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The Rolex Swan Cup: a triumph of tradition and modernity

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20th Rolex Swan Cup
20th Rolex Swan Cup

The 20th edition of the Rolex Swan Cup was contested by a diverse international fleet of 110 yachts from 17 countries encompassing over fifty years of yacht design and heritage. The week-long event produced compelling sailing across both the one design championship classes and the handicap classes. With yachts ranging from Nautor’s Swan oldest launches, the Swan 36 Josian, to the latest, the Swan 78 Haromi, the 2018 Rolex Swan Cup was a celebratory occasion as much as a contest. Consistency in performance born from a desire for excellence in preparation, teamwork and tactics united the six class winners:
                                               
ClubSwan 50 World Championship – OneGroup, Stefan Heidenreich, Germany
Swan Maxi – Plis-Play, Swan 80, Vicente Garcia Torres, Spain
Swan 45 World Championship – Porron IX, Luis Senis Segarra, Spain
Swan Grand Prix – Solte, Swan 53, HGS Marine Limited, United Kingdom
ClubSwan 42 European Championship – Mela, Andrea Rossi, Italy
Swan Sparkman & Stephens – Six Jaguar, Swan 65, Anthony Ball, United Kingdom

Conceived in 1980 and defined by its historic partnership between Rolex, Nautor’s Swan and the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda, the biennial Rolex Swan Cup is admired for the highest standards on and off the water. Probably the only yacht manufacturer able to bring together so many boats in one place, this edition of Nautor’s Swan’s flagship event perfectly portrayed the regatta’s defining characteristics: innovation and tradition; close competition and gentlemanly spirit; on the water rivalry and camaraderie ashore. As Nautor’s Swan Group President Leonardo Ferragamo reflected: “The 2018 Rolex Swan Cup was even better than the previous editions and one I hope exceeded the expectations of all participants.This 20th edition was truly memorable, defined as ever by its gentlemanly spirit, but also by such finely balanced competition across all classes. This made for very exciting races with so much decided on the final day. It was wonderful to see so many generations of Swan here, from our new launches and one design classes to the large fleet of lovingly maintained Sparkman & Stephens classics. We thank our partners Rolex and the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda for all of their continued and close support in making the event such a success."

20th Rolex Swan Cup
20th Rolex Swan Cup

CLUBSWAN 50: ONEGROUP BECOMES FIRST WORLD CHAMPION

From the outset, the inaugural ClubSwan 50 World Championship signalled its intent – tight competition between the twelve identical yachts designed by Juan Kouyoumdjian. A contest in the purest form: who sails best wins. A no-discard rule added an extra measure of pressure. Crews were required to compete throughout the ten-race series at an extremely demanding level, performing consistently each day and each race.

The proof of the impressive level of competition is in the statistics. Over ten races (nine windward/leeward and one long islands course), seven different yachts finished first and only two failed to finish with a top three score. Lead changes were frequent, the top three overall were separated by four points and the final outcome was determined on the last leg of the last race right before the finish line.

The quality of the sailing reflected the individual commitment of the owner-driver helmsmen and the world-renowned tacticians alongside them, for example: Ken Read on Cuordileone, Bouwe Bekking on Niramo, Xabi Fernandez on Stay Calm, Alberto Barovier on Bronenosec, Tommaso Chieffi on Skorpidi and Jochen Schümann on Earlybird. By the final day, three yachts remained in contention for the title: OneGroup, Morten Kielland’s Mathilde from Switzerland and Leonardo Ferragamo’s Cuordileone from Italy. Going into the final race of the series, all three were tied on points.“It felt like nothing went right in the first race today,” explained OneGroup’s tactician Cameron Dunn after an eighth place wiped out the advantage he and his crew had built over the preceding days.

20th Rolex Swan Cup
20th Rolex Swan Cup

The German yacht was bowed, but not defeated. “In the second race (and final race of the Worlds) we then got a terrible start,” Dunn continued. “The other two yachts (Mathilde and Cuordileone) went out hard one way and on our side it came good. We managed to control the race, but Cuordileone came back at us all the time. A brilliant gybe at the end helped us win by a boat length.” One design racing at its very best. The smallest of margins determining the result after ten races.
                
“I met Stefan exactly 2 years ago when we launched the first three ClubSwan 50 prototypes during the same event in Porto Cervo,” advised Philippe Ouhlen, ClubSwan 50 Association President. “Stefan went sailing with us onboard Cuordileone during the lay-day with 35 knots, came back with a smile and decided to not simply join the class, but to develop a strong team of young and dedicated German sailors. I have watched the systematic effort they have put in to achieve this result and I am very happy for this friendly team. Congratulations to Stefan and his whole crew - a well-deserved victory phenomenally gained in the last moments of the regatta.”
 
