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Giraglia Rolex Cup: Italo-Gallic Art of Yachting

Giraglia Rolex Cup: Italo-Gallic Art of Yachting

By Giles Pearman

Throw any combination of Mediterranean-nation inhabitants into a confined space and a lively debate on a number of subjects is likely to occur. It is in the nature of the people to demonstrate their ‘joie de vivre’ and their willingness to express themselves. If the group concerned are sailors then the discussion might well start with the proficiencies of their boats, sails and other paraphernalia, but it will soon move to food, wine, family and life.

Saint-Tropez hosts the Rolex Giraglia Cup

Saint-Tropez provides the focal point for the Giraglia Rolex Cup. Photo: copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

Every race or regatta can lay some claim to being a centre-point of camaraderie and competition. Sailors are for the most part amiable, sociable types – even single-handers enjoy spinning a yarn ashore. Yet the claim of the Giraglia Rolex Cup is probably stronger than most.

300 yachts pack Saint-Tropez for the Rolex Giraglia Cup

300 yachts from 18 countries pack Saint-Tropez harbor. Photo: copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

Starting life as a race between France and Italy the Giraglia Rolex Cup has over time developed into a festival of the sea. Over 300 yachts gathered in Saint-Tropez for the 64th edition, with boats and crew representing far more than the two neighboring states. Various elements of Northern Europe, Scandinavia, Russia, Eastern Europe were present, along with the odd American, Asiatic and Australasian.

saint tropez is a haven for artists

Saint-Tropez is renowned as an artists’ haven not simply a magnet for those in search of glamour. Photo: copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

Dock side ambiance in Saint Tropez at the Rolex Giraglia Cup

Competing yachts and crew come from all over Europe and beyond. Photo: copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

Saint-Tropez is a delight for Rolex Giraglia crews and tourists

With sailing yachts filling the harbor, Saint-Tropez is a delight for crews and tourists alike. Photo: copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

The Giraglia Rolex Cup was established in 1953, in the aftermath of the Second World War, to help repair relations between Italy and France. It has been held every year since and has developed into one of the biggest sailing competitions of the Mediterranean season, with some 2,500 professional and amateur crew members taking part.

Mariska races in the Rolex Giraglia Cup

For the first time the Giraglia Rolex Cup welcomed classic yachts, including Moonbeam of Fyfe and Mariska… Photo: copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

Maverick races in the Rolex Giraglia Cup

…contrasting spectacularly with the 2016 launch Maverick. Photo: copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

Today’s Giraglia Rolex Cup is three events in one, comprising overnight races from Marseilles and Sanremo to Saint-Tropez; an inshore series in Saint-Tropez; and the famous offshore race ‘La Giraglia’, which runs 241 nautical miles from Saint-Tropez to Genoa via the islet that gives the event its name. The 64th edition started on Friday, 10 June 2016.

The Rolex Giraglia Cup Inshore Series

The inshore series is a closely fought affair. Photo: copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

Saint-Tropez's iconic clock tower

Saint-Tropez’s clock tower is almost as iconic as the Giraglia.

Created by members of the Yacht Club Italiano and the Yacht Club de France, the event is still organized by a combination of French and Italian yacht clubs. Today, the Société Nautique de Saint-Tropez and the Yacht Club Italiano, both partner yacht clubs of title sponsor Rolex, maintain the founding principles of friendship and fraternity. Rolex itself has been an indispensable part of the fabric since 1998, and works in close partnership to ensure the event maintains its elevated status while continuing to respect its rich history.

Carlo Croce, President of the Yacht Club Italiano

Carlo Croce is the son of one of the race founders Beppe Croce. Photo: copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

Carlo Croce, the President of both World Sailing and the Yacht Club Italiano, and son of one of the founders has a strong sense of what makes the Giraglia Rolex Cup such a fascinating contest: “The attraction comes from a central spirit which has set it apart from other races since the beginning. Top professionals racing against Corinthians; different types of boat and each with a chance to win. This motivates people to be part of this mythical race.”

The Rolex Giraglia Cup Crew Pary

This year’s traditional crew party and firework display was located right on the water’s edge in front of Hotel La Ponche. Photo: copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

the mythical giraglia...

