The 2011 edition of the Giraglia Rolex Cup: 194 entrants for the offshore race; 20 countries and territories in attendance; around 2,200 competitors; numerous, challenging hours at sea; 18 hours 3 minutes 15 seconds the line honours record to beat; Esimit Europa 2 (SLO), the largest yacht on the roster at 30.5-metres/100-feet and the Vismara 34 Manida (ITA), one of the smallest.
The 59th Giraglia Rolex Cup, organised by the Yacht Club Italiano in conjunction with the Société Nautique de Saint-Tropez, promises to maintain the finest traditions of this historic race as an eclectic fleet battle for one of the Mediterranean’s top sailing prizes. Three days of inshore racing will take place from 19 to 21 June before the offshore marathon commences on 22 June.
On the entry list there’s a healthy mix of consistent Giraglia campaigners such as Andres Soriano’s Alegre (GBR), Sir Peter Ogden’s Jethou (GBR), and Leonardo Ferragamo’s Cuordileone (ITA); plus there is a bigger, faster Near Miss (SUI) for Franck Noël, an awe-inspiring new arrival in Brian Benjamin’s Maxi Racer/Cruiser Aegir II (GBR), a star-studded defending line honours champion in the aforementioned Esimit Europa 2, and, heavy-weight challengers in the 27.46m/90ft Med Spirit (FRA) and the 25.7m/85ft Roma (ITA), along with a host of smaller yachts harbouring ambitions of claiming the overall handicap prize.
Sea God’s Med Debut
For the crew of Aegir II, a brand new, 25.1m/82ft, state-of-the-art yacht constructed using cutting-edge aerospace technology and entirely in carbon, the event provides a significant challenge in preparing a relatively untried yacht for such fierce competition. Aegir II follows in the path of her sister project Aegir (GBR), last year’s Mini Maxi Cruising winner at the event. Team Leader Guy Barron and the Aegir II crew are in the midst of intense preparations: “We plan to have three days practice before the first race – Aegir is still new to us, consequently, we have many jobs to do and things to learn about the boat.”
The yacht has been constructed for both leisure and competitive racing. The transition between modes will prove one of the more challenging aspects for the crew. “We hope to make the change within three days,” explains Barron, “but as she is so new it may take about five days – we do not want to scratch the interior, so we have to be very careful removing tables and doors.”
Whilst the yacht will be making its event debut, most of the crew have experience in competing at the Giraglia Rolex Cup, which should make life a little easier. “We won the cruising class last year in our old boat, so we have a lot to live up to within our own team,” continues Barron, “we are hoping to see the boat’s real performance potential and are all looking forward to the regatta, knowing that competition is normally close during both the inshore and offshore races.”
The 100ft Esimit Europa 2 is the favourite to defend her line honours title. The yacht’s technology has been adjusted and improved and the personnel significantly refreshed, in particular the afterguard. The multi-titled Jochen Schümann is the team’s new skipper and will work in tandem with Juan Vila as navigator and Sidney Gavignet as tactician. Esimit Europa 2 will boast one of the most prestigious crew rosters ever to appear at the event.
Gavignet is enthusiastic about this new chapter in his proud sailing career: “There are two things I am looking forward to in my future on board Esimit Europa 2 – the technical challenge and the people. On one side, I am obviously excited to sail on such a special boat; on the other, I am looking forward to working with people whom I have known for years, but have never sailed with yet. I feel that the mutual respect we have for each other can be a very good basis for successful collaboration”.
Endurance And Endeavour
Immediately following the inaugural Rolex Volcano Race, an offshore adventure between Capri and the Aeolian Islands, the Giraglia Rolex Cup is another significant battle of endurance in the Mediterranean waters, a test of stamina which fittingly commences a week after another top draw Rolex-sponsored event culminated. The 24 Hours of Le Mans took place between 11-12 June and the parallels with the Giraglia Rolex Cup are perhaps more poignant than they may first appear.
For the 243-nautical miles covered at the Giraglia Rolex Cup, read the potential 3,350 miles covered by each team finishing the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The two events are true tests of endeavour and require participants to organise themselves with military-esque precision for their respective examinations. Both events involve pushing hard through the night, and adapting to the perils of the weather. Teams must conquer these elements before worrying about their competitors.
