It was in 1981 that the first “Nioulargue” was sailed and the stakes were simple: the losing boat would buy dinner for the entire crew of the winning boat. The route was a 30-kilometre (16nm) race from Saint-Tropez to the buoy marking the Nioulargue shallows, and back. The challengers were 12-Metre Ikra (FRA) and Swan 44 Pride (USA), already then a mix of modern and classic.

Over time the regatta evolved into what it is today: a gathering of nearly 300 vessels, both classic and modern, for a week of sailing in Saint-Tropez at the end of the summer season, known fondly as Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez. With two more official race days to go (Friday and Saturday), today has been declared the “Challenge Day,” reserved so that individual boats may challenge one another to the original race route in honour of the regatta's historical founding.

A total of 18 different challenges were sailed today, with each challenge team responsible for setting their own start time, course and final results. The Challenge Day will have no effect on overall regatta results; today's racing is all in the spirit of tradition and in the name of good fun, an essential part of Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez.

So while some decided to sail a friendly match race today, many of the boats took advantage of this lay day for a well-deserved rest. Rowdy, one of the top three boats in the Rolex Trophy ranking, and the winner of the prestigious trophy in 2008, is not racing today. “We have been racing in Monaco and Cannes, which is lots of sailing back to back, so we don't mind taking this day to recover,” said crewmember Jonathan Greenwood. “This is our fourth time sailing in Les Voiles and now we all know what we have to do, so we can be calm and relaxed when doing our jobs.”

Jean-René Bannwart, another crewmember on Rowdy, reinforced this idea: “Everything has to be ready: the sails, the boat, the crew; a boat has to move like clockwork where everyone knows their specific job and exactly when they have to do it. If one thing goes wrong, at the mark for example, you lose seconds and a race can be lost in one second. We're still asking ourselves where we lost those seconds,” he said, referring to Rowdy's finish in 3rd, two seconds behind 2nd place finisher Oiseau De Feu, on the first day of racing for Traditional classes. Unlike many of the boats that have come to Saint-Tropez to enjoy nice conditions and cruise the azure waters one last time before summer ends, Rowdy is in full racing mode. “We take this regatta very seriously, we are here to race and we are here to win,” confirmed Jean-René, “This is always the case for our boat.”

That mentality may have paid off well as Rowdy is currently among the top three boats eligible for the Rolex Trophy and is leading their division after scoring 1st in yesterday's race. But with two more races to go, the winner has yet to be declared. And one second may make all the difference.

Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez moment in time highlights will resume with scheduled racing as of tomorrow.

The Rolex Trophy
In addition to the week's racing and prizes, is the opportunity for the classic yachts to win the Rolex Trophy. The Rolex Trophy will be given during the prize giving ceremony on Sunday, 4 October to the Tradition class boat over 16 metres, who has accumulated the fewest points over the week of regattas. The winner will also receive a Rolex Submariner, close companion to all nautical achievements.

Currently in the top three positions, all tied with a score of five points following two races, are Rowdy, Avel and Oiseau De Feu.

Rowdy was designed by legend Nathanial Herreshoff and built by the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company in 1916 in Bristol, Rhode Island. She is part of the New York 40 Class, named so because the design is 40 feet off the waterline, and is one of the 14 or so boats in the class that was constructed between 1916 and 1917. Also known as the “Fighting Forties,” these sailing yachts were built for members of the New York Yacht Club and Rowdy raced for many years with great success. World War I put a halt to further construction of the class and most of these great vessels have ceased to exist today. Rowdy is one of the few and recently underwent a major rebuild, ensuring a long life for this “Fighting Forty.”

Avel was designed and built by Charles Nicholson in 1896 for her original French owner, René Calame. Named after a wind known for blowing in Brittany, Avel was used from 1979 - 1983 as a training ship for Nyborg Søfartsskole and Tvind School Corporation in Denmark. She was later 'rediscovered' as a houseboat in 1990 and was sent for restoration by Maurizio Gucci, owner of Avel's mother boat, the three-mast schooner Creole. Avel returned to the classic yacht circuit in 1994 and Alessandra and Allegra Gucci often sail aboard, also present for the 2009 edition of Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez.

Built in 1937 for RORC Commodore Ralph Hawkes, Oiseau de Feu was originally launched as Firebird X and had been rigged as a Marconi cutter. Lacking a competitive edge at the time when competing with sister ships Stiarna, Foxhound and Bloodhound, she jumped from owner to owner, including Pierre Cointreau, of the famous liqueur company. She was officially renamed Oiseau de Feu in 1970 and has since been classified under the French flag as an historic monument. Following a shipwreck in 1983, Oiseau de Feu underwent a long restoration at the Labbé shipyard that reinstated her cutter rig and original appearance.

Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez 2009 Event Programme
Sunday, 27 September: Welcome for yachts
Monday, 28 September: Welcome for yachts and racing in the Modern division
Tuesday, 29 September: Coastal race
Wednesday, 30 September: Coastal race
Thursday, 1 October: Challenge Day
Friday, 2 October: Coastal race
Saturday, 3 October, Coastal race
Sunday, 4 October: Prizegiving Ceremony 11.00

For the fourth consecutive year Rolex is a Partner of Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez. This regatta, organized by the Société Nautique de Saint-Tropez (SNST), is part of the Rolex Yachting Portfolio that includes over twenty world-class sailing events that take place around the world. Rolex is the title sponsor of mythic races such as the upcoming Rolex Middle Sea Race, the Rolex Sydney Hobart and the legendary Rolex Fastnet Race.