The brand new Sotto Voce
With the pouring rain left at home in the UK, here in St Tropez on the glamorous Cote d'Azur, there was a typically Mediterranean set of conditions for round one of the Giraglia Rolex Cup - harsh colour bleaching sunshine and almost no wind.
Aside from being brought to the fore by the Swiss watch manaufacturer's sponsorship, the Giraglia Rolex Cup is this year celebrating its 50th anniversary. The event kicks off with three days of inshore racing around the Golfe de Frejus not 10 feet from where I am currently sitting, before the race proper - from here round the Giraglia rock off the north coast of Corsica to the finish in Genoa - sets off on Thursday.
For the 50th anniversary race a record number of boats have turned up - 193 yachts of which 113 took the start line today.
In the fleet is some impressive hardware. There are the two line honours machines, My Song and Idea - both Riechel/Pugh designs, but otherwise very different yachts. My Song is more a cruiser racer and has classic good looks as one would expect from her cashmere tycoon owner Loro Piana Pierluigi. Idea is more of a sled-style racing machine, a narrow beast with a millennium rig, and owned by Naples-based construction magnate Raffaele Raiola.
In addition there is Dutchman Arien van Vemde's Sotto Voce, a Judel/Vrojilk 62 footer fresh out of the moulds from Cooksons in Auckland and newspaper owner Carlo Perone's futuristic looking all-silver Wally-style Virtuelle, a boat with so little apparent deck hardware and running rigging (sheets are all led below decks to captive winches) that it gives the impression she is unfinished.
Looking slightly out of place here are the two more hardcore Open 60s, Virbac (formerly Michel Desjoyeaux's Vendee Globe winner) of local man Jean-Pierre Dick and the (currently) invincible Sill Plein Fruit of Roland Jourdain. Interestingly the two Open 60s are attempting to compete under IMS and have GPH ratings of 455.0, which have them as being faster than the Swan 80 Favonius and the new Sotto Voce, but slower than Idea, My Song and Kratos, the smart-looking brand new Frers one-off of Mario de Zozzi.
All are boats worthy of going stern to in the harbour of this French hotspot, made famous by Brigitte Bardot.
The hardware lolloping around the Golfe de Frejus today, was a little more exciting than the racing which started just before noon today in 6-7 knot winds. The course took the boats across to St Raphael on a tight reach, up to a weather mark to the south, back to another mark off Cogolin before turning back to the finish line off St Tropez.
The form was fairly well established before the boats had left the Golfe with My Song leading Idea as the two giants carved their way through the large fleet of smaller Class 3 and 4 yachts (yes, run of the mill cruiser racers like Beneteaus and Grand Soleils are allowed to compete too!)
At the first mark My Song led Idea by around 20 seconds with a gaggle of boats including the Swan 70 Bugia Bianca and Sill chasing. At the weather mark just outside of the Golfe My Song was still leading, but back into the Golfe there was the bearest of zephyrs and on the last leg back to the finish line they were overhauled by Idea, the line honours winner of the offshore race here last year. "We were second for about ¾ of the race, but on the last leg we found more pressure on the right," explained Idea pitman/journalist Max Procopio.
Although the two boats have a similar rating, Idea tends to win more races on elapsed time because, as Procopio explained, they usually have Olympic Finn and Star sailor Paulo Schedaro steering, while My Song is normally helmed by her owner (although today she was steered by Lorenzo Brassani, an ex-470 sailor and recent winner of the IMS World Championship. This year Idea have changed to a smaller genniker which has made a marked improvement to her rating, which caused them to have their first good result on handicap - third at the recent Zegna Trophy in Italy.
Once the IMS number crunching was complete it was the new Sotto Voce which won through with Idea and My Song second and third. Class 2 winner was Italo Borrini's X-412 Despeinada, while Camillo Capozzi's Polaris 33 Ala Bianca took class 3 and 4. Sill, Virtuelle and Virbac were an impressively low 70th, 72nd and 75th under handicap!
For full results click here
For madforsailing's exquisite gallery of photos see the following pages...
After a poor start Idea has to chase down Sotto Voce to catch up