For 30 years the Rolex Swan Cup has been attracting sailors to Porto Cervo for all kinds of reasons. Some love the cut-and-thrust of the racing, others enjoy the camaraderie of going sailing with close friends and family; then there is the great weather, the breathtaking mountains of northern Sardinia and stark, craggy islands dotted around the race course; and not to forget the social life, with some of the finest bars and restaurants anywhere in Italy. The 2014 edition of the event was held from 8-14 September.
Some sailors have been racing at this event since 1984 when Rolex, Nautor’s Swan and the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda (YCCS) formed what has since become one of the most enduring partnerships in the sailing world. Because all the ingredients are there for great racing, the Rolex Swan Cup attracts sailors of all abilities – from the absolute beginner keen to get a taste for a different kind of sport, to the seasoned professionals, the Olympic Champions and America’s Cup veterans who have raced in every corner of the planet but who know that there are few venues to match the charms of the Costa Smeralda. Especially when there are 93 Swans in the marina.
Getting the family back together
Commodore of the YCCS, Riccardo Bonadeo, participated aboard his own Swan back at that first event. “Some of the ingredients have changed as the world of sailing has changed,” he says. “We came with our families, and we slept on board. Now you see professional sailors, container loads of equipment for some of the bigger boats here, and the racing is at a higher level. That first event was more of a rally. But fundamentally the spirit of the Rolex Swan Cup remains the same, it’s about a family coming together, not only for racing but for a great social occasion.”
Two years ago Don Macpherson wouldn’t have expected to be racing his Swan 90S Freya in Porto Cervo. “I’ve been a cruising sailor all my life,” says Macpherson, “but then the boat captain Jonathan suggested that maybe I’d like it. We did some racing in the Caribbean a couple of years ago, and I was hooked the first time I tried it. The whole dynamic is different – more people, a common purpose, camaraderie, competition – there's always some way to make the boat go faster and to improve yourself.” This week he went on to win the windy, 51-mile coastal race, a feather in the cap for any sailor, let alone a relative newcomer to the racing scene.
A rich heritage
The diversity of the yachts at the event is impressive, in terms of, age, size and speed, ranging from the 36ft Sparkman & Stephens (S&S) classic, Finola, to the modern Swan 100 Varsovie. So the fleet of 93 was divided into six divisions: Maxi, Swan 60, Grand Prix, Swan 45, Swan 42 OD, and Classic (S&S designs from 1960s and 1970s). The Classic division attracted 24 yachts, providing a nostalgic reminder of what put Nautor’s Swan on the map in the first place. The elegant lines are one thing, but above all it’s the seaworthiness of the S&S designs and the Nautor’s build quality that really turned the Swan into such an aspirational brand. It was a Swan 65 ketch that won the first Whitbread Round the World Race, and which helped establish the Swan’s reputation as a go-anywhere boat that will never let you down. Indeed, one of the Swan 65s which competed in the second edition of the Whitbread was present in Porto Cervo, the immaculately restored King’s Legend.
Today, Swans continue to perform at the highest level at the world’s great regattas but they like to return to their family roots for the Rolex Swan Cup. The Swan 82S Nikata, for example, finished 7th in the Rolex Sydney Hobart last December and was competing in the Maxi division in Porto Cervo.Tixwave beat 206 boats at the Giraglia Rolex Cup in June and was competing in the Swan 42 OD fleet here.
The S&S spirit
Perhaps nothing better embodies the family atmosphere of the Swans than the S&S Swan Association, formed by classic Swan fanatic Matteo Salamon who was racing with his wife Giulia aboard their Swan 38 Only You. His enthusiasm can take some of the credit for attracting 24 S&S designs to this year’s Rolex Swan Cup compared with just seven boats two years ago.
Such is the growing interest in the S&S class that some big names from the grand prix racing world are starting to compete. Giuseppe Puttini’s Swan 65 ketch Shirlaf is packed with professional sailors including Paolo Cian, former America’s Cup helmsman. Cian’s one-time employer Vincenzo Onorato, head of the Mascalzone Latino team that competed in the 2003 and 2007 editions of the America’s Cup, has turned his focus on classic Swan racing. Already the proud owner of a Swan 65 ketch, which he describes as “the boat of my life”, Onorato wanted a smaller S&S Swan for handicap racing. “I was in Newport, Rhode Island, two years ago competing in a regatta and I saw a Swan 38, and she was not in great condition, but I bought her and have spent the past two years restoring her.”
