Capri Classica – stepping back to yachting’s grand era

Like a scene from the nineteenth century, four giant schooners are currently berthed in Capri ready to set sail tomorrow in the first ever running of the Capri Classica. Burgees are flying from the tops of main and foremasts; topsides, varnish and brightwork are all gleaming and the swarm of crews, all clad in the identical uniform of their respective yachts, are busy making ready after their practice today out on the Bay of Naples.

Sailing schooners is a complex labour-intense process; quite different to racing modern yachts. For example they typically break out more sails upwind than they do downwind. As Charlie Wroe, captain of the 138ft Nathanael Herreshoff-designed Mariette of 1915 explains: “With two masts, we have eight sails flying upwind and we go down to four downwind. Before the leeward mark you have to drag down a whole load of sails and get all the others back up, which involves a lot of crew work. But it is fun – there is never a dull moment because there is always a sail going up or down.”

With the sad withdrawal of Elena of London for technical reasons, this first edition of the Capri Classica will be contested by four classic schooners ranging in size from the longest, Mariette of 1915, down to the 85ft 1937 vintage Orianda.

The Capri Classica is organised by the Circolo Remo e Vela Italia, the Yacht Club Capri, the International Schooner Association (ISA) with the support of the International Maxi Association and in cooperation with Porto Turistico di Capri and the Associazione Italiana Vele d’Epoca. But it has come about following the establishment of the ISA in September.

“We founded the ISA last year to get like-minded owners and crews to talk to each other,” explains Tomas de Vargas Machuca, President of the International Schooner Association, whose company, The Classic Yacht Experience, owns and runs two of the Capri Classica entries, Puritan and Orianda. “What we found is that in normal regattas, schooners are always put into classes that don’t suit their needs – schooners prefer wide reaches, which typically you don’t get. So we got fellow owners and captains talking to each other and we set up the ISA.”

The result of this has been the Schooner Cup Series 2019, which, following the Capri Classica, continues with Monaco Classic Week and Les Voiles de St Tropez, where the first winner of the Schooner Cup Series will be crowned. Of this trio of events the Capri Classica is the only one set up especially for the new circuit.

“It is a really great to start the summer in a place like Capri – a nice private regatta with friends. What’s not to like?” continues Mariette of 1915’s Charlie Wroe. “The ISA is a good idea because it is here to promote like-for-like sailing for our yachts. You see how the J Class Association has produced some spectacular regattas and we enjoy racing against other big gaff-rigged boats, so it made perfect sense. We have done regattas in the past, in St Tropez especially, where you get a fleet of 10+ gaff-rigged boats and it is as spectacular a sight as you can see in sailing. Hopefully this will provide the impetus to encourage more people to come racing.”

It is also about preventing skills from simply being lost. As Tomas de Vargas Machuca adds: “We keep the tradition of sailing schooners alive. We train a lot of youngsters in a kind of ‘academy’. It is attracting young people to older boats. There is a time for carbon fibre and a time for tradition – this is the latter!”

Celebrating these traditions will be reflected in this event where, post-racing, crews will demonstrate the skills and habits employed on classic schooners, from intricate ropework to the singing of sea shanties. Perhaps most exciting for the competitive side of the Capri Classica will be the rare opportunity to see the yachts starting from anchor during some races, just as they did in the 19th century, including the first editions of the America’s Cup.

Following a welcome cocktail party on the dockside this evening, with refreshments including gin from the exclusive Downton Distillery, racing at the inaugural Capri Classica starts tomorrow with a first warning signal at 1200. It continues until Saturday 11th May when the final race will conclude off Capri’s Faraglioni rocks, followed by a prize-giving in the charming Marina Piccola on Capri’s south side.

The competitors

Mariette of 1915 –138ft 1915 Nathanael Herreshoff schooner
Naema – 128ft built in 2012, inspired by the 1938 Alfred Mylne design Panda
Orianda –85ft 1937 Dahlstrom staysail schooner
Puritan –126ft 1930 Alden gaff schooner

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