Panerai Transat Classique 2015 Altair, an exception winner
Altair, Argyll and Gweneven taking the podium brings to a close a thrilling Panerai Transat Classique 2015. This edition of the transoceanic race will go down as one of the finest thanks to the high quality of the fleet, the fierce intensity of the competition, and the warm bonds established between the crews. Let’s take a look at what made this race so special.
A magnificent winner. With the victory of Altair in the Panerai Transat Classique 2015, an veritable icon of the classic sailing world has added her name to the trophy of the Atlantic Yacht Club. This marvellous schooner dating from 1931 is for yachting enthusiasts everywhere a paradigm of elegance thanks to her sublime lines, the care and precision given to her restoration, and her superb performances in the most prestigious regattas on the Mediterranean circuit. The presence aboard of owner Joe Pytka and his daughters Sasha and Ariel goes to show how important this “old lady” is to those who have been an integral part of her eighty-five year career. Built for a circumnavigation that never happened, Altair is currently under the command of Stephane Benfield and sailing the world is a challenge her skipper is willing to take up. With her remarkable win in real time and corrected time, on a course that took her from Lanzarote to Fort-de-France, Altair has been elevated to the status of legend.
On the second step of the podium is Argyll, built 1948 and designed by the celebrated American architect Olin Stephens, a name that draws admiration from every sailor worth his salt. Brought together for the adventure by Sabine Masquelier under the command of skipper Emmanuel Fontaine, the latter well known for his incredible success in the Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge series, the crew showed immense determination and remarkable sailing skills throughout the race. Gweneven, built 1975, completes the winning trio. Not only the smallest boat in the race, she too was designed by that genius draughtsman Olin Stephens. She produced an impressive performance considering the difficult conditions prevailing in the first two-thirds of the race. Oren Nataf, her young owner who only discovered sailing in 2009, made great use of the advice provided by offshore yachtsman and Figaro specialist, Gildas Mahé. A podium featuring three boats from three different eras, of three different sizes (134’, 57’ and 38’) and with three different rigs (schooner, yawl and sloop) is a fitting conclusion to the Panerai Transat Classique 2015, a truly exceptional event that is inclusive, balanced and gives all its contenders a chance.
Of the highest order
This edition of the Panerai Transat Classique has been remarkable for a number of reasons. Firstly the pace of the yachts was phenomenal and they all established new personal records in terms of distance run over twenty-four hours and top speeds. Topping the list of the fastest in the fleet was Argyll with an eye-watering peak of 18.8 knots, while the 18.2 knots logged aboard Vagabundo II also merits our respect. These are impressive turns of speed for classic boats. And such performances are even more impressive when you take into account the fine physical condition of yachts and sailors alike when they arrived in Fort-de-France. Indeed, no boat reported serious damage or injury to a member of crew. And this is one of the most important lessons of the past couple of weeks because every person in the race was committed to sailing fast and sailing safe. It was a remarkable Panerai Transat Classique 2015 also by the very high level of competition. The distances between the yachts, despite the impression of an incohesive fleet, were always minimal. That six boats arrived within a period of twelve hours, on 23 January, is proof of the intensity of the struggle out on the ocean, undoubtedly in no small measure due to the presence of some top-quality sailors. In no particular order there were Bruno Jourdren on Corto, Sonar world champion several times over and medallist in the Beijing Paralympics; Thierry Duprey du Vorsent aboard Amazon, former crew for Loïc Peyron on the Trophée Jules Verne in 2011–2012 aboard Maxi Banque Populaire V; and Gildas Mahé on Gweneven, a veteran of the Figaro and the Transat Ag2r with Jean Le Cam and Bernard Stamm.
From one volcano to another
The atmosphere of the towns hosting the start and the finish, and their heart-warming welcomes, were also key to the success of this edition of the race. Both situated on volcanic islands, the towns injected a fiery, nay explosive element to proceedings. In Lanzarote, despite being occupied with preparing their sailing thoroughbreds, the sailors in the Panerai Transat Classique 2015 took the time to take part in the various events laid on for their pleasure. A gala dinner in the fabulous cave of Jameos del Agua and the visit of kids from Arrecife’s Real Club Náutico were deemed highlights by all involved. Race partner Calero Group are enthusiastic about taking part in the next edition of the race. And what better moment to arrive in Fort-de-France than during the preparations for carnival week! All the competitors enjoyed the hot weather and fantastic welcome waiting for them in Martinique, especially the Grand Parade in the magnificent bay bordering the capital. The locals lined the shore to admire the splendid silhouettes of our classic sailing yachts. Martinique Tourist Board, Fort-de-France Town Council and local partners did a remarkable job, making a fantastic effort which was more than worthy of the event and the yachts taking part.
A heart-warming experience
The 2015 of the Panerai Transat Classique is coming to a close and the sailors, the organizers and the partners who worked hand in hand to make it happen will carry with them, forever, the immense pleasure such an extraordinary adventure brings. They will be moving on to new projects and new horizons after sharing a few intense weeks on the open sea where friendships of a rare temper are forged. We thank the crews of Altair, Argyll, Gweneven, Vagabundo II, Corto, Adventuress, The Blue Peter, Amazon, Faïaoahé and Desiderata for the immense pleasure they brought the very many people who followed the race and for the generous messages they sent back from the Atlantic Ocean. See you soon for the next edition of the Panerai Transat Classique.
WHAT HE SAID
Stephane Benfield, captain of Altair
“I am delighted to have won the Panerai Transat Classique 2015. Each member of my sixteen strong crew had their reason for taking part in this race and brought something special to the boat. In particular the presence of Joe Pytka, Altair’s owner, was very important to us and we really wanted to win just for him. He’s a competitor who loves to rise to the challenge. When we signed up for this race I never imagined we would do so well. But when I saw the forecast for the early days of the race I started to think Altair might be in with a chance. And then we prepared the boat really well and I managed to put together an excellent crew. All these elements combined to achieve this beautiful result.
For the first ten days we couldn’t have wished for better conditions for a boat like Altair. We had 20 to 30 knots of wind so we set everything and sailed at full speed every single day, day in day out… I couldn’t have imagined a crossing like that in my wildest dreams. We covered 2,000 nautical miles in eight days! We were making daily runs of 268, 264, 272 miles, so consistent with barely a few miles difference. The boat was making 11.5 to 12 knots all the time, it was magic. Our top speed was 16.2 knots!”