Some of the finest sloops on the planet will gather again in Palma this June for the one and only Superyacht Cup. Sam Fortescue reports
All eyes will turn to Mallorca from 21-24 June, when the world’s most beautiful yachts will be seeking glory in the Superyacht Cup Palma. Nine yachts were on the entry list for the 2023 event when we went to press, including a brace of timeless J-Class and the 39m Dubois sloop Lady M. By the time owners and their crews have gathered at the Real Club Nautico on 21 June, the crew list will number in the hundreds and include some of the world’s most competitive big-boat sailors.
Now in its 27th year, the Superyacht Cup is the doyenne of superyacht regattas, with a reputation for relaxed socialising and meticulously managed racing. Though the entry list is a little thinner than last year, event director Kate Branagh is still looking forward to some close battles on the water. “Everyone has a dance partner, this year,” she says, referring to the two J-Class, Velsheda and Svea; and to the twin 33m Malcolm McKeon yachts Ribelle and Pattoo.
“There’s also Miss Silver and Lady M, two Dubois designs built in New Zealand; the two Swans (Onyx is bigger and has a more powerful sail area than Umiko, but they’re a similar breed); and Rose and Umiko are the same size.”
It should make for exciting racing for the owners and crews, who will be squaring off against a specific opponent. And because all the boats are broadly comparable – sloop-rigged cruisers between 24m and 44m LOA – the organisers can set an optimal course.
“You try to have an equal amount of upwind, downwind and reaching; when the boats are very similar, that’s more easily achieved,” said Branagh. “They can all sail in their favourite conditions.”
Racing kicks off on Thursday 22 June, although the event begins the day before with registration, skipper’s briefings and welcome drinks on the terrace of the race manager, the Real Club Nautico de Palma (RCNP). By then, the predominantly hot, dry weather of the summer should have imposed a sea breeze you can set your watch by: rising steadily in the morning and blowing at 10-14 knots throughout the afternoon. In the sheltered waters of the Bay of Palma, it offers the potential for sweet-spot winds in nearly smooth water.
Rivalries old and new
Last year saw Svea, the latest of the majestic J-Class yachts, miss out on overall victory by a single point after 46m Ganesha won the final race of the event. But she led the Js by a country mile, even though it was her first race with a new crew under a syndicate of three new Swedish owners.
“We’d sailed back from Charleston in the middle of May,” remembered Svea captain Paul ‘PK’ Kelly. “Then we hauled out the next morning to try and get the boat ready for the regatta. It was pretty frantic. We did nine days of training with 99% new crew, so I had no idea what to expect.”
With veteran Dutch round-the-world sailor Bouwe Bekking aboard again this year, he’s hoping to retain the same pitch of high excitement with a crew that has now experienced a season of winning and is looking for outright victory in Palma. “It’s a young, eager and professional crew of people who are so excited to be on a J-Class,” said Kelly. “It’s us and Velsheda fleet racing with the rest. She is very well sailed and has just had an extensive refit, so interesting to see how they come out of that. It’ll be a very, very good training exercise for us.”
Velsheda herself is an original grand lady from 1933 celebrating her 90th birthday this year. She won’t be looking her age, however, after getting new teak decking, new hydraulics and having work to her deck gear. And with the most seasoned owner-driver at the wheel and a veteran crew led by wily Kiwi tactician Tom Dodson, Velsheda is always the J to beat.
Ribelle and Pattoo are near identical 33m Vitters-built cruiser-racers with clean, modern lines from the pen of Malcolm McKeon, and will be keenly competing against each other. Ribelle is back after a hiatus with a new owner, while Pattoo (previously Missy) has raced here on and off over the years since she was launched in 2016.
For the 28m Swan Onyx, it is all new, however. “This will be a Superyacht Cup Palma baptism for Onyx, but an event we are all expecting will be one of the highlights of our season,” said skipper Sam Forbes.
Starts are staggered at two-minute intervals – important to prevent expensive contacts between boats in the box.
“The start can be a pretty terrifying procedure for those that aren’t used to it, hence the intervals,” explained Branagh. “There’s also a minimum 40m separation around the course, and more at key water marks. Setting up to tack and bear away takes a long time – it’s not like easing the sheet on a little boat. The equipment takes such huge loads, we try to avoid areas of extra stress. It’s just as competitive and much safer.”
Branagh is not only an experienced event organiser but also an experienced sailor, with more than 250,000 sea miles under her belt, so she knows exactly what it takes to appeal to owners. And one of the key principles of this laid-back Med regatta is that any type of superyacht can be competitive under the handicap system.
“Some boats make massive, specific preparations for racing; others were literally cruising last week and, apart from handing out new uniforms, everything stays the same,” she said. “Both approaches are perfectly acceptable, and that’s what makes it interesting. It’s not the same arms race as you get in fleet racing.”
Besides the hull and rig of the boat itself, the handicap takes into account the age and use of sails, whether you’ve got full water tanks or not, and items of windage such as radomes. The idea is to level the playing field and encourage owners who baulk at the idea of stripping down the yacht for racing.