Andres Soriano, owner and skipper of Alegre, line honours and overall winner at the Rolex Volcano Race, and former line honours winner of the Giraglia Rolex Cup, explains his approach to the trial: “I think it is keeping the concentration and focus at the maximum throughout the race; it is accepting that in most offshore races there is a bit of a snake and ladders situation and it is imperative to claw back lost ground. Getting proper rest and staying hydrated are a must.”
Esimit Europa 2’s crew is equally aware of the need to last the pace. “They end up not sleeping for the whole duration of the race,” reveals owner Igor Simcic, “the last hours are the most crucial in order to achieve success: here lies the big challenge.”
Perhaps no current competitor can articulate the perseverance, discipline and preparation it takes to master endurance disciplines quite like Luc Alphand, former French Olympic and World Cup skier, Paris-Dakar and Le Mans driver, who has now turned his attention to the world of sailing. Alphand will line up with Marc Thiercelin on the IMOCA DCNS 1000 (FRA) and will no doubt make history when adding this third feather to his distinguished sporting cap. Alphand has adjusted his sporting orientation after having to admit defeat in a battle against injury following a serious motoring accident in 2009. The Frenchman has transformed that disappointment, fully immersing himself into becoming a top-class sailor.
One crew that regularly combines impressive performances across the inshore and offshore races is the Swiss team on Near Miss. Last year, Franck Noël’s crew took the overall prize for combined scoring in the inshore and offshore competitions. This year, on a new boat, this seasoned team are looking to build on that impressive result.
“For the crew of Near Miss, the Giraglia represents a historic course in the waters of Saint Tropez, which is significant for the team as Near Miss is a member of two clubs, one of which is the Société Nautique de Saint-Tropez,” explains Benoit Briand, Project Manager. “We’re working on developing the boat and will have a day’s training ahead of the regatta to get the boat back in the water and check the various modifications made. Ahead of the offshore race we will monitor the rotation of posts including the helm and the trimmer.”
“Our ambition is, of course, to win but also to continue to discover this new boat and lead her to 100% of her total potential, rendering her as sailable as possible for upcoming events.”
Underdogs, Not Overwhelmed
They may not have what it takes to compete with the greyhounds of the sea for the line honours title, but there is every chance that a smaller yacht could claim the overall prize on corrected time. Should the right conditions prevail, the event could witness a repeat of the 33ft Ala Bianca’s (ITA) triumph in 2006. For the smaller yachts, there is very much a race within a race. Their crew’s experience, intricate knowledge of their boats and the course, particularly its changing weather patterns, should not be underestimated.
For Roberto Bruno, co-owner and helmsman of the Canard 41 Aurora (ITA), winners on corrected time of the ORC division in 2009, the event continues to hold a particular appeal: “Mine is a crew of non-professionals who are greatly experienced both in navigation and in competing in regattas, qualities necessary when facing this demanding competition.” Bruno, who has competed at the event over 20 times, is all too aware of the significance of the arrival at the Giraglia rock: “It is an intense moment of great emotion whether it happens at dusk or dawn, a sign that the final stretch leading to the finish has arrived and you to start to square up to your various tactical decisions.”
Another crew which relishes their underdog status is Giuseppe Koki Tadini’s 34-ft Baciottinho, another of the smallest yachts in the fleet. “The Giraglia has always been the most enjoyable and, often, most demanding races,” reveals Tadini, “sailing a yacht like Baciottinho is very exciting as the adrenaline of competing is supplemented by the task of trying to overtake the larger boats.”
For Bruno and the Aurora crew the tension does not subside immediately at the finish line: “The suspense of knowing the final result continues until the last boat arrives,” he continues, “the race can either be won by a large maxi or a small cruising boat, as the results over time have demonstrated.”
“The hope of us ‘smaller boats’ is to repeat what has recently happened very often,” adds Tadini, “when the final victory has often been the privilege of the smaller yachts.” There is no reason why this 59th edition should be any different.
Giraglia Rolex Cup Programme
Sunday 19 June: Inshore races
Giraglia Rolex Cup Crew Party at the Citadelle, Saint Tropez.
Monday 20 June: Inshore races
Tuesday 21 June: Inshore races
Prize giving Inshore Races at the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville, Saint-Tropez
Wednesday 22 June: Start Giraglia Rolex Cup Offshore Race
Saturday 25 June: Prize giving Offshore Race at the YCI, Genoa