Rolex Giraglia: Seventy years of inspiring performances

Rolex Giraglia: Seventy years of inspiring performances

Celebrating a landmark anniversary this year, the Rolex Giraglia is an event with a distinct identity, formed over the decades from a sense of tradition, spirit of camaraderie and fair competition.

One of the oldest and most revered sailing events in the Mediterranean, the Rolex Giraglia and its co-founders and organizer the Yacht Club Italiano (YCI) have been supported by Rolex since 1998.

This year’s milestone 70th edition produced a number of compelling storylines. As overall winner of the offshore race Red Bandit from Germany showcased the talents and development of a crew formed predominantly of young sailors. The race’s other main prize, line honours, went to the Australian maxi Black Jack, whose crew are campaigning in Europe after years of success in the southern hemisphere.

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One of the Rolex Giraglia’s most compelling features is its locations. The picturesque port of Saint-Tropez, France, offers an ideal destination for the three days of inshore racing which precede the week’s main attraction, traditionally a 241-nautical mile (446 km) offshore race to the great maritime city of Genoa, Italy. On route, the fleet round one of offshore sailing’s most iconic landmarks, the mythical and spectacular Giraglia rock located off the northern tip of Corsica.

The attractiveness and diversity of the event programme, and the many longstanding partnerships behind its organization, are significant factors behind the Rolex Giraglia’s impressive longevity and continued popularity as YCI President Gerolamo Bianchi reveals:

“The 70th edition of the Rolex Giraglia is a very important moment. There are not so many events in the world that have lasted so long. One of the big pushes for the race started 25 years ago when Rolex became Title Sponsor and then with the involvement of the Société Nautique de Saint-Tropez. The new format centred on Saint-Tropez, the addition of an inshore series, and the support of a partner with standing in the sport. This has all really helped enhance the appeal for the crews.”

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Over the past few years Red Bandit owner Carl-Peter Forster has built a pathway programme for young athletes, many highly-competitive dinghy sailors, to experience and develop as ‘big boat’ offshore racers. Following commendable performances at last year’s Rolex Giraglia and Rolex Middle Sea Race, this year the crew reached a new level. Their success owes much to a drive to improve and to absorb the learnings from recent competitions. A dedicated approach which allowed them to best exploit the opportunities which presented themselves during the course of the race. Forster paid tribute to the work of his crew:

“We have a fabulous team dynamic. Ten of our crew are under the age of thirty. It is glorious to see how these young sailors are working together, learning as much as possible and as quickly as possible. They are ambitious and want to improve. We all like long distance racing and the competition at the Rolex Giraglia is fabulous. The race is trickier than you think, as it has proved many times. What we have achieved this year will take a while to sink in.”

Under previous ownership Red Bandit was called Freccia Rossa and the boat, with a different crew, won the race in 2017. It marks a third success for a TP52 yacht since 2012.

Success at the Rolex Giraglia was a new sensation for the crew of Black Jack and for owner Peter Harburg but not for the boat itself. In its previous guises as Alfa Romeo 2 and Esimit Europa 2, the 100-ft (30.48m) maxi had twice broken the race record (2008 and 2012) and claimed multiple Rolex Giraglia line honours titles.

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The line honours contest in this year’s race featured an impressive number of the cutting-edge monohulls often admired at the annual Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup. At the Giraglia rock, up to ten of the maxis were in close contention offering an alluring and unique spectacle in the night sky.

Magic Carpet Cubed, a three-time Rolex Giraglia line honours winner, pushed Black Jack the closest. She crossed the finish line in Genoa just over nine minutes later. It made for a grandstand finish as Black Jack skipper Mark Bradford outlines:

“When there are big boats racing really close towards the finish and the stakes are high it can get nervous. This is a prize in yachting we really wanted to have. This team has been together for a long time and won line honours at the Rolex Sydney Hobart. We are super proud that after the huge effort of shipping the boat from Australia we’ve come to Europe and added to our victory list.”

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Black Jack’s elapsed finish time of 23 hours, 30 minutes and 16 seconds was some way outside of the race record of just under 15 hours but represents only the third time since that record was broken in 2012 that the line honours winner has finished in under 24 hours. This year’s race, which presented the 155 international crews with a myriad of wind conditions and shifts, was held on a shortened course, measuring 215-nautical miles (398 kilometres).

The 70th anniversary edition finely demonstrated how the Rolex Giraglia has built on its rich traditions and heritage while perpetually evolving and enticing sailors of all generations. The event is organized by the Yacht Club Italiano and the Société Nautique de Saint-Tropez (the latter since 2002), both Rolex partner yacht clubs. They are supported in their efforts by Yacht Club de France and Yacht Club Sanremo.


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