With new owners of long-standing boats, as well as new boats altogether, all bets are off for the results of this year’s Superyacht Cup. But the experience on the water is just one part of what makes the event such a fixture in the superyacht calendar. There is also a strong social programme for owners and crews, which exemplifies the relaxed atmosphere that the organisers have fostered. And this year, the Race Village will extend from the RCNP clubhouse terrace to the dock for happy hours and parties.
“Back in the old days, that’s just what we had: the dock party on the back of the boat,” says Branagh. “It creates such a nice atmosphere when people come in after the day’s racing. Otherwise, a few people sneak off earlier for a beer, while others get roped into the longer jobs aboard.
“As ever, one of the pleasures of being involved with Superyacht Cup Palma as we go into its 27th year is welcoming newcomers and greeting old friends once again,” said Branagh. “We’re also delighted that we’ll be returning to our base at the prestigious Real Club Náutico de Palma, our long-standing race management partner.”
Superyacht Cup Palma entries
LOA: 38.9m/127ft | Design: Dubois Yachts | Build: Fitzroy Yachts 2006
Previously Ganesha, this is an example from the heyday of Dubois/New Zealand partnerships. Launched as a competitive cruiser, she is built in aluminium and has previously competed at Dubois and Loro Piano superyacht regattas. The largest volume competitor here, but her current form is unknown.
LOA: 36m/118ft | Design: Dubois Yachts | Build: Alloy Yachts 1995
Having won all her races in the Millennium Cup 2021, the near 30-year-old Miss Silver has since had an extensive refit last year, including new interior, decks, rigging, sails, mast service etc. and with an experienced owner with a history in dinghy sailing, she could make an impressive SY Cup debut.
LOA: 30.2m/100ft | Design: German Frers | Build: Nautor Swan 2006
An example of the Finnish yard’s Swan 100 series, and the first to feature a semi-raised saloon, Onyx had a complete refit by Baltic Yachts in Palma two years ago, which included everything from new machinery, electrics and plumbing to new sails. Although a first timer at the SY Cup she will doubtless know these waters well.
LOA: 33m/108ft | Design: Malcolm McKeon | Build: Vitters Shipyard 2016
Conceived initially for cruising only, complete with a glazed decksaloon, the yacht formerly called Missy has since become a regular at the SY Cup. She had a tied class win last year and will be gunning for the overall trophy this year.
LOA: 32.6m/107ft | Design: Malcolm McKeon | Build: Vitters Shipyard 2017
A contemporary cruiser racer with carbon hull built at Green Marine, then topped with a glazed saloon and infinity style teak transom. She can clock over 20 knot speeds, competed regularly in her first couple of years and was sold in 2021. Should be the quickest on the water.
LOA: 24m/80ft | Design: Farr Yacht Design/Luca Bassani | Build: Wally Yachts 2006
One of the smallest but by no means least potent contenders, this lightweight pre-preg carbon build raced heavily under her former name Tango. Now a local to Palma, under a keen skipper and owner, she will be out to improve on her third place in class last year.
LOA: 43.6m/143ft | Design: Tore Holm/Hoek Design | Build: Bloemsma/Vitters 2017
This time last year, no one knew the form of the newest J, after it was bought by a syndicate of Swedish owners and underwent a big refit. But when one is the highly experienced owner-driver Niklas Zennström and Bouwe Bekking is whispering tactics, it’s perhaps no surprise that it beat the three other Js here last year and went on to win its class at the Maxi Worlds. This longest J is very much on form.
LOA: 25m/80ft | Design: German Frers | Build: Nautor’s Swan 2000
A fine example of the thoroughbred Swan 80, previously called Maligaya, Umiko had a full refit in 2017 including new rigging and a full wardrobe by North Sails which helped her to record a second across the line in the ARC 2018. She returns to the SY Cup after her debut in 2021.
LOA: 39.2m/129ft | Design: CE Nicholson/Dykstra | Build: Camper & Nicholsons 1933
This original J may look smaller and more cluttered on deck than her modern competition, but she is always well sailed by a skilled owner-driver and long term crew led by Tom Dodson. Following a big winter refit, including hydraulics and new deck gear, she’ll be out to prove to Svea that age can still triumph.
Superyacht Cup Palma programme
Wednesday 21 June
Superyacht registration – RCNP Sala Magna
Thursday 22 June
Pantaenius Race Day
North Sails/Southern Spars Happy Hour
and prize giving, RCNP dock
Friday 23 June
New Zealand Race Day
North Sails Happy Hour, prize giving and Owners’ Summer Barbecue
Saturday 24 June
St Regis Race Day
Prize giving, RCNP Terrace
Full details: thesuperyachtcup.com
Yachting World is the world’s leading magazine for bluewater cruisers and offshore sailors. Every month we have inspirational adventures and practical features to help you realise your sailing dreams.Build your knowledge with a subscription delivered to your door. See our latest offers and save at least 30% off the cover price.