There is always something new going on at Les Voiles de Saint Tropez. This Monday, traditionally the exclusive domain of the Modern yachts and the Wallys, also played host to the four 15m JIs vying for supremacy in their very own championship.
In this way, all the Race Committees, under the outright control of Georges Korhel, were on tenterhooks to launch today’s races: the five IRC groups offshore of Cape Camarat, the fifteen Wallys, for the very first time, off Pampelonne, and the fabulous Fife designs off Le Portalet. The wind proved to be rather shy throughout the day, freshening slightly to serve up the perfect breeze for the competitors to ease into this long week of competition. Three windward-leeward courses were set for the 15m JIs and two for the large Wallys, whilst the Modern yachts competed in a short 19-mile coastal course skirting the edge of the bay.
The final of the 15m JI championship
This year Les Voiles de Saint Tropez is hosting the final round of the championship for the sublime gaff cutters of the 15m JI class. The four Fife designs still in existence, Tuiga (1909), Mariska (1908), Hispania (1909) and The Lady Anne (1912) take centre stage. Last year Mariska arrived in the bay with a comfortable lead, but this year Christian Niels’ crew is just one race victory down, tied on points with Tuiga. The Yacht Club de France (Mariska) versus the Yacht Club de Monaco (Tuiga) is deemed by some to be the match of the week, whilst two other protagonists, the British on The Lady Anne and the Spanish on Hispania will be keen to shake up the hierarchy.
Three windward-leewards at the heart of the bay were served up for this fine class from late morning and, as expected, Tuiga and Mariska were tightly covering each other, leaving the way clear for the pacy The Lady Anne. These three fiery races resulted in three different winners, with The Lady Anne posting a consistent performance throughout, that earned her two solid second places, a victory in the third race and hence the top spot on tonight’s leaderboard.
Wallys: Y3K the most consistent
Offshore of Pampelonne, spectators were treated to the very rare sight of 15 Wallys setting sail on the same tack in a breeze that was set to build. The immense Magic Carpet Cubed (30.50m) and Open Season (32.55m) quickly stole a march ahead of a compact group led by Y3K. The Wally 101 launched in 2009 played an intelligent game throughout today’s two races, securing a fourth and a second place in corrected time that has catapulted her to the top of the overall ranking this evening.
She’s just one point ahead of Tango, the Farr-designed Wally 80 that boasts a successful haul of Frenchies among her ranks, and J One the Wally 77. The intensity and density of the races in the Wally round augurs well for some sumptuous battling tomorrow in what promises to be an even more blustery racecourse.
Modern yachts: a sterling introduction
The Modern yachts enjoyed perfect conditions today, easing in gently to the upcoming week of races. On today’s menu was a 19-mile course out of the bay from Cape Camarat. In a fairly tame 8 to 10-knot easterly breeze, each competitor was able to get a handle on the short chop generated by the ample fleet. First to set off in the 5 IRC classes were the little IRC Es, which form the most dense group with some 42 competitors. They were quick to power up during a return sprint with the wind on the beam before diving downwind towards the inside of the bay where a finish line was set off Le Portalet.
Mariska (15 m JI), risking everything.
Sébastien Audigane, helmsman and tactician aboard Mariska, as well as a familiar face on the Imoca and Figaro circuits among others: “The 15m JI championship is being played out in Saint Tropez this year and the pressure is massive. We need to secure a win here to stand a chance of winning the championship. Mariska is bang up to scratch in the windward-leewards and the whole crew’s been lucky enough to get some training in here in the run-up.
There are 10 professionals in a crew of 16 to 18. We’re sailing on one hundred year old boats, albeit with modern navigation techniques, that notably include speed polars… This class isn’t really one-design despite a very well written class measurement because, like the current racing yachts, the Imocas in the Vendée Globe for example, the yachts have numerous upgrades according to when they were launched.
Mariska is the oldest of the four boats racing here, while The Lady Anne launched in 1912 is the most modern and boasts a few technological advances. The crew on Mariska has been putting in a lot of training but the boats post similar speeds. Mariska is very at ease in the light airs and downwind. Tuiga goes well close-hauled and is able to sail very close to the wind so it’s going to be a very tactical week. We’ll have to get off to some good starts to ensure we’re in front and can cover our rivals in true match-racing style.”
Who are you?
Philippe Martinez, head of safety and logistics at Les Voiles
A fan of blue-water fishing, he has found a real niche for himself within the Société Nautique de Saint-Tropez over the past dozen years or so. Head of logistics year round for all the races organised by the club, he also takes charge of the complex organisation that supervises the races during Les Voiles. Boasting fifty or so craft and a sixty-strong team dedicated to setting the courses, he ensures that the races run smoothly and safely for competitors and spectators alike.
“We set three race rounds, he explains. One for the Wallys at Pampelonne, the Classics in the bay and the Modern boats off the Nioulargue, where it’s up to 600m deep! Able to liaise with Race Director Georges Korhel, me and my teams check that all the races are run without collisions, in complete safety and entirely fairly. We have to ensure that all our boats are ready to fulfil their various missions, from setting the lines, to the Race Committee, to safety, as well as policing and providing medical assistance.
The aim is to be accident free, whilst retaining the sociable, friendly spirit of Les Voiles. I live out my passion for the sea and boats here and I sincerely believe it’s the finest job in the world…”
Racing has not been possible on Days 2 and 3 due to strong winds.