Tricky conditions for Classic fleets' first day of racing in St Tropez 4/10/06

Every year a stunning fleet of classic boats makes the pilgrimage to Saint-Tropez and this year again they filled the old Port, overflowing to the anchorage in front of the city. Over 100 boats in six classes set out for the first race in the Bay of Saint-Tropez with the pastel-hued town providing a picturesque backdrop.

The 16-18 knot breeze enabled the seven classes to start swiftly. The 19-nautical mile course took the boats through a gate at La Seiche and then upwind to Le Lion de Mer, a rocky outcrop off St Raphael, back to a gate at La Rabiou at the entrance to the bay and on to the finish off the Tour du Portalet.

Doug Peterson on the 1933 Norwegian-built, Marconi sloop,Tamara IX, was playing for keeps – starting at the committee boat end he had the start perfectly timed, shutting out the famous Sparkman & Stephens yawl, Stormy Weather, coming in high of the line. Peterson, the well-known naval architect, has sailed at classic regattas in both Cannes (Regates Royale) and Imperia (Vela d’Epoca) this year, finishing 1st in class and 2nd overall at the latter. His class – époque class C-was a mix of racers including the S&S-designed yawl, Tomahawk, the Fife cutter Solway Maid and 1937 sloop, Cholita.

Each of the classes had a wide range of different-sized boats, though it was still striking to see the 20 metre Nat Benjamin-designed schooner, Juno on the starting line with the 36 metre J-class sloop, Shamrock V towering just to leeward.

It was the last class off the line, the gaff schooners and cutters that provided an amazing spectacle. Reminiscent of the days of big boat racing in the Solent, eight of the big gaff class yachts started, ranging from the ‘smallest’ the 23 metre Tuiga, to the 46 metre Lulworth and also including Eleonora, Moonbeam IV, Sunshine, Mariquita, Mariette, and Altair. With the starting area clear of competitors, the big boats had ample room to move and they used it all, tacking clear across the bay. They all went for straight-forward starts with plenty of room to move and they all got off cleanly. Soon after the breeze built to 18 and the gaffers were in their element, seeming to relish the breeze and the building sea.

The gate at La Seiche off Ste Maxime provided some chance moments for the photographers, as the yachts had to tack onto port to clear the gate. Up the windward leg the breeze held for the first half and then backed off to about 12-14 knots as the fleet rounded Le Lion, in the flat water. Around first in the big boats was the 41 metre Herreshoff schooner Eleornora with a substantial lead over the next boat, Lulworth, the eagerly-awaited restoration that just re-launched last spring in Italy and is enjoying her first season of racing. Altair was around next, then Moonbeam IV, with Maraquita, Tuiga, and Mariette rounding closely together.

On the downwind leg, with the breeze dying, Altair seemingly flew everything in their sail inventory, including the balloner, reacher, and gollywobbler. Fully canvassed she was a sight to see and held her own with Lulworth and Moonbeam IV down to the leeward gate at La Rabiou. From there to the finish, it was dead downwind, challenging for all of the boats, and for this class the wind would die down to 2-3 knots before shutting down completely. Then with a wind shift to the west, the sky clearing, and the sun getting low on the horizon, they were off again. Eleonora finished significantly ahead and most likely saved her time on the others, followed by Moonbeam IV, Altair, and Lulworth, with Mariette, Tuiga, and Mariquita (note: at press time results were not finalized).

New this year, the Trophee Rolex will be awarded to the ‘Tradition’ division sailing yacht of more than 16 metres, which has the lowest score for the regatta. There are 52 boats eligible for the Trophee Rolex and the winner will also receive a steel Rolex Submariner timepiece.