June 19, 2012: ST. TROPEZ, FRANCE - Few editions of the Giraglia Rolex Cup will live as long in the memory as the 60th running of this Mediterranean classic. The 2012 race had it all: thrilling conditions over a week’s competitive sailing, a course record that was not only beaten but pulverized, and an incredibly consistent and determined performance from the event’s overall winner.
This historic edition – running circa 242-nautical miles from Saint-Tropez, France to Sanremo, Italy – was eagerly anticipated and provided a poignant opportunity to reflect on the race’s evolution through the ages. “The event is the oldest in the Mediterranean and its spirit comes from having a mixed fleet: from small, family-run boats to professional crews who have taken part in events like the America’s Cup,” reflected Carlo Croce, President of event organizers the Yacht Club Italiano and son of Beppe Croce, one of the race’s co-founders. “This is the essence of the Giraglia Rolex Cup and it is important that it has not been lost.” The event has grown enormously. That first edition in 1953 welcomed 22 boats while in 2012, 170 yachts from eighteen different countries crossed the start line.
The choice of race course for the 2012 event was particularly significant: Sanremo was the arrival point for the first ever race when it commenced from Cannes, and the sailing paradise of Saint-Tropez provided the departure point for several of the early editions.
Saint-Tropez has been the permanent home for the start of the race since 1998 when Rolex commenced its involvement with the competition. At the time, ‘La Giraglia’ was a struggling giant and these two factors have aided its re-emergence as the most respected offshore race in the Mediterranean.
Race Record Smashed
Esimit Europa 2 (SLO) arrived in Saint-Tropez with one mission in mind: to break the four-year old race record. Having claimed line honours in both 2010 and 2011, Igor Simčič and his pan-European crew were not satisfied with simply winning.
Esimit Europa smashes record - photo credit Rolex / Kurt Arrigo
Esimit began as undisputed favourites for the line honours title and while most of the fleet contended three days of pulsating inshore racing, the team skippered by three-time Olympic gold medallist Jochen Schümann put its energy into preparing the 100-foot Maxi for the offshore race.
“With the conditions forecast, we think a 15-hour arrival is possible,” remarked Schümann shortly before the race. It seemed a bold statement. That prediction would have put Esimit Europa 2 three hours inside the time set by Neville Crichton’s Alfa Romeo 2 (NZL) in 2008. The plan soon came together. Esimit began well and was immediately ahead of the fleet. Conditions suited her. Thirty knots of breeze welcomed the race start and around 40 knots were present when Simčič’s crew rounded the race’s key strategic point – the Giraglia rock, located 1-nm north of Corsica. The record pursuit was on.
On reaching the rock at sunset, the crew made a crucial tactical manoeuvre as Schümann revealed: “We didn’t jibe around the Giraglia rock as it was so windy, so we tacked around just to make sure we didn’t break anything.” Prudence was rewarded and despite tamer conditions as Esimit Europa 2 approached Sanremo, the race record was demolished. The winning time was 14 hours, 56 minutes and 16 seconds - just over three hours ahead of the yardstick set by Alfa Romeo 2 - and only the sixth time in the last fifty years that the record has been broken. “Overall, we had fantastic conditions - it will be very difficult to beat this record,” confirmed Schümann.
Esimit Europa 2 has set the race record bar extremely high. Owner Simčič was thrilled both with setting a new record and in the process claiming a hat-trick of Giraglia Rolex Cup line honours victories. “It is clear that it being the 60th edition makes this Giraglia Rolex Cup even more special and to beat the record on the anniversary is a great honour. To obtain this result we needed some luck but, above all, good crew work and the right conditions.”
Not Missing out
Ultimately, it was a big boat race. A few hours following Esimit Europa 2’s arrival, three yachts arrived in Sanremo just 30 minutes outside the previous race record. Sir Peter Ogden’s 62-foot Mini Maxi Jethou (GBR), recent winners of the Rolex Volcano Race, the Volvo Open 70 E1 (AUT) and Franck Nöel’s TP52 Near Miss (SUI) all impressed as they enjoyed their own match race towards the finish. On arrival, Near Miss moved to the top of the corrected time standings and was forced to play the waiting game as the remainder of the fleet attempted to surpass her time. As conditions drastically abated during the second day, nobody was able to close the gap and Near Miss was confirmed as the race’s overall winner.