The mythical Giraglia, one of yachting’s iconic turning marks. Photo: copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

The offshore race is the biggest draw of the event. The Giraglia itself has achieved mythic status in the sailing world, similar to the Fastnet Rock, the Organ Pipes and Stromboli. A large ridge-backed rock, it is the northern extension of the Cap Corse. Lying barely one nautical mile off the coast of Corsica, it measures 600 metres in length, a mere 50 meters wide and rises just 60 meters above sea level.

beautifal, uninhabited giraglia

Uninhabited, the Giraglia keeps a lonely vigil as the fleet passes its rocky shore. Photo: copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

girgalia is 1nm off the northern tip of corsica

The Giraglia is situated less than 1nm off the northern tip of Corsica. Photo: copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

The start of the 2016 Rolex Giraglia Cup

The start of the 64th Giraglia Rolex Cup offshore race was under leaden grey skies. Photo: copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

 The 2016 Giraglia Rolex Cup will be remembered as one of the most challenging. Starting in light airs with a tactically demanding mid-section, it ended with a flourish; at times an alarming one. The final leg from the Giraglia to Genoa will last long in the memory, as a bruising south-westerly wind built rapidly to 30 plus knots and whipped up the seas. Lasting from late on Thursday night to Friday morning, this wind added serious gasoline to the efforts of the slower yachts to overhaul the fastest in the race for the corrected time, and overall, win.

magic carpet cubed, 2016 rolex giraglia cup line honors winner

Magic Carpet Cubed was line honors winner for the second time. Photo: copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones 100-ft Maxi Magic Carpet Cubed (GBR) claimed line honors, crossing the finish line in Genoa at 15:02:56 CEST on Thursday 16 June. Completing the race in 26 hours, 48 minutes and 56 seconds, she was well outside the 14 hour, 56 minute and 16 second race record set by Esimit Europa 2 in 2012.

sir linsay owen-jones celebrates line honors with crew, giraglia cup

Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones (Holding trophy) and crew celebrate being first to finish. Photo: copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

“We’re delighted. We knew before the race we had a good chance at line honors. I have to say we sailed a far better race than 2013. Marcel (Van Triest) and Ian (Walker) made the right choices. Every single move we made happened to take us to where there was wind, maximizing the speed of the boat.”

Later during Thursday night and Friday morning it became clear that the advantage in the wind conditions would lie with the slower boats. A building south-westerly dominated the Ligurian Sea and the Giraglia-Genoa area of the course serving to propel those boats still on that leg with greater efficiency than the winds serving larger, faster rivals.

giraglia... a photographer's dream

The final (Friday) morning of the race was a photographers’ dream. Photo: copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

yacht club italiano, giraglia cup

The Yacht Club Italiano clubhouse in Genoa just visible through a forest of masts. Photo: copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

Gilles Pages and the French crew of Tip crossed the finish in the early hours of Friday morning and went straight to the top of the podium. With many boats still to finish it was not until Saturday morning that Tip was confirmed as the winner of the 64th Giraglia Rolex Cup.

polticciolo duca degli abruzzi

By Friday night, Porticciolo Duca degli Abruzzi is full to bursting point. Photo: copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi. Photo: copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

giraglia cup racers enjoy focaccia, a genoese specialty

Focaccia, a Genoese speciality, is every offshore sailor’s perfect post-race food. Photo: copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

giraglia cup party

Tired and windswept, crews continue the party that started in Saint-Tropez a week earlier. Photo: copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

engraved roles oyster perpetual submariner presented to the giraglia cup winner

Engraved Oyster Perpetual Submariner Date presented to the winner of the Giraglia Rolex Cup 2016. Photo: copyright Rolex/Carlo Borlenghi.

In recognition of his exceptional success in finishing first overall on corrected time, Gilles Pages the owner of Tip was awarded the Rolex Challenge Trophy and a Rolex Submariner timepiece.


A former lawyer, Giles took up sailing 25 years ago. So taken by this remarkable world lying beyond the confines of his city office, he set out on a path that would eventually combine his communication skills with his passion. Now running his own communications agency, which specializes in sport, luxury goods and travel, Giles has the good fortune to report on exceptional events, meet exceptional people and visit exceptional locations.

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