The Giraglia Rolex Cup. Renowned. Respected. Prestigious. Historic. The ‘Fastnet of the Mediterranean’ is back for a 59th year as Corinthian sailing talent from around the world compete for one of the most illustrious and sought-after prizes in the sport. Given the prospective talent on show and enthralling encounters experienced in recent years, the 2011 edition promises to be another rich fixture in the sailing calendar.
In keeping with tradition, the Giraglia Rolex Cup begins with the three days of inshore racing on the Bay of Saint Tropez. These commence on Sunday, 19 June. The inshore events are a fascinating spectacle in themselves and popular amongst crews as a means to hone their skills and strategic planning whilst regaining a competitive rhythm ahead of the offshore marathon. The culmination of the inshore race segment is marked on Tuesday, 21 June by a prize giving ceremony at the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville in Saint-Tropez. Coincidentally, this year it falls on the day of La Fête de la Musique in France. Two days earlier, on Sunday evening, the annual Giraglia Rolex Cup Crew Party will be hosted at the historic Citadelle overlooking the town and the bay.
All of this serves as a succulent appetiser to the legendary challenge beginning on Wednesday, 22 June. The Giraglia is known affectionately, and with some trepidation, as the ‘rock’ and intrigues sailors from across the world. The competition has grown massively since 1997, the year that marked the beginning of Rolex’s involvement in the event, when 46 yachts competed. The number of entries has quadrupled in the subsequent fifteen years.
Last year’s overall winner Shockwave (NZL) and owner Neville Crichton will not be back to defend the trophy, nevertheless the field remains rich in sailing talent. The Giraglia Rolex Cup is open to all yachts over 33-feet/10-metres and regularly attracts over 200 entries. The current record stands at the 220 crews participating in 2010. The largest yacht in this year’s field is currently the commanding Esimit Europa 2 (SLO) which took line honours last year despite only having a few days preparation. It will start off as this year’s clear favourite, at least to be first to arrive into the Gulf of Genoa, and the crew will have more time to prepare this time around. “This season we will spend more time with the yacht and the team before the first race,” explains owner Igor Simcic. “We will spend several days performing sea trials, where our engineers and technical team will be testing the various components. Every single activity will be strongly focused on improving the yacht’s performance and team work.”
After all, under its former guise as Alfa Romeo II, and ownership of the aforementioned Crichton, this speed machine blew the course record out of sight in 2008 when it finished in a staggering 18 hours, three minutes and fifteen seconds. Well under the symbolic barrier of 24 hours. Esimit Europa 2 will now be looking to set new standards. “We, of course, hope to take line honours again,” reveals Simcic. “Predictions, however, are extremely hard to make, especially when taking into account the exceptional competitors we will be facing. All other ambitions in terms of winning on corrected time and setting a new course record will depend very much on the weather conditions.”
Simcic is also keen to highlight the yacht’s transformation since its life as Alfa Romeo II. “Esimit Europa 2 has almost nothing in common with its ‘previous life’, except the hull. Hundreds of technological and other improvements have been made.” And after gaining eleven victories from as many races last year, the team is not resting on its laurels. This year’s all-star crew now includes America’s Cup and Volvo Ocean Race winner, Juan Vila as new navigator. In addition, there have been some further technological advancements.
“The whole project management team, including top engineers among our crew, have strengthened the cooperation with key suppliers and put a lot of effort in research and development of the yacht’s key components,” confirms Simcic. These new features include sails customised in cooperation with North Sails to incorporate revolutionary sail-making technology 3Di. With the clear goal of becoming lighter and consequently faster, in development with the engineers of Southern Spars, the existing mast has been optimised and a new one is in the design stages.
Whilst the list of entries is still far from complete, there is plenty of Giraglia Rolex Cup pedigree in the current line-up. Genapi (FRA) took second place overall in 2009; Sagamore (USA) was the sixth boat to cross the line that same year; Lucio Crispo’s Maya (ITA) came third in the 2008 Mini-Maxi class combined inshore and offshore results whilst MAD IV (FRA) enjoyed an inshore race handicap win in 2006. Meanwhile, Near Miss (SUI) arrives with a significant Giraglia reputation, having dominated the inshore races in 2004 and finished third overall in the offshore race that same year. The following year she gained second place in Class during the inshore racing, whilst last year she took the overall prize for the winner of the combined inshore and offshore races. Another entry, Midva Hi-Fun (ITA) triumphed as overall winner in the ORC class in 2010 and Sir Peter Ogden’s Jethou (GBR) returns to Giraglia after competing regularly on the Mediterranean circuit last year.
2009 line honours winner Alegre (GBR), under the guidance of Andres Soriano, is again on the roster and likely to be one of the front-runners. Alegre is one of the yachts that will take part in the Rolex Capri Sailing Week/Rolex Volcano Race a month before Giraglia Rolex Cup. Preparation will therefore be paramount as Soriano explains, “We prepare for each event individually taking into consideration duration, analysis of historical weather conditions and patterns at the time of the year that are relevant, as well as looking at different scenarios and strategies.”
“From there we begin to look at the various sail inventory options and closer to the event we will refine the sail wardrobe that we will use for the race. There is time for us to go back to our base in La Ciotat to make sure the appendages are as fair as we can manage, make refinements on sails and replace running rigging as needed. The mast, winches, hydraulics and engine will be checked and serviced as appropriate. This is the protocol that is followed by the skipper and crew between the six to seven events we participate in throughout any given year.”
One of the biggest challenges the crews face is of a psychological nature and whoever is able to switch mindset from the three short inshore sprints to the marathon that is the Giraglia, is likely to prevail. After all, sleepless nights, unpredictable conditions and tough competition await those out at sea.
After 2010’s interlude in San Remo, this year’s race finish returns to Genoa. The more unpredictable section of the race post the Giraglia rock often determines the winner. A fact not lost on multiple winner Neville Crichton, “Historically, the race is won or lost from the rock to Genoa.” The wind has a habit of dropping quite drastically so the onus will be on the crew that has the greatest stamina and technique during the closing stages of the race. In no recent year was this more apparent than in 2001 when three quarters of the fleet ran out of time due to the calm conditions.
The crew of last year’s line honours winner, Esimit Europa 2, are well aware of the strategic significance of the ‘rock’ itself. “The Giraglia Rolex Cup is one of the best and most challenging European races,” reveals Igor Simcic. “Literally, you never know what to exactly expect until a few hours before the start. To achieve top results it is crucial to round the Giraglia rock before dark, in order to perform the perfect manoeuvre it is much better to arrive when there is still daylight.” Poignant advice for Esimit Europa 2’s many rivals.
Genoa, with its vast industrial port and imperious maritime history, is in some ways the antithesis of the calm of Saint-Tropez but the city which provided the nautical world with Christopher Columbus and Andrea Doria, and hosts the race organisers Yacht Club Italiano, is a fitting backdrop to this marvellous adventure