A fleet of just over 300 yachts, half modern and half classic are ready to do battle at Les Voiles de St Tropez 2015, and the harbour is crammed with some of sailing's most beautiful craft
After a coffee in the Café de Paris or a glass of rosé at the Hotel Sube, the best way to appreciate the unashamedly glamorous Les Voiles de St Tropez regatta is to stroll along the quayside admiring the yachts. Nowhere else in the world will you get so close to such a diverse range of quite fabulous yachts in their pomp.
If the world of yachting has a catwalk this is it. From big Fife designs such as Tuiga or The Lady Anne, to the J Class Ranger, the largest ever collection of Wally Yachts, TP52s, mini maxis, 12 Metres, a host of venerable gaff cutters and schooners and out-and-out IRC racers, Les Voiles de St Tropez represents the most photogenic fleet to be seen anywhere. This in a place so imbued with glamour and celebrity that the yachts themselves are only a part of the fabric.
Les Voiles de St Tropez is the last big regatta of the Mediterranean season, the last glorious finale before yachts edge towards winter hibernation or migrate across the Atlantic to the Caribbean. It is also, for many crews, the best fun of all, with a determinedly corinthian spirit and plenty of upmarket high jinks.
Perhaps uniquely among major sporting events it also has a high-minded ethos of commercial detachment: sponsored boats are barred and even the event’s own commercial partners, heavyweights such as Rolex and BMW, have to remain discreetly in the background.
This year there are over 300 yachts, around half of them modern and half classic yachts. If the harbour and the anchorage in the gulf beyond could possibly shoehorn in more, many others would dearly love to be here. But it can’t, and around 100 skippers on the waiting list have had to be disappointed.
The racing produces some of the finest sailing photography in the world. The mixture of classic yachts of all sizes set against the backdrop of the town’s pastel-coloured buildings and baroque bell tower is ludicrously photogenic.
Within the fleet, there are smaller, fierce skirmishes. The 17 Wallys this year is the largest number ever to race together, and the class has its own legends. The Wally Cento Magic Carpet 3 will be doing battle with Open Season. Once Charles Dunstone’s Wally Cento Hamilton, Open Season was modified last winter with a deeper keel and extended with a new stern to 107ft – ‘reloaded’, Wally Yachts called it.
Two Js will be head to head, Ranger and Shamrock, and there will be a battle between the four Fife 15 Metres Hispania, Mariska, The Lady Anne and Tuiga, and other needle matches between 12 Metres, 8 Metres and other well-matched types.
Among the largest yachts this year are Elena of London, the 55m replica Herreshoff schooner and, by complete contrast, the new Andre Hoek-designed neo-classic ketch Elfje.
But at the other end of the spectrum are 23 Tofinou designs and one-design Code 0s, with every type of cruiser-racer and racer-cruiser in between, from production Beneteaus and Hanses to J/109s and J/105s and X-Yachts.
There even is a taste of royal rivalry as on Thursday when, during a day’s break in official racing, yachts and crews are encouraged to challenge each other. Prince Charles de Bourbon-Siciles, the owner of Wally 77 Genie of the Lamp (celebrating her 20th birthday here), will be throwing down the gauntlet to Prince Albert of Monaco, who owns and races the big Fife 15 Metre Tuiga.