Ken Read has been sailing with the class since the very beginning and had this to say: “As owner-driver classes go at this size of boat, it is elite. You can see how the teams just keep getting better and better through the week. Close racing is great racing and this class is just going to continue to grow.”

SWAN MAXI CLASS: PLIS-PLAY TO THE FORE

The 18-boat Swan Maxi Class welcomed the most diverse range of designs from 60-100-ft including one of Nautor’s most recent launches - the Swan 78 Haromi - and the largest competing yacht in the Swan 100 Varsovie. The class took on five island courses ranging in length from 13 nautical miles to 34 nm, all taking in the grand scenery of the Maddalena Archipelago.
 
With two bullets in the opening races, Vicente Garcia Torres’ Swan 80 Plis-Play quickly emerged as the yacht to beat. Despite resilient competition from two Swan 601s Stephen Cucchiaro’s Flow and Gerard Logel’s Arobas, the Spanish yacht was able to maintain its lead throughout the week, only dropping out of the podium finishes on one occasion when she scored a fourth. “The competition was really tough. The opposition were really close and the wind conditions were difficult. We are really happy to have won,” explained Plis-Play navigator Enrique Martínez-Asua. “The event is brilliant, there is no place better than this to sail with the beautiful islands and challenging winds.”

20th Rolex Swan Cup
20th Rolex Swan Cup

SWAN 45: PORRON IX RETAINS THE WORLD TITLE

Spanish yacht Porron IX arrived in Porto Cervo as defending world champion and under the pressure of an early season declaration of intent from her owner, Luis Senis Segarra. Senis Segarra had expressed his desire to win both the inaugural Nations Trophy Mediterranean League and the Swan 45 World Championshipthis year. With The Nations Trophy league title safely in the trophy cabinet, could the crew from Spain complete the plan?

German rival Elena Nova, class winner at the previous Rolex Swan Cup in 2016 and a convincing winner at SailRacing PalmaVela earlier this season, set off with strong intent to dent Porron’s ambitions by taking the lead on the first day. Lennard Van Oeveren’s Motions from The Netherlands was another to put up a fight. With seven of the nine-yacht class scoring podium positions across the 10-race series, no crew proved able to string together an overwhelmingly consistent set of results.

On the end, it was the rivalry between Porron XI and Elena Nova that proved to be the defining one in the Swan 45 World Championship. The two crews claimed eight victories between them and a pattern emerged: Porron IX the better performer in the lighter conditions, Elena Nova in the stronger breezes. Going into the final day’s two races, Porron IXheld a slender one-point lead over the German crew, although the Dutch crew on Motions were still in the reckoning, a further three points back.

The final scoreboard suggests the Spanish crew enjoyed an easy day with the return of lighter winds and posting two second places to extend her advantage and retain her world crown. Far from it, as Luis Senis Segarra commented: "At the moment, we are just very happy because it was a very difficult day on the water with hard-fought races to the very last. A protest ashore kept us on tenterhooks, but we knew we were in the right. I am proud of the progress we have made. Two years ago, here, we were ninth. Last year we were the surprise world champions in Spain and now we have won in Porto Cervo. The Rolex Swan Cup is the top event and it is incredible to win here.”

20th Rolex Swan Cup
20th Rolex Swan Cup

GRAND PRIX: SOLTE WINS AT FIRST ATTEMPT

With the early class leader, the Swan 45 Coratge, dropping out of contention after an unfortunate disqualification in the third race of the series, the Grand Prix class became a duel between the Swan 53s Crilia and Solte, who dominated with neither yacht dropping from the podium in five races. Three bullets handed Solte the class crown. “I have a great team and a fantastic boat! It is our first time here, all week we were very consistent and we are very happy with the result,” remarked helmsman Hasip Gencer. A second place on the final day in the 22-boat Grand Prix class, ensured Solte triumphed by two points from sister ship Crilia. For both yachts, their worst result over the entire week was a third place, with the two boats generally splitting the wins and second-place finishes between themselves, leaving few opportunities for their opponents.

