From big breeze to light, as maxi racing gets underway at Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez

After the first day was blown off due to excess wind, the Mistral gave way today to light conditions enabling racing for the maxi yachts to start finally at Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez, organised by the Société Nautique de Saint-Tropez.

This year, with the support of the International Maxi Association (IMA), the Wally and four maxi classes within the IRC A group have their own race committee and PRO and their own race area off Saint-Tropez’ famous Pampelonne beach. This leaves the smaller classes, and of course the mass gathering of classic yachts for which this event is famous, to compete on the Golfe de Saint-Tropez.

Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez is also the final event of the IMA’s inaugural Mediterranean Maxi Inshore Challenge, that has included Sail Racing PalmaVela, Rolex Capri Sailing Week, Rolex Giraglia (inshores), Copa del Rey MAFPRE and the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup. The event has also become the second largest gathering of maxi yachts in the IMA calendar after the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup.

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In Saint-Tropez this week four boats are competing in the Wally class, including the two Wallycentos, Sir Lindsay Owen Jones’s Magic Carpet 3 and David Leuschen’s Galateia, while seven of the largest ‘Modern’ maxis are racing here for the Loro Piana Trophy in IRCA.1, the largest being Ronald de Waal's J Class Velsheda; the fastest American George David's Rambler 88.

Twenty other maxis are competing across the three other classes IRCA 2-4 (plus another seven in IRC B). Among these are the grand prix racers, Jim Swartz’s Maxi 72 Vesper and Sir Peter Ogden’s 77ft Jethou in IRCA.4.

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One of the most competitive classes is IRCA.3 where IMA President Benoît de Froidmont’s Wally 60 Wallyño and Jean-Pierre Barjon’s Swan 601 Lorina 1895 are neck and neck in the IMA’s Mediterranean Maxi Inshore Challenge: Whoever wins this week will almost certainly receive the silver trophy at Saturday’s prizegiving.

Today the race committee laid on a coastal course from Pampelonne to Cavalaire and back. After a wait for the wind to fill in, the starts were given in 8-10 knots although this subsequently dropped and the yachts also found themselves negotiating a transition zone in the wind. The Wallys and the IRC A.1 giants twice sailed this lap, south and then west around the Taillat headland, while the remaining classes went round once.

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Among the Mini Maxi Racers in IRCA.4 it was Jim Swartz’s Maxi 72 Vesper (formerly the Maxi 72 World Champion, Momo) that prevailed today, finishing more than five minutes ahead on the water and 10 minutes ahead on corrected time over Jethou. This is the US team’s fourth visit to Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez where in 2015 they won the Edmond de Rothschild Trophy, as top yacht among the ‘Modern’ classes. “There is nothing like it, it is an impressive sight,” says Swartz of Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez and its magnificent array of craft.

His long term tactician New Zealander Gavin Brady said that the transition zone hadn’t turned today’s race into a lottery. “You just had to sail through it. It was first in, first out. Then we had some breeze for the finish. I think we had the best of it on our course.”

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Among the IRC A.1 Loro Piana Trophy maxis and supermaxis, Velsheda’s time corrected out under IRC ahead of George David’s Rambler 88, but, considering the huge conceptual difference between the magnificent but ultra-heavyweight J and the modern beamy lightweight reaching machine that is Rambler 88, it was close. Their times were split by less than two minutes under IRC, with the Farr 100 Leopard 3 a similar amount astern in third.

Among the Wallys, today was one for the smaller boats thanks to the breeze filling in from astern. While there was the usual sparring between the two WallyCentos, with Magic Carpet Cubed finishing ahead on the water, it was the Wally 77 Lyra that under IRC came out ahead of Claus Peter Offen’s Wally 100 Y3K, Chinese-Canadian owner Terry Hui continuing his and Lyra’s winning streak from last month's Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup.

Also today maintaining her winning form from September’s heavyweight bout in Porto Cervo, where she won the Mini Maxi Racer-Cruiser class, was the American Swan 601 Flow in IRC A.3. However in this class’ battle for Mediterranean Maxi Inshore Challenge honours, it was her sistership Lorina 1895 that came out on top, finishing second, just 15 seconds ahead of third placed Wallyño under IRC. This came after several start line ‘incidents’ due to the heavy bias towards the race committee boat end, which causing much bunching. “There were so many boats there that it made it quite complicated,” described Wallyño’s owner Benoît de Froidmont.

The big breeze is due to return for racing tomorrow with a layday scheduled for Thursday before the final two days on Friday and Saturday and the prizegiving Sunday.



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