Les Voiles de St Tropez marks the end of the Mediterranean season for many, with this year's regatta bringing a near-perfect mix of conditions for the 300 competing yachts. See our gallery from last week, and onboard video from Velsheda
It’s hard to be a show-stopper at Les Voiles de St Tropez. The entire regatta seems designed to pit some of the world’s most eye-catching yachts against one another in a week-long nautical fashion parade. In a town where la promenade is everything, the classics vie for attention with the shiniest newcomers of the Wally fleet on the dock, while the bay is dotted with superyachts (check out our gallery of some of the stunning competing yachts above).
For many the regatta wraps up the 2016 European season. This year the late September weather held to produce a week-long regatta with a near-perfect mix of conditions, ranging from light breezes and sunshine to full-on champagne sailing conditions with 20-knot winds, with only one day’s racing lost for any classes and a single day smattering of rain to dampen spirits.
J Class competition
Two boats, however, drew more attention than almost any other at this year’s St Tropez, the J Class yachts Velsheda and Lionheart. Moored stern-to in the harbour (in itself no small feat of seamanship for any of the large yachts, and especially challenging for Velsheda without bow thrusters) the Js drew a crowd a dozen deep every time they return to shore.
I was lucky enough to step aboard Velsheda for a day (see video below). The 1933 design was racing – at her owner’s request – in IRCA against a mixed fleet that included Rambler 88, Leopard, Spectre, and the newly launched 130ft Reichel-Pugh My Song. They were joined by Lionheart, while the class also calculated results under its own rating system.
“We had to make the choice of whether we just had two boats on the startline match racing each other, or whether we threw in another 16,” explains Velsheda’s tactician Tom Dodson. “The owner seems to like the pressure. And it gives us a good chance to get a jump on Lionheart, which we sometimes need, just to get some traffic in between us.”
On Wednesday, the traffic counted against Velsheda, as the 60ft WallyNo, looking positively petite compared to the rest of the field, snuck through inside Velsheda, allowing Lionheart to get away on a reaching, port-tack start. For the rest of the week, however, Velsheda had the upper hand, adding two more wins to take the J Class regatta win.
The big fleet racing is something the J Class fleet are preparing to get used to – at St Tropez there was much talk about plans for 2017, which is likely to see seven or even eight Js lining up against one another for the World Championship in Bermuda next year. “One of the challenges in St Tropez was that we were starting against a very wide variety of boats, most of them a lot more manoeuvrable than your average J Class boat. And a lot of them didn’t always seem that sure of what they were doing!” comments Campbell Field, Velsheda’s navigator.
“It’s a bit nerve-wracking. But in a fleet of seven or eight Js, all of the guys in charge of these boats are highly skilled and they understand the limits and constraints of all the other boats. It’ll be aggressive racing, but it will also be done with a great deal of respect for what the boats are capable of.”
To see and be seen
But St Tropez’s busy, buzzy atmosphere is a huge part of its appeal. The regatta is unique in attracting an entry that ranges from 120-year-old museum pieces to the latest Wally Cento Galateia. It also sees professional skippers such as Sébastien Audigane swop carbon fibre racing machines for wooden classics (in Audigane’s case, the 1908 Fife-designed 15 Metre, Mariska, who he steered to a conclusive victory). To add to the mix this year even a Groupe Edmond de Rothschild foiling GC32 was zipping across the bay.
The big winners of the week included Moonbeam IV, who won the Rolex Trophy, and the Wally Open Season, who not only won the BMW Trophy but also rounded off an overall season win in the Wally class. Leopard took IRCA, just ahead of Velsheda, while Mariska came out top in the competitive 15 Metre fleet.
Thursday saw 20 individual ‘challenges’ contested, including the traditional Club 55 Cup, this year won by Eugenia, as well as mini-races held for modern designs such as the CNB designs, and brand new ClubSwan 50s. For others it was a layday – the J Class among those that remained ashore. “We don’t do challenges on Thursday,” was the comment onboard Velsheda, “we do lunch.”
Look out for a full report in the December issue of Yachting World.