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Elegance galore for the 20th anniversary of Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez

by Maguelonne Turcat 21 Aug 17:40 BST 28 September - 6 October 2019
Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez day 5 © Gilles Martin-Raget /

There is just over a month to go to celebrate the 20 years of Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez in style. The meeting is organised by the Société Nautique de Saint-Tropez for over 4,000 gleeful sailors, eager to be a part of the incredible gathering of 300 of the finest classic and modern boats. The anniversary edition promises to be the best possible vintage, for boats and sailors alike.

Modern craft: the best of the best!

In addition to the Wally class' international movers and shakers, Olympic medallists and world title holders - such as Thierry Peponnet (Tango), Jochen Schümann and Tom Whidden (Magic Carpet3) - the docks of Les Voiles will once again resonate to the furious pace of the IRC boats this year. Among the largest craft, there's sure to be a standing ovation for George David's Maxi, with the stellar Brad Butterworth calling tactics, Rambler 88. Indeed, she will be fresh from her latest victory in elapsed time in the Rolex Fastnet Race with a time of 1d 19hr and 55'. All eyes will also be on some of the newcomers to the fleet like the V68 Pelotari (20 metres), designed in collaboration with the architect Mark Mills, which was launched in late June, or the GS80 Essentia (24 metres), designed by Ceccarelli Yacht Design and Engineering, which is also due to make her race debut in Saint Tropez.

Another eagerly awaited appearance is that of French Kiss, the legendary 12mR, chartered by Marc Pajot and a nice crop of former crew from the America's Cup project, who flew the French flag in Australia back in 1987. Suffice to say that the competition will be fierce for the 30 Class A superyachts and Maxis, which will see a number of big names from sailing and offshore racing slugging it out, such as the double champion of the Barcelona World Race, Jean-Pierre Dick (The Kid) and the illustrious American helmsman Peter Holmberg (J Class Topaz). In the wake of the largest craft, the battle of Les Voiles promises to be hotly disputed in Class B, armed with over 35 competitors - with the notable presence of Marc Lepesqueux (Sunset), and in Class C, with the same number of participants and no fewer than four TP52s. In D, one of the most abundant classes, set to border on 40 entries, participants will notably cross tacks with Patrizio Bertelli - boss of the Luna Rossa challenge and the international group partnering the 36th America's Cup, which will be held in 2021 in Auckland, New Zealand - aboard a 1974 Galinari design, Vanessa.

Among the IRC Es, there will likely be a serious confrontation between the forty or so competitors which together make up the cream of the Farrs, Firsts, J Boats, JPKs, Melges and Océanis, not to mention the very elegant dayboat fleet, namely the Code 0s and Tofinous.

Tradition: constant bedazzlement

It's possible to have won the Vendée Globe twice over, made a clean sweep of all the monohull and multihull prizes, been elected sailor of the year three times and still come along to humbly 'learn the ropes' on a classic boat at Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez. That's just what Michel Desjoyeaux is delightedly preparing for after accepting a cordial invitation from the Jour de Fête sailing team (Epoque Marconi B designed by Franck Cabot Paine and William Starling Burgess in 1930), a team with whom he's already sailed beneath other skies and notably in Maltese waters for the Middle Sea Race. "I know nothing about it" jokes the "professeur", though he admits to having been raised on wooden boats - his family just so happens to own the Dragon No.2, which is obviously a collector's item. The odds are that he won't allow the competition any more leeway in the quest for the Rolex Trophy, for which he'll be competing. This fact should do nothing to affect the motivation and reflexes of the crew of Blitzen. Indeed, at Les Voiles, and doubtless only at Les Voiles, you can hesitate between the notoriety of the boat - an extraordinary 1938 Olin Stephens stunningly restored at Shemara Refit in 2016 - and that of her crew, with the discrete presence of Simon Le Bon, lead singer of Duran Duran.

In Marconi A Classic, another capped skipper will be at the controls of Hermitage, in the person of Lionel Péan, who'll gather around him some of the key elements of the legendary crew of L'Esprit d'Equipe with whom he was the first - and only - Frenchman to win the Whitbread, a crewed round the world race. He'll be up against another star of French offshore racing, Philippe Monnet, at the helm of Lys, his 1956 Sparkman & Stephens.

In this anniversary edition of Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez, it's the brilliant Figaro sailor Nicolas Bérenger who'll be at the helm of Ikra, the 12mR from the original Nioulargue in 1981, whose main rival will be France, the famous 1970 Mauric design.

Alongside Ester (1901 Mellgren design), one of the year's great 'discoveries' will undoubtedly be the clash with Sumurun, a 1914 Fife design. This highly exceptional 35-metre Marconi yawl is one of the last large Fife-design cruising yachts still sailing. She's completing a remarkable two-year restoration at the Guip yard in Brest and will make her new race debut in the Gulf of Saint-Tropez.

Among the Gaffers, this year's new addition, with a ketch-rig this time, is no less than 120 years of age. The imposing 34-metre Nicholson design, Black Swan, will be making her first appearance in the waters of Saint Tropez.

Anniversary for Roy

To celebrate 20 years of the event, the Société Nautique de Saint-Tropez was keen to create a surprise mix by calling upon one of the Cote d'Azur's most popular DJs: the highly renowned Jack-E, star of Les Caves du Roy, has been invited by the organiser to lead the events celebrations.

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