Sir Peter Ogden's Jethou won her class here last year with straight bullets
Record line-up for maxi week at Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez
Maxi week' at Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez gets underway tomorrow for the record-size fleet of 46 yachts. For a third year Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez continues its two week format: Week one focussed on the classics and giant schooners for which the event is famous, plus the smaller 'modern' boats. Week two is exclusively for the maxi yachts (ie 18.29m/60ft and above). Racing this week takes place over 4-8 October (layday on Thursday), organised by the Société Nautique de Saint-Tropez in conjunction with the International Maxi Association (IMA).
Besides bringing expertise in running maxi racing, helping to divide the fleet into four Maxi classes, etc, the IMA also supplies the event with its own race officer in Ariane Mainemare. This has improved the standard of race management here for the maxi classes and is one reason that the fleet here has grown to rival that of the IMA's pinnacle event, the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup.
Significantly this week's racing will also allow IMA members to score final deciding points in the Association's 2022 Mediterranean Maxi Inshore Challenge (MMIC), the six event annual series that began in May with Palmavela. When this was last held in 2019, the series went to the wire here, decided on the last leg of the last race, with IMA President Benoît de Froidmont's Wallyño prevailing. At present Alessandro Del Bono's Reichel/Pugh 78 ILC maxi Capricorno leads the MMIC by a single point from Wallyño, which has sadly had to withdraw from racing here. This will leave Capricorno's main competition coming from the Wallycentos Galateia and Magic Carpet Cubed.
This year's event will be special for American long term maxi owner George David, who looks set to hang up his seaboots. His Rambler 88, winner of countless races, both line honours and on corrected time, and setter of numerous passage records, has been donated to the US Merchant Marine Academy but will be campaigned by a new owner next season.
Usually David's Rambler 88 speedster is the highest rated yacht, but this week it is Roberto Lacorte's fully foiling 60ft maxi FlyingNikka. If Rambler 88 has an IRC TCC of 1.891 and the lowest rated here is the Swan 65 ketch Cassiopeia at 1.079, FlyingNikka's TCC is an off-the-scale 3.866. However this does allow her to compete and this week, in only her second ever regatta, she will be in Maxi 1, a class comprising mostly fast superyachts.
Here, while there are no Js are entered, the nearest equivalent is the beautiful Truly Classic 108 Nanuum, recently sold to a British owner. There are also an impressive array of giants including Jean-Luc Petithuguenin's Wally 107 Spirit of Malouen X, the Swan 115 Jasi (ex-Odin), Francesco de Santis's Southern Wind 100 Morgana, the McKeon/Vitters 108 Pattoo and Bernard Sabrier's Dubois 112 Silvertip.
Sabrier is a Kiwi-phile and former Team New Zealand supporter. His long term tactician, North Sails' Tom Dodson, commented: "We are lucky with the owner of this boat because he just likes having other sailors around him. We have friends and family and guests on board - a nice blend of people of every nationality you could think of - but we like to think we push the boat as hard as it will go." Last year Silvertip finished third behind the two Js.
Maxi 2 will certainly be the most competitive this year as, uniquely, it will include both a strong line-up of 100 footers and three former Maxi 72s. Typically the ex-72s are so finely-tuned and immaculately sailed that they race on their own. But today the 100s are highly refined too. Of the former 72s, Dario Ferrari's Cannonball, now 75ft, is a two time class winner at the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup, while Sir Peter Ogden's Jethou, now 77ft, is the defending champion here.
"It is a great event and we have a lot of fun," says Ogden, who enjoys the mix of racing and socialising here. "The sailing can be very good and it is a nice place to be. This week we have got the two other former 72s, so similar to the rest of the year, but this time we get to race against the Wallycentos. I have friends coming down this weekend, plus my wife, my daughter my grandchildren."
Among the 100s are three Wallycentos, Charif Souki's Tango, David M. Leuschen's Galateia and Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones' Magic Carpet Cubed. While Tango has only resumed racing again this year, Magic Carpet Cubed is the defending champion here after pipping Rambler 88 to the post in 2021. But this season Galateia has dominated inshore, winning Palmavela and coming out top among the 100 footers in Porto Cervo last month.
"We have made a few small changes, but it is the same people in the back of the boat," explains Galateia's tactician Kelvin Harrap. "It will be a light week which will favour Magic Carpet, as she is a bit narrower and less draggy in the light air. We also have Tango here and the former Maxi 72s so we'll have our work cut out! We'll find out if we can beat them - I don't think the Wallys have ever sailed against them before."
Also in the mix with them will be the Farr 100 Leopard 3 and Claus-Peter Offen's Y3K, which remains as competitive as ever.
The Reichel/Pugh 82 Highland Fling XI, which beat Galateia in Porto Cervo last month under IRC is also here, but under new ownership and now rechristened Django Unchained. They are joined by former round the world race boats – the VO70 E1 and the Dutch VO65 For the Next Generation that is entered in next year's Ocean Race.
In Maxi 3, Capricorno is a favourite. The team is very much a three generation family affair: Alessandro Del Bono often sails his father Rinaldo (famous for winning the Admiral's Cup for Italy in 1995) and his son, also called Rinaldo. However even their record is outstripped by Canadian Terry Hui's Wally 77 Lyra, which managed a near perfect scoreline to win her class here in 2021 and was the IMA's first Maxi European Champion this year. They will face Luciano Gandini's Mylius 80, winner of this year's Regate di Primavera in Portofino (although Gandini himself will not be racing having recently fractured his leg) and Philippe Ligier's Wally 80 Ryokan 2, the 2020 winner here.
They will be up against the heavily campaigned Mylius 60 Jean-Pierre Dreau's Lady First III and sistership, Maurits Van Oranje's Sud, while Philip Rann's Swan 80 Umiko and Paul Berger's Swan 82FD Kallima will resume their regular battle, together with the Southern Wind 82RS Ammonite, now under new ownership. Attending again will be Black Legend 6, a 72ft Black Pepper Code 3, that was brand new when she competed last year.
No Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez would be complete without French Kiss, however this year she is joined in Maxi 4 by another famous 12 Metre challenger from the 1987 America's Cup, Kiwi Magic.
In addition to Francois Benais' Shipman 63 Bambo, class winner last year here, manufacturer boats are well represented, including Nicolas Piguet's Swan 68 Defiance, the Swan 651 Futuro, set to be sailed round the world in next year's Ocean Globe Race by former chantier Multiplast boss Dominique Dubois, plus the venerable 65s Juerg Schneider's Saida and Yann Taillefer's ketch Cassiopeia. Six yachts are entered from CNB including Nicolas Piguet's CNB77 Aloha, which finished second to Bambo last year.