Imagine an event which was part Cowes Week, part Fastnet – 3 days inshore racing followed by a 240 mile offshore race. Then that the Cowes Week part was set in St Tropez, with all its associated attractions, and that the Fastnet element finished at the Yacht Club Italiano in Genoa. And that all motor boats were despatched from the famous St Tropez harbour allowing it to be full of race boats. And that the night before the offshore race there was free party for all competitors which comprised a 5 course sit down dinner with unlimited champagne and wine, was set in the Citadel overlooking the bay you’ve been racing on and that the evening followed with a film of the racing, operatic entertainment and then dancing to a live band until 2am.
And that when you got to Genoa you were greeted by free food and drink on tap 24 hours a day, with courtesy BMWs laid on to take you wherever you should wish. And that proceedings would close with a prize giving and sit down lunch of fine Italian food and wine.
Sounds too good to be true? Yet this race is open to all boats over 30ft long with an IRC or ORC rating, costs less than Cowes Week to enter and isn’t fully subscribed. It’s called the Giraglia Rolex Cup, and don’t tell too many people because it’s the Med’s best kept secret.
We first brought Nisida up from Malta to race two years ago. Back then we found the racing a bit hot for our newly acquired boat and finished somewhere near the back of the fleet. Last year, despite repeated pleas to the Skipper, Nisida instead came back to the UK for a Fastnet campaign. But this year, with no Fastnet, we went back for another Giraglia with a much upgraded boat and a better trained crew, hoping to acquit ourselves better in the racing. We’ve always been good at the parties.
The racing itself is run by Yacht Club Italiano with help from the French. We were lucky to have both a fluent French speaker (Chris W-I) and Italian speaker (Alyson) on board to translate the race instructions. With a fickle wind the start to racing was delayed most days, but as soon as the wind filled in you had to be on your guard; with what felt like no warning at all you were into a start sequence – 5 mins to go for a 90 plus boat start line. We failed any day to make a good start – even when we managed to get in the right place near the line a maxi would sail over us and that was us going nowhere for a few while. But it was great to see the likes of Alfa Romeo at such close quarters.
We weren’t very good at finishes either against the Mediterranean light wind fliers, so we just prayed for more wind in the offshore race and viewed the inshore races (a separate series) as a warm up.
Racing each day was followed for a trip to the beach for a warm down and view of the sights. The Gala Dinner in the Citadel was extraordinary and Rolex must reckon to sell an awful lot of watches to race participants (or boat owners anyway) to justify that budget. Clearly the Fastnet doesn’t have the same attraction in Rolex’s marketing plan and looking at the stunningly beautiful boats we were racing against us you could see why.
Come the offshore race there was more wind forecast, but not for the actual start and we drifted aimlessly around. Finally we could see wind out to sea and inched our way agonisingly towards it. The course takes you first out west for 30 miles, before heading east to the Giraglia Rock on the north tip of Corsica for 130 miles and then due north for an 80 mile trip to Genoa.
The wind rose steadily towards 30 knots as we beat our way up to the westward mark. Our now practiced crew executed a perfect peel down to the no 3 headsail and we watched smugly as other boats struggled with bare headed changes in a wind strength they were clearly less used to handling. And then to our astonishment we saw a yacht on its side with the crew sitting on side of the hull. The rest of the fleet were sailing past it, but there was a motor boat racing towards it. We later learned that the keel had parted from the hull and that all the crew were fine.
Once round the windward mark it was spinnaker up and off we shot. Again the lighter boats struggled and we were surrounded by broaches and much excited Italian shouting. As darkness fell we changed down to our smaller heavier sail. Come later that night there was thunder and lightening around – an all too familiar sight from the Middle Sea Race – and the wind suddenly headed us sharply and picked up. We dropped the spinnaker and close reached up to the Rock, rounding it shortly after dawn. A helicopter over us meant a lot of pressure as we effected a gybe set of the spinnaker, and we were rewarded with being shown on the race film at the prize-giving.
We sailed the first 227 miles of the race in 24 hours. The last 13 miles took what felt like forever (6 hours). The name genoa is given to an outsize jib as those sailing from Genoa needed such a large sail to cope with the lack of wind, and we had plenty of time to contemplate exactly why. We watched the boats behind catch us up as we all sat in a large parking lot. Inevitably (it seemed) they all made the finish before us – but by then we were past caring about results and were more focused on making the beer tent that night. This we finally did.
When the results came through we’d come 13th on handicap out of 91 entries in the ORC class – probably Nisida’s best ever result. We spent 48 hours celebrating courtesy of the Yacht Club’s hospitality, and hugely enjoyed our time in Genoa.
We hope to be back next year!
Crew: Peter Hopps (skipper), Hilary Cook, Chris Winnington-Ingram, Joe Cross, James Alsop, Alyson Christie, Fiona Pim, Kanthi Ford, Peter Horton, William Rutherford, David Edwards.