There are many other great restoration examples in the fleet, labours of love that have taken many years to bring these magnificent yachts back to their former glory. Six years ago Jonathan and Mimi Todhunter bought a Swan 47 in a poor state of repair. The yacht was originally commissioned from Nautor’s Swan by Nelson Piquet, the great Brazilian racing driver who won the Formula One World Championships three times during the 1980s, but it has taken the dedication of the Todhunters to bring the yacht back to her original state. Even if some of Walidada’s crew were disappointed not to be faring better in the racing, Todhunter was not so bothered. “Any result on the water is a bonus, but it’s just great to be here with Walidada, participating in such a huge, wonderful event.”
Swan 42 OD
For a few, however, the Rolex Swan Cup is all about the competition, the winning. No boat dominated its fleet quite like Natalia in the Swan 42 OD division with 12 entries. The only female skipper in the fleet, Natalia Brailoiu steered her Romanian crew to a straightforward victory over Ed Leask’s Magical Mystery Tour. “I’ve been sailing with this crew for a long time, about four years, and this is the key to our success,” said Brailoiu. “I have complete faith in my crew and they help me a lot. I am very proud to be able to compete at this level as a woman.”
Swan 45 World Championship
The other one-design fleet was the eight-boat Swan 45 World Championship which came down to a head to head between two top German crews. In the end it was Earlybird who beat Elena Novaby a single point, claiming a fourth world title in the process. “I think this was the most tense series we've ever had,” said co-owner Hendrik Brandis. “I felt that in previous years we might have a boatspeed edge, but this is gone. The difference this year was boathandling, tactics, a bit of luck, and winning every start.”
This year’s predominantly light breezes suited the thinner hull shape of the two Swan 601s, withWohpe and Arobas holding the top two places in the 60ft division ahead of Bronenosec and the rest of the Swan 60s. Wohpe’s owner Roberto Lauro made no secret of how much victory meant to him. “I came to Porto Cervo with a clear goal. We didn't come here just to enjoy ourselves. You compete to get to the point – to finish first.”
Berenice Bis led all week, until the final day when a race win gave Nikata overall victory by half a point. Nikata’s boat captain Tom Brewer was almost lost for words. “Ecstatic!” he said. “I knowBerenice really wanted it because they've been here a few times and haven't quite made it. I feel for them, I really do, but I'm ecstatic that we got it.
The last time the Swan 56 Yasha had sailed was in the 2002 Rolex Swan Cup. Twelve years later the owner, Yukihiro Ishida, decided it was time to dust down his boat for another campaign. Japanese professional sailor Kazuhiko Sofuku put the boat and the international crew together and they did just enough to beat James Blakemore’s South African team on the Swan 53 Music. “We didn’t have a great start, and Music kept the pressure on us all day,” said Sofuku. “But it is great to win, and to sail such a great bunch of guys.”
The oldest and smallest boat in the regatta finished on top in the 24-boat Sparkman and Stephens division. The 1968-vintage Swan 36 Finola was the fourth Swan ever to be built, although you’d never know it by her immaculate appearance. She beat her biggest rival, the Swan 65 ketch Shirlaf, by a single point. Mascalzone Latino was 3rd. Finola’s owner Chris Frost said he felt “a million dollars”. Asked his secret, he pointed to Finola. “That old girl. A great sailing boat. Olin Stephens said it was the best Swan he'd ever drawn; she's like a dolphin.”
All six of the week’s class winners were awarded Rolex timepieces and Rolex Swan Cup trophies.
Through all the changes that have taken place in the sailing world over the past three decades, the beauty of the Rolex Swan Cup is that it continues to be a gentleman’s regatta – offering fierce competition on the water but with all rivalries left at the dock. It’s a successful formula that looks set to run for at least another 30 years, and will again be on display in six months time when the Rolex Swan Cup Caribbean is held in Virgin Gorda, the British Virgin Islands in March 2015.
– Regatta News.