long Dubois-designed Silvertip and the magnificent Spirit Yachts 111 Geist. Another brand new maxi in this class is the Baltic Yachts Café Racer 68 Open Season of former IMA President Thomas Bscher, which on her first outing won her class in the last race at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup.
Maxi C features two brand new boats, the Grand Soleil 72 Bianca and Mylius 66 RS Schorch, one of three Mylius Yachts models here along with the two 60s Sud and Jean-Pierre Dreau's well-travelled Lady First 3. There is a 'modern classic' in the magnificent Andre Hoek-designed 108 footer Namuun and the two-year-old Italian Advanced 80 Mindfulness. Favourite, and most familiar with Saint-Tropez, is the 60ft Wallyño of Benoît de Froidmont. The International Maxi Association President raced his first Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez in 2010. "I like the mix of classic and modern boats and the spirit here is completely unique," he says of the event's attraction. "You only find that mix here – the ambience and competition. This is the second largest Maxi concentration in the world."
Since the IMA became involved with the event five years ago, the Association and the Société Nautique de Saint-Tropez have made great steps raising the standard of the competition. "With the SNST we have a strong efficient cooperation," says de Froidmont. "All the owners say we have really improved the event and reached their expectations in terms of the competition and the race management. Pierre [Roinson, President of the SNST] and his team are doing a fantastic job with our own PRO Ariane Mainemare."
As to how he will get on here – de Froidmont won here 10 years ago but more recently was unbeaten during the inshore racing at Rolex Giraglia.
In Maxi D the winner from 2022 is returning in Jürg Schneider's Swan 65 Saida. The Swiss-owned ketch is celebrating her 50th birthday this year and has undergone a refit since last year. Victory here previously was also in light conditions, in which the heavyweight Swan 65s are not supposed to excel. Of course we will try to win again but we will see," said Schneider. "Half of the crew is the same as last year and half are other friends, but they have all sailed on the boat before so we hope we have a good team."
Among others she is joined by the heavily campaigned 64ft Stella Maris of Matteo Fossati and the Truly Classic 90 Kealoha. There are three yachts from CNB - the 76 Neyina and the two 60s Pat Bon and The Rock. They will face Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez regular Francois Benais' Shipman 63 Bambo.