CLUBSWAN 42: MELA IS EUROPEAN CHAMPION

The ClubSwan 42 European Championship was contested by 14 yachts, with plenty of apparent competition going into the event. Romanian yacht Natalia had won the contest on the last three occasions it had been held in Porto Cervo. Pedro Vaquer Comas and Nadir were the defending champions, having won the 2017 European title at The Nations Trophy. Jose Maria Meseguer’s Pez d’Abril were confident, too, having won The Nations Trophy Mediterranean League 2018 at the Copa del Rey Mapfre in August.

It was consistency that would pay, provided it came from the off. Natalia‘s crew won four of five last races, but were on the back foot following with a poor start to the week. Nadir won the first race of the ten-race regatta, but from then on struggled to repeat the standard she had set. Pez d’Abril also showed flashes of brilliance only to be undermined by less than perfect performances in other races. Massimo de Campo’s Selene Alifax was another that started strongly, but could not maintain the required pace.

By contrast, Andrea Rossi’s Italian crew on Mela only finished out of the top four places on one occasion and this consistent performance was the clear difference in the end. Rossi was ecstatic: "A dream! My thanks go to the crew, a wonderful group, and especially to the tactician Enrico Zennaro who, over a couple of years, he has managed to bring us to this level. In the last edition of the Rolex Swan Cup, Mela finished last. Today, we won in a very competitive fleet. The results speak for themselves, I am very happy."

20th Rolex Swan Cup
20th Rolex Swan Cup

SIX JAGUAR TRIUMPHANT IN SPARKMAN & STEPHENS

Representing tradition, the Sparkman & Stephens division was also the largest attending class with 26 yachts. Marking the class out this year was the appearance of 10 Swan 65s, a model renowned for its legendary ocean racing feats in the 1970s. “The 2018 Rolex Swan Cup witnessed the biggest ever gathering of 65s, a unique boat and an icon in our line,” explained Nautor’s Swan Vice-President Enrico Chieffi. Owners across this class have a unique bond with their yachts, maintaining them demands a considerable commitment. “They are proud of their boats and, as a piece of art, you can’t resist looking at them,” continued Chieffi.                  

Do not be fooled. These yachts were designed and built to perform in the oceans of the world and, while lovingly maintained, a race is a race. “We are here to race hard,” admitted John Sims-Hilditch, co-owner of Venator, the fourth Swan 65 hull ever built, “but with a little bit of tenderness for the boats as they are magnificent and we love them as people.”

Fittingly, the S&S class podium was filled by Swan 65s with Anthony Ball’s Six Jaguar triumphant overall following wins in two of the five races and a scoreline composed entirely of top-three finishes. “Being involved in the Rolex Swan Cup for a second time with this boat is fantastic and especially in this class,” remarked Ball. “Victory came down to seconds for us. It is a terrific event with a great social scene and iconic boats. We've been here for two weeks, we also participated in the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup and they have been wonderful days. The organization here at the YCCS is always perfect, and it is one of the most beautiful yacht clubs. We had a lot of fun, especially this week where we sailed in our Sparkman & Stephens division. We raced in all conditions, from light to strong wind, always in very fierce competition with the other nine Swan 65s. We love coming to race in Porto Cervo.” Italy's Shirlaf, owned by Giuseppe Puttini, placed second overall and the Spanish Libelula owned by Placido Arango came third."

Rolex Swan Cup prize giving in Piazza Azzurra, attended by Princess Zahra Aga Khan
Rolex Swan Cup prize giving in Piazza Azzurra, attended by Princess Zahra Aga Khan

THE FINAL PRIZEGIVING

The prize giving in Piazza Azzurra, attended by Princess Zahra Aga Khan, was even more crowded than usual given the large number of participating boats. Along with the six principal class winners, this year saw the introduction of a new trophy for the recently formed association of Swan Classics by Frers. It was claimed by the Swan 651 Lunz Am Meer owned by Marietta Strasoldo.
 
In his closing remarks, YCCS Commodore Riccardo Bonadeo commented: "We conclude the 20th Rolex Swan Cup, a biennial regatta which marks a collaboration that goes back almost 40 years with the shipyard Nautor's Swan and our partner Rolex. I thank, of course, all of you, the owners of these wonderful boats, and the crews that bring this unique spirit, like one huge family coming to race here. Thanks to the Race Committee, the International Jury, the entire staff of the YCCS and last, but certainly not least, to our friends Rolex and Nautor's Swan for their passion and enthusiasm. See you all at the 21st edition in 2020!"
 
In addition to title sponsor Rolex, the 2018 Rolex Swan Cup was supported by Nautor’s Swan’s technical partner Slam and Ferrari Trento, the sparkling wine brand, which sponsored the Welcome Reception and the Owners’ Dinner.