LES VOILES D’ANTIBES 2016: THE SPECTACULAR CLASSIC SAILING SEASON GETS UNDERWAY ON THE COTE D’AZUR

THE 2016 PANERAI CLASSIC YACHTS CHALLENGE MEDITERRANEAN CIRCUIT DEBUTS WITH THE TRADITIONAL COTE D’AZUR EVENT WHICH, WITH 75 CRAFT ENTERED, REMAINS ONE OF THE MOST SUCCESSFUL REGATTAS OF THE ENTIRE SEASON.

The world’s most beautiful classic and vintage yachts return to competition between June 1 and 5 at Les Voiles d’Antibes, the first stage of the 2016 Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge Mediterranean Circuit. Some 75 history-making craft will gather off the pretty Cote d’Azur town as guests of luxury sports watchmaker Officine Panerai which is sponsoring the leading classic sailing circuit for the 12th consecutive year.

The extraordinary fleet taking part in the 21st edition of Les Voiles d’Antibes comprises 75 historically-notable craft from a variety of different nations, not least Italy, France, England, Spain, the US and Germany. Manned by over 500 crew, the yachts are divided into different classes and categories for racing purposes: Big Boats, Classic Marconi, Vintage Gaff, Vintage Marconi, Spirit of Tradition and Tofinou (the latter being a 9.5-metre fibreglass daysailer built along classic lines).

In the Big Boats category, the 1928 Bermudan cutter Cambria makes a notable and very welcome return after a two-year restoration in England. The stunning 40-metre is the only surviving member of the International 23-Metre Class and will be attempting to win the Panerai Trophy in her category for the third time after previous triumphs in 2010 and 2013.

There will be centenary celebrations for two craft competing at Antibes also: the Bermudan cutter Rowdy and the gaff cutter Chinook, launched in 1916 by the Herreshoff yard in the US. Both are New York 40s, a one design commissioned by the New York Yacht Club between 1916 and 1926. Rowdy has won the Panerai Trophy in her category in 2008, 2010 and 2011, while Chinook took the honours in 2014.

Officine Panerai is also celebrating an important milestone of its own – the 80th birthday of its Bermudan ketch Eilean. Built by the legendary Fife yard of Scotland in 1936, Eilean was rediscovered at Antigua in 2006 and moved to Italy for a long and meticulous restoration after which she recommenced sailing in the Panerai Classic Yachts Challenge. Eilean is not merely Panerai’s ambassador at the regattas but is also used to promote classic sailing culture as well as playing host to the “Captain for a Day” initiative staged in association with various not-for-profit organisations.

The oldest boat taking part at this year’s edition of Les Voiles d’Antibes is Lulu, an 1897 gaff cutter of around 15 metres that enjoys “national historic interest” status in France. The smallest boat competing is the 7.6-metre Cabrufa, a 1970 Folkboat.

Making her racing debut will be Marga, a 1910 International 10-Metre Class. The gaff cutter represented Sweden in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics and was named Best Restoration of the Year by the prestige magazine Classic Boat after she emerged from recently-completed renovations.

Other historic craft coming to Antibes include a slew of multiple Trofeo Panerai winners, all primed to unleash their competitive power to spectacular effect: the 1925 Leonore (Vintage Trophy 2012 and 2013), the 1937 Manitou, once President J.F. Kennedy’s “Floating White House” (Vintage Trophy 2015), the 1976 Moro di Venezia I (Classic Trophy 2013 and 2015), and the 1914 35-metre Moonbeam IV (Big Boats Trophy 2011, 2012 and 2015), aboard which Prince Rainier of Monaco and actress Grace Kelly spent their honeymoon.

The four races scheduled between Thursday and Sunday will play out between the Gulf of Antibes and Juan-lesPins. Aside from the extraordinary sight of these Grandes Dames doing battle at sea, there will also be photographic and art exhibitions and live concerts ashore each day. The prize-giving ceremony takes place on the afternoon of Sunday, June 5, in front of the area of the dock where the yachts are moored.