Two centenarian clubs occupied the top of the global yachting world in 1983: the New York Yacht Club and the Royal Yacht Squadron, on England’s Isle of Wight.
The stone foundations of the two clubhouses on opposite sides of the Atlantic resembled mini forts defending their traditions from the modern world. New York was also defending something equally precious: the America’s Cup.
So the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda, founded in 1967 by the Aga Khan, raised more than a few eyebrows when it sent a challenger to Newport, Rhode Island, for the 1983 America’s Cup races, a curvy red diamond dominating its burgee and spirited young Italian sailors on board. But the team put on a strong showing and went on to pursue their Azzura racing campaigns into the modern world of Grand Prix sailing.
The America’s Cup involvement is only a blip, however, in the club’s history, which is considerably shorter than that of the most significant American and European yacht clubs, all founded between the mid 1800s and early 1900s. In its short existence, the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda has influenced not only the type of racing that members of the venerable clubs and other sailors in the yachting establishment enjoy, but also the level of service and hospitality on shore that is now standard at all large yachting events.
“They are still a small club compared to the most influential ones,” said Bruno Trouble, a French America’s Cup sailor who created the enduring partnership between the sponsor Louis Vuitton and the Cup challenger series. “They are quite influential in the wealth of the membership alone. And it is an incredible place to sail and enjoy. It’s the most expensive postcard in the world.”
The Aga Khan developed the rugged shore of Sardinia and the natural harbor of Porto Cervo in the 1960s. He continued to build hotels along the Costa Smeralda and carved out a corner for his vision of a new yacht club to service the growing number of ultra wealthy vacationers on the Italian island.
Originally housed in the rustic Maison du Port, in 1977 the club moved into a purpose-built facility overlooking the azure waters of the harbor. It has a modern marina capable of hosting some of the largest private sail and motor yachts on the planet.
If the established clubs of the world were holding to the traditional look and feel of a classic yacht club, with walnut-paneled walls and dimpled leather chairs, the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda was catering to the appetites of their billionaire members, who were used to the contemporary luxury of Europe and elite resorts around the world.
But the Porto Cervo club’s biggest influence on world yachting and racing has been in the superyacht scene, Trouble said: Owners need a place to race their 200-foot yachts.
“Boats get bigger and bigger, and we had to become better organized on shore,” said Ricardo Bornadeo, the commodore of the club and the club’s first secretary, who raced a 44-footer in the early days of the club. “We are following the natural evolution of the fleet around the world and the expectations of the owners.”
The rocky section of Sardinian coastline to which the yacht club clings is visually spectacular, and the view is complimented by the high-end luxury of the hotels promoted by the Aga Khan. Presidential hotel suites can be had for $36,000 per night.
But Bornadeo said “lifestyle” was only part of the story. “We prefer to concentrate on the best possible organization on the water and on land, and with all kinds of assistance for the sailors and their boats,” he added. “Lifestyle is not our target.”
The yachting historian John Rousmaniere said that the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda filled a growing need. “The maxi yachts wanted to be able to sail in the Med,” he said. “The owners needed someone they could count on to host them and give them a luxurious experience. It caught on right away.”
Bornadeo said the Aga Khan is still the driving force behind the club’s management.
Each act of the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda has been hard to follow and hard to match. But with most rival yacht clubs well over 100 years old, there is a lot more history to write for this “new” club.
more info ……….. www.yccs.it