Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Giraglia Rolex Cup : Sunshine and Sails

Luc Alphand on board DCNS 100

Jethou (GBR) Sir Peter Ogden. Image copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

by Anna Maria Gregorini

In contrast to yesterday’s strong mistral, relatively calm conditions presided over Saint-Tropez today with the Giraglia Rolex Cup race committee announcing a 17.1-nautical mile course that took the competing yachts around the Tourelle de la Rabiou and the Bouée de la Moutte. Today’s race started with 5-7 knots of breeze which gradually increased after the first start at 12.10 CEST.

Today’s winners were: Alegre (GBR) in Group 0 IRC, Cuordileone (ITA) in Group A IRC, Tchin Tchin (FRA) in Group B IRC and Manida (ITA) in Group B ORC.

It was a particularly good day for Andres Soriano's Alegre, the first boat to cross the finish line, and winner on corrected time. Francesco de Angelis, part of the afterguard was upbeat in his assessment: “It is incredible how strong the wind can be one day and light the next. The wind was light out there but it was a nice race, there weren’t many shifts and we sailed well and fast. It was good to go through some manoeuvres and to sharpen up together ahead of the offshore race.”

ALEGRE Owner: ALEGRE YACHTING Sail n: GBR6880R EDIMETRA Owner: ERNESTO GISMONDI Sail n: ITA 1811 Type: WALLY 65. Image copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

The Mentor and the Protegé

The unique partnership onboard the Imoca 60 DCNS 100 (FRA) is one of the most fascinating stories emerging at the 59th Giraglia Rolex Cup. ‘Les Filières du Talent’ is DCNS’s innovative project, which unites an experienced sailor and a complete novice. The yachtsman in question is the professional skipper Marc Thiercelin and his apprentice is Luc Alphand. The same Alphand, who enjoyed a glittering career as an Olympic and World Cup skier before spending over a decade as a motorsports driver competing in endurance events such as Paris-Dakar and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where Rolex is Official Timekeeper.

Alphand introduces his orientation into a third sporting career: “It is a new adventure and page in my life, which arrived following a serious motorcycle accident that ended my career as a racing driver. During my rehabilitation phase, I always had a desire to be involved in sport and my subsequent encounters with sailors made me dream about taking part in this very hard and difficult sport.”

After hearing about this attraction to the world of sailing, DCNS and Thiercelin offered Alphand the opportunity to focus on a new professional orientation, a change that forced the serial winner to start from scratch. “I suddenly found myself onboard a 60ft boat,” explains Alphand, “I’ve been learning, working hard, through moments of good progress and other times when it has been more stagnated. I arrived with a lot of humility, accepting that I am an apprentice sailor and that is my level for the time being.”

Whilst skiing, motorsports and sailing may seem like three very different disciplines, Alphand believes that there are some key links: “There’s a bridge between the sports: the mountains and the sea, the ocean and the elements, the humility that is required in respecting these conditions, the link between speed and technology.”

Luc Alphand onboard DCNS 1000. Image copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

For Alphand and Thiercelin, the Giraglia Rolex Cup is part of a busy summer programme, which sees the duo compete in both the Transat Jacques Vabre and the Rolex Fastnet Race:

“There is a tradition in this sport which is fantastic,” he continues, “which we will discover further with the Rolex Fastnet Race, which I’ve heard so much about. To be part of these classics is fantastic!”

“The Giraglia Rolex Cup is especially interesting because it’s open to boats of all sizes as well as being a key part of the training for Luc,” explains Thiercelin. “It is a classic like the Fastnet Race and the Rolex Sydney Hobart, starting from Saint-Tropez, a real sailing town, along a great course with the mythical part being the sail round the Cape Corse and the emblematic Giraglia lighthouse.”

As Alphand and Thiercelin approach their fiftieth day working in tandem, the latter is well aware of the climatic factors which may determine the team’s fortunes: “The weather can of course change. If there is the mistral, it can make the race up to La Fourmigue and the Giraglia incredibly fast. Towards Genoa it can be more erratic. The Mediterranean can be like that: all or nothing.”

Thiercelin has a proven record in bringing on apprentices, Christopher Pratt, one of his former pupils is now enjoying his role as tactician on board the 88-ft Med Spirit (FRA).

The harbour in St Tropez. Image copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

The crew of the Baltic-65 Stig (ITA) are very much focused on racing as the aptly-named navigator Silvio Arrivabene explains: “Stig is competing at this event for the first time. We just competed in the Rolex Volcano Race and we will be taking part in the forthcoming Rolex sailing events as well.”

“The Giraglia Rolex Cup is one of the classic races in the Mediterranean: it is spectacular, the coastline is beautiful and many good sailors from across the world are here. The race is always very challenging and as there is a strong connection with Genoa and the Yacht Club Italiano - the event feels like home.”

“We will try to win in our category as a cruising racing boat,” concludes Arrivabene, “and find the best compromise between performance and not going too far away from the origins of the boat.”

Looking to learn

The crew of the TP-52 Lucky (USA) are competing at the Giraglia Rolex Cup for the first time and both owner and skipper Bryon Ehrhart and navigator Peter Tans are looking forward to the event having competed regularly in the Mediterranean in recent years.

For Tans, yesterday’s blustery conditions were a reminder of the difficulty in making any firm plans ahead of the event. “Looking at the weather for the start of the offshore race and the days after is still fairly unpredictable. We look at it everyday in the morning and evening to see if there is a developing pattern and you starting working on that and slowly plan.”

“We don’t really start thinking about a strategy before the race,” continues Tans, “there is no certainty, as you need the latest weather forecast. If it is light, the challenge is to pick up the breeze and find it when you are out there. It is very easy to get it wrong, if you trust the forecast, you make a plan and try to stick to it, but if it gets fickle, it can get very difficult.”

Like all modern day navigators, Tans is reliant on technology in his work, “Most of the keeping up with developments is done during my time off, the instrument systems are all up to spec and GPS is a given for everybody. It is about both the experience and software you have.”

Tans made the transition to navigator having worked on various positions on board. “I was a regular crew member on offshore races,” he continues, “competing in round the world races before I moved into navigation, which I have done during the last 10-15 years of sailing.”

For Ehrhart, the appeal of the race is all too clear as the sun shines across the Bay of Saint-Tropez: “The area is spectacular and why not come and race. Rolex puts on fantastic events, we’ve participated in several, and this is one of the most beautiful we’ve seen.’

Lucky will compete in the Rolex Fastnet Race in August and last year were overall winners at the Rolex Middle Sea Race. “This is our third season in Europe,” continues Ehrhart, “the European sailing community is fantastic, we are learning a lot from the Europeans and moving our game on.” The crew generally compete in a couple of offshore races per year before returning to Etchell sailing in the States. Like Tans, Ehrhart is hoping for favourable conditions: “The more breeze we get, the better, these are great boats to get up and run with as we found out at the Rolex Middle Sea Race last year.”

The near 200 crews competing in the offshore race will be keeping a close eye on tomorrow’s conditions ahead of the 243-nautical mile offshore race, commencing on Wednesday.

Giraglia Rolex Cup