A 96-year-old Itchenor-based Solent Sunbeam was welcomed at the classic yacht regattas in the South of France.
Bosham-based Peter Nicholson, owner of Solent Sunbeam Dainty hull No1, shone among the ‘grand dames’ of classic yachts at La Belle Classe, Regates Royales and Voiles de St Tropez regattas.
What started 15 years ago as an unusual and challenging adventure has become an annual event, and one that has created life-enhancing memories, incredible sailing experiences, lifelong friendships, prestigious awards and a few headaches along the way.
Getting a 96-year-old classic keelboat plus its skipper, crew and shore-team to the South of France is a military operation which takes planning and commitment, not to mention people and financial resources.
Each year the yacht visits Haines Boatyard in Itchenor for maintenance and restoration. The trip down to the Cote D’Azur is taken at a leisurely pace allowing time to enjoy the food and wine on the way.
As you would expect from 15 years of towing a classic yacht from Itchenor to the South of France, it has not always been plain sailing and this year was no different. Problems at the ferry were followed by wheel lock outside Monaco, together with disappearing hire cars and parking fines.
Fortunately with the assistance of the Monaco Yacht Club and the Monegasque police, Dainty enjoyed a police escort for the final few miles to her launch point in Monaco.
La Belle Classe regatta is an exclusive event sponsored by Prince Albert of Monaco and is by invitation only. Les Regates Royales attracts all the great classic yachts from around the world and Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez is a huge event attracting classic yachts and the latest modern racing yachts with more than 300 yachts taking part and in excess of 4,000 sailors and supporters.
This year, the racing was very hot, often with light winds which proved both challenging and resulted in some postponements and cancellations. The evening parties and camaraderie more than made up for it as well as the sight of the priceless array of vintage yachts in the harbour.
The sail to Cannes, for the next regatta, was lively and quick with winds building force six or more and a big swell with dramatically high following surf. Dainty coped well with it all, due to her exceptional hull design and prudent helming and enjoyed speeds of over eight knots as she entered Cannes.
At Regates Royales, Dainty was among around 150 of the world’s greatest classic yachts, including a number of ‘grand dames’ such as Elena of London, Cambria, Sunshine, Moonbeam and Mariska often gracing the bay.
The event guarantees tight, competitive racing on the water followed by the friendliest of evening soirees.
According to the rules of Les Voiles, yachts under 10m were not strictly allowed to participate but the event organisers were so taken with commitment and loyalty of keelboats such as Dainty (as well their delightful lines) that they created a ‘Classe Invité’ so they could continue to compete,.
Being so small, at just 8.2m, means that Dainty is one of the few yachts taking part that has no engine. This makes for nerve-wracking mooring manoeuvres when trying to reverse into her berth in the old port, but always elicits great admiration from the neighbouring yachts and on-shore crowd.
A highlight is always the Coupe d’Automne race from Cannes along the beautiful cliffs of the rugged shoreline to Saint-Tropez. This year was six and a half hours to windward in a growing slop and force five to six. Dainty won a cup from the Yacht Club de France for finishing 38 seconds behind Sonda on corrected time.
Dainty’s results in the three regattas were not outstanding, just missing by countback third place and a place on the podium at Saint-Tropez. But Nicholson and his team greatly enjoyed taking part.
If you are interested in owning a piece of yachting heritage that also has a very active racing fleet, the class has a number of boats available for sale or part ownership, with more details available on the website, www.solentsunbeam.co.uk