The Rolex Giraglia is three events in one, though the individual elements are intertwined, providing sailors with different challenges and experiences. A significant portion is centred on Saint-Tropez, the event’s distinctive home, following arrival races setting off on 8 June from Sanremo, Italy, and, for the first time, from Barcelona, Spain. From 10–12 June, competitors engage in three days of inshore racing off Saint-Tropez on the French Riviera and, ashore, enjoy the atmosphere of the town’s Vieux Port. The inshore series provides healthy competition and serves as preparation for the week’s centrepiece, the historic 241-nautical mile (446 km) offshore race from Saint-Tropez to the Yacht Club Italiano’s headquarters in Genoa, Italy, via La Giraglia, a rocky islet off the northern tip of Corsica that lends its name to this famous contest. The menace of the Mistral at this time of year means conditions can be testing for crews and organizers alike.
A competition in the ascendency, the Rolex Giraglia consistently attracts a fleet of more than 250 yachts, making it one of the best attended events in the international sailing calendar. The record entry was set in 2016 with 268 yachts.
The offshore race, first held in 1953, can be ferociously fast or a demanding tactical test in light airs. Either scenario requires determination and perseverance to succeed. The race record was set in 2012, when Esimit Europa 2 finished just inside 15 hours. Last year’s line honours went to Momo, in a little under 33 hours, demonstrating the contrast in potential conditions.
Momo is set to return in 2018 to defend her title in the face of strong competition from evenly matched rival Maxi 72s, Cannonball, Caol Ila R (runner-up on the water in 2017), Jethou and Lucky. Notably, this year’s race marks the return of Magic Carpet Cubed, the Wallycento campaigned by Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones, which claimed line honours on her most recent appearance in 2016 and was overall race winner in 2015.
The Wally fleet is particularly well-represented, with the presence of two more Wallycentos making their debut in this majestic contest: Tango, the striking Mark