One of the most enjoyable events in the South of France calendar is ‘Les Voiles de St Tropez’, and it happens in late September, and early October when all the summer crowds have gone home, and the holidaymakers are back at work, and all the plastic gin palaces have been removed from one of the most famous harbours or ports in the world, St Tropez.
This is done so that the most beautiful vintage yachts and their owners and crews can come from the four corners of the earth to race against each other during the day, and party at night, and their boats can be admired by thousands of enthusiasts who come every year just to glimpse some of the most famous vintage yachts ever built.
What makes it all such fun is that everyone has something in common which is a basic love of wooden boats, large and small, and of every design and specification.
Wally Cento 2013 Magic Carpet 33 metres Reichel Pugh
Wally 80 Tango G 24 metres 2006 Bruce Farr
Wally Cento Hamilton 2012 30.5 metres
There are few more enjoyable things to do in this life than to watch Vintage Yachts racing, and there are few places better suited to this activity than the Mediterranean waters off St Tropez, and the Cote D’Azur, which is where ‘Les Voiles de St Tropez’ takes place.
This year, (2013) was the 15th edition of Les Voiles de St. Tropez and once again it proved the place to be with 4000 sailors and 300 classic and modern vessels taking part. Formerly known as La Nioulargue, it was born of a challenge between two passionate sailors.
In 1981, Jean Laurain, the owner of the 12-Metre design Ikra, and American Dick Jason, the owner of a Swan 44, Pride, agreed to race between Saint-Tropez and the restaurant Club 55 at Pampelonne, using as a turning mark La Nioulargue, a buoy marking the Nioulargo shallows some five nautical miles east-north-east off Cap Camarat. On that occasion ‘Ikra’ beat ‘Pride’, and the ‘Nioularge’ was born.
In 1995, a tragic accident led to a cessation of the event, but the regatta returned in 1999 with a new name and revitalized spirit.
Les Voiles is a popular end to the Mediterranean inshore yacht-racing season. The harbour of Saint-Tropez fills with yachts, carbon-fibre sitting happily alongside varnished wood. The town brims with people, as crews and spectators mix together. The bay is a sea of sails, as synthetic fibres contrast with more natural materials.
J Class Velsheda 1933 38.5 metres C.E. Nicholson
My personal favourites, the fabulous ‘J’ Class yachts made their annual appearance and did not fail to provide exciting racing off Pampelone beach. Velsheda, the 1930 Camper & Nicholson yacht got stiff competition from the newer, more lightly built Hanuman and Lionheart but managed to come out the winner after 5 fantastic races.
J Class Lionheart 40 metres 2010 Andre Hoek from an unused Ranger design 1937
J Class Shamrock V 1929 36.4 metres C.E. Nicholson
The week of competition closes, appropriately, with a spectacular prize-giving at the 16th-century Citadelle overlooking the old port. Among the many prizes presented, the winner of the Rolex Trophy is appropriately awarded a Rolex timepiece.
On shore, the magic of Saint Tropez takes hold of the crews and the thousands of sailors from all walks of life, who enjoy all the activities, from the traditional Boules competition in the town square, Place des Lices, to the fantasy-filled crew procession and the ‘Sardinade’ at La Ponche, a traditional sardine feast and dance.
Of particular appeal is Les Voiles Village, which provides visitors with a warm, cheery welcome. It also plays host each race morning to a light sunny breakfast, and each evening, to a party around the bar, where crews can discuss the day’s races in an ambiance as cosmopolitan as it is joyous.
Elena of London 50.8 metres Schooner 2009 – Replica of the mighty Herreshoff Schooner made famous by the Trans Atlantic record passage of Charlie Barr in 1905, that held for nigh on 80 years1910
Whether in the Modern Class or amongst the fabulous Classics, every year brings new boats to life, freshly renovated or brand new futuristic prototypes. However, the organizers and the spectators were clearly delighted at the return of the classic ‘stars’ of Les Voiles, steeped in the most incredible histories.
Cambria 1928 40 metres William Fife
These include the huge Bermudan sloop Cambria, the large gaff-rig cutters Marquet and Moonbeam, the 15m J Mariska, the hundred-year old Marigold and Partridge, among the hundred Classic yachts with their bronze and varnish gleaming in that unique Mediterranean light.
Moonbeam III 1903 30 metres William Fife
Classic Fleet departing Moonbeam III and Halloween 1926 25 metres William Fife
Moonbeam IV 1914 35 metres William Fife
We were sadly unable to be there this year, but some friends, Emma and Paul O’Grady, went for the first time, and were absolutely ‘smitten’, not just by the yachts and the racing, but the fantastic atmosphere in St Tropez and we are using lots of their wonderful photos to illustrate this article.
More Photographs taken by Emma and Paul O’Grady that illustrate the excitement of just being there to follow these magnificent yachts:-
Shenendoah of Sark 1902 54 metres Schooner T.E. Terris
Seas of Shadow 12 metre Class 1935 20.79 metres Clinton Crane
Ashanti 1950 35 metres Schooner Henry Gruber
If you have never attended ‘Les Voiles de St Tropez’, then I recommend you add it immediately to your ‘bucket list’ of things you must do before you die!
And if you want an insider’s tip, then get up really early, and go for a walk around the town and enjoy this magical place at its best in the early morning sun, followed by breakfast on the balcony of Hotel Sube overlooking the harbour full of the most beautiful yachts ever built.
How to Follow the Event
Further information on the Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez can be found at: www.societe-nautique-saint-tropez.fr
Photo credit – Most of the photographs used to illustrate this article, were taken by Paul and Emma O’Grady, who attended Les Voiles for the first time this year, and have told me that they will definitely be back again next year and we well be with them!
Also a huge thank you to Stuart McClellan for his meticulous identification of the yachts which Paul and Emma O’Grady followed and photographed at Les Voiles.
P.S. The sun does not always shine in St. Tropez!
As regular readers of The Vintage Magazine will know, I am a great admirer of vintage yachts and never cease to be inspired by the sheer spectacle of these classic yachts racing and I am therefore delighted to welcome a ‘kindred spirit’ in the form of Stuart McClellan as the Editor of our Yachting section.
Stuart will be writing a series of articles on the great Classic Boats and Regattas of the World, starting with a review of a fantastic 2013 season for the iconic J Class Yachts with regatta action in St. Barts, Palma, Sardinia and St. Tropez, two of which hosted five of the mighty Leviathans at a regatta for the first time since 1938.
This will bring a new dimension to our coverage of yachts and yachting generally and will greatly enhance our reporting and overall coverage of all the classic racing events and other aspects of the yachting world.
22nd October 2013