The second day of inshore racing the Giraglia Rolex Cup dawned with more promise than the first. By 13.26CEST all yachts were racing: the IMA group on a 21.5 nautical mile course and the remainder on a 16.1 nm race. Conditions were not as sharp as yesterday with winds around 10-15 knots that softened considerably for the smaller boats as their race progressed; all the same, the 30.5 metre Esimit Europe 2 (EUR) dismissed its distance in 97 minutes finishing 12 minutes ahead of Alegre (GBR) and Shockwave (NZL) on the water. Class winners were: Alegre in IMA, Night Eagle (ITA) in IRC A, Tchin Tchin (FRA) in IRC B, Brancaleone (ITA) in ORC B. Class leaders after two races are: Container (GER) in IMA, Imagine (GER) in IRC A, Sleeper(GBR) in IRC B and Brancaleone in ORC B.
There is a varied international fleet gathering for the offshore element of the Giraglia Rolex Cup, the 241 nm race that this year heads to San Remo via La Giraglia, a rocky outcrop off the northern tip of Corsica. Yachts and crews have come from most corners of the world and each morning the race village resembles the United Nations with a cornucopia of languages on offer.
Sam Chan, for example, has brought his crew all the way from Hong Kong to race on the TP52 Free Fire, which he acquired in Europe just a few weeks ago. Chan has plenty of offshore experience as a regular participant in the Rolex China Sea Race – 565 nm from Hong Kong to The Philippines. This is his first time in Saint-Tropez, as he happily explains, “this is only my second time in France! I sailed in La Rochelle many years ago in 1994, but I have been sailing a lot in Asia and done everything there.” Chan has long thought about doing the Giraglia Rolex Cup. “We’ve wanted to do this race for some time. My crew helped me find a boat in Europe and here we are,” he comments, going on to show how he is doing his part for international relations, “all my crew except one are residents of Hong Kong and I have fourteen nationalities in the crew of sixteen.”
Chan is evidently looking forward to Wednesday, “we love to do long races and we have the boat to do it, even though it was not designed for this. It is only 240 miles, we’ve spent four weeks preparing the boat; it is not completely ready but there you are. It looks to me that the first day will be great, but after that it might die off. No one on the boat has done the race before so it will be interesting. I’ve looked at the reports for the last two years and it is always different. Two years ago the record was 18 hours and last year there was no wind. To prepare for the possibility of fast or slow we have to take all the different sails to cater for it. We can’t change the boat, but we can change the sails.”
Someone who has done the race before and experienced it all is New Zealander, Neville Crichton. Crichton first rounded the Giraglia in 2003 on his 90-footer Alfa Romeo I and went on to set a new course record. The following year he went again and despite crossing the finish line first, was some nine hours slower. In 2006 he returned to the Giraglia Rolex Cup with a new rocket ship, Alfa Romeo II. Despite a considerable speed and size advantage, it took three attempts to overcome his record time. In 2008 Crichton wiped four more hours off the benchmark, setting the new bar at 18 hours, 3 minutes and 15 seconds. He smiles wryly when asked how he’ll feel watching Igor Simcic and Flavio Favini (respectively the owner and the skipper of Esimit Europa 2, the former Alfa Romeo II) head off into the sunset on Wednesday, “we’ve always got line honours in the past, I don’t think we’ll be so successful this time. It will be an adjustment to come off the line and see the 100-footer take off. But we’re in a class where we’re winning an losing by seconds, so we’re having good racing.”
Asked what the secret to doing well might be, Crichton is clear, “you need a bit of luck.” But his crew are doing their homework and whilst line honours may be out of reach, a win overall is in the sights, “the boat is totally handicap oriented. I think we’ve got a good crack at overall. Going by the long-range forecast it looks like we’ll get a bit breeze and speed, and we’ll keep the pace on.”
Taking over a pedigree yacht that has set the yachting world on fire over the last few seasons is a prospect few would contemplate. It would be easy to look foolish. Igor Simcic is not someone who takes chances. Esimit Europa 2 is part of a long-term project for the man whose first experience of sailing was on another famous yacht: Herbert von Karajan’s Helisara. Simcic’s uncle was Karajan’s skipper.
Esimit Europa 2 is painted in the colours and carries the flag of the European Union. Esimit has the patronage of the European Commission’s President, Jose Manuel Barroso, and, according to Simcic, “is part of an extensive project to blur the borders and better connect European nations.” Simcic is aware of what he has taken on, “the yacht is very complicated and very sensitive. It is at the top of sailing technology today.” His chosen skipper, Flavio Favini is another deliberate choice, “Flavio and I sailed together on my old boat last year. We got on well. I knew it was important to have a crew that was right for the yacht and my original idea was to have one well-known sailor from each European state, but this will take a long time to achieve. Flavio has put together a crew he knows and trusts. In the racing yesterday when it was the first time we had 25-knots we knew this was right. Everyone did his job.”
Like Crichton before him, Simcic knows the true potential for Esimit will almost always be line honours, “our preparation is exclusively for the long race and if conditions are as promised today we can really do well. Our aim is to be first. It is too ambitious to look for the course record right now, but next year when we have had time, maybe.”
Favini, too, knows absolutely what he has taken on, “it is a good experience. It is a bigger yacht that I am used to sailing, so it is a new experience, a learning curve. The crew is made up of sailors that have been together for many years, but we are really learning how to sail her. It will take a while to learn how to sail at 100% of her potential.” Having chosen a crew he trusts, Favini says one element he is not worrying about is managing the crew, “they know what to do.”
Away from the glamorous end of the event is a large constituent of smaller, Corinthian yachts. Camillo Capozzi and his Polaris 33, Ala Bianca, are typical of these less celebrated competitors who are the spirit and life-blood of the race. What separates Capozzi from the others is that he has won the race overall, in 2006, and proudly wears his Rolex Yacht-master to prove it. It would be easy to dismiss his victory as luck, certainly the weather helped, “we were lucky, but we were brave. We are used to sailing with little wind. We sailed a slalom course around the bigger boats standing still. When the wind picked up the others could not catch us on corrected time. After the race I asked Neville Crichton, who is a Grand Seigneur, if he would like to buy my boat. He said ‘yes of course, but where do I put my 25 crew!’”
Capozzi takes all elements of preparation as seriously as the big boys. He identifies the main difference, apart from the food he will carry, is that he has many years experience with his yacht and the course. His first race was in 1974. Setting Ala Bianca up for the offshore race is second nature to him; he knows intimately the rig tune and sail trim to get the best from her. Capozzi is a true ambassador of all that is good with the Giraglia Rolex Cup, “it is a fascinating get together. You cannot forget it or leave it behind. If someone loves sailing he has to do the Giraglia and if you are brave you are able to win.”
Tomorrow sees the third and final day of inshore racing. The weather conditions could be sporting. A low-pressure system is approaching, bringing 20-25 knot easterlies and probably rain.
The 241 nautical mile offshore component of the 58th Giraglia Rolex Cup starts on Wednesday, 16 June from Saint-Tropez. Prior to this there are three days of inshore racing on the Bay of Saint-Tropez.
The prize giving for the inshore series will be held at La Citadelle, Saint-Tropez, on the evening of 16 June. The prize giving for the offshore race will be held on the evening of Saturday, 19 June at the Yacht Club San Remo.