Text and photographs Françoise SPIEKERMEIER
Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez
Shellfish and crustaceans celebrate the end of summer. In Saint-Tropez, on the first weekend of October, for a whole week, ships, crews, captains, helmsmen, amateurs and sailors, everything that sailing has to offer can be found in the bay for the last races of the Mediterranean summer sailing season. In a final takeoff along the coast, the America’s Cup cult boats spread their wings and their colourful spinnakers, as the century-old sailboats meet the Wally, a technological feat. Stars among the stars, sailboats overshadow celebrities who dream of getting on board.
The question that everyone is asking themselves: who is the owner of this beauty? It is a shared, undisclosed secret in the world of international yachting. We know, but we must remain discreet! Some have become specialists in this treasure hunt, following a boat from owner to owner, from abandonment to restoration, each of them generally trying to become the new hero, or even the savior of these legendary ships that invite them to become part of the legend. Then, every year, it’s the celebrity fair: who is invited on which boat? We follow the Princes, Pierre Casiraghi (on Tuiga), Frederik II of Denmark (on Nanoq), the rockers, Simon Le Bon (singer of the group Duran Duran on Blitzen), and all the great French sailors who managed to escape the preparation of the Vendée Globe in November.
Les Voiles will always be twenty years old! It is rumoured that in 2020, this sports festival will return to its original name, Nioulargue, named after a shoal located in the east off the beach of Pampelonne. Is it out of coquetry, because it doesn’t want to grow old? One thing is certain: since 1981, the village has been the centre of the sailing world, where the whole globe has come swarming to relive the founding act. It all began in September 1981 between Jean Lorrain and Dick Jayson, respectively the skipper of Ikra, a 12 Meter JI belonging to Jean Rédelé at the time, and the owner of Pride, a Swan 44. The turning point is the high ground of Nioulargue. The loser must invite both crews to have lunch at Club 55, the famous beach restaurant in Pampelonne. The “turn” of the Nioulargue will finally be left behind and replaced by a more direct route, by common agreement during the race, in order to avoid having to sacrifice lunch on the beach! As a result, the owner of Club 55, Patrice de Colemont, named the event “Club 55 Cup”…
Ever since the second year of its existence, the regatta became international, and in 1984, Eric Tabarly and Herbert Von Karajan competed in it aboard their respective ships. Since 2003, Club 55 has been the “Thursday challenge”, where two sailboats compete on this historic route. It is here that you can appreciate the extent of the initiation that is required for any approach to the event. You don’t simply “board”. You can only enter through the tooth fairy’s lair into this tribal territory, full of knowledge, stories and beliefs, like a secret society.
It’s a holiday! Every morning as the sun shines on the rooftops of the village and the port, in the shade, shakes, the crews polish the brass, roll the ropes on deck, restore beauty to these tall languid ladies along the quayside. The captains have their croissant and coffee at their ritual table while the crew prepares the race stallion for the day’s challenge. Jour de Fête! What a pretty name for this 15.85 m long sloop marconi, designed by Franck Paine and brought back from the USA by cargo ship to the Mediterranean by Pascal Oddo, its buyer in 2011. The man was able to slip into the boat’s perspective. “After some work, the boat has returned to its 1930s configuration. We have rebalanced it, modified it and maintained it like a work of art. It’s great to see how the boat is getting better every year.” This year, this happy owner invited Michel Desjoyeaux, the most successful sailor in the history of solo races, two-time winner of the Vendée Globes and Route du Rhum, all smiles, to join the crew, to steer the ship or be responsible for the large sail: “It’s a physical boat, perfect for raising the Rolex Trophy”! Even an expert in solo sailing, Mich’ Dej’ shares his knowledge and embodies team spirit better than anyone else.
The Rolex Trophy is awarded to classic yachts. Among the different categories of ships, the “Epoque Marconi B” yachts are the focus of this 14th edition of the trophy. Jour de Fête is one of those Bermuda yachts that are characterized by triangular main sails, hoisted on both sides of the masting (mast and boom). But he will only be one of 17 tough opponents against the winner, Cippino II, from Argentina. During Les Voiles, no less than 17 trophies are awarded to Classic and Modern boats, such as the new Loro Piana Trophy for the Maxi ships, the modern sailing boats with classic elegance (winner of Velsheda JK7).
In this fantasy of hulls and sails, Ester stands out. A slender shell in varnished mahogany wood that slices through the waves, a graceful elegance from the North, from the Baltic Sea. This incredible boat, designed in 1901, has resurfaced 82 years after its shipwreck through its first voyages in the Mediterranean. A woman, Laurence Ramès de Moers, has developed a real passion for this ship, which has been restored according to the rules of the art after having lived at a depth of 52 metres under water. Rediscovered by Bo Erikson, passionate about old boats, Laurence supported and accompanied the crazy project to bring the boat, whose personality inspires and captivates at first sight, back to life.
A few years away from Ester, the new generation, ultra-modern speed monsters: the Wallies. Luca Bassani, founding president of this brand of sailboats, became an architect with the goal of creating his first boat, a racing “plane” that would have the quality of being able to accommodate comfortable family cruises. All navigation functions are retracted below the perfectly smooth deck, like a playing field or freedom area. A crazy scene like a flying carpet ready to set off to the open sea. Flying Carpet 2 is the boat of Sir Owen Jones, former President of L’Oréal.
Every evening, the heart of the village beats to the rhythm of the festival. The crews meet at the bar of the Sube hotel, at the Irish Tavern at the end of the port, on the small plazas, passing by the fish market. In the village of Les Voiles, whose temporary tents are set up near the harbour master’s office, people dance every night. And on Wednesdays, it is time for the crews’ petanque game, on place des Lices. Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez, one of the most beautiful events on the yachting planet to celebrate the passion for water sports, ends with a cosmopolitan picnic in the pine forest, at the foot of the Citadel overlooking the port. See you next year to vibrate again in the wind in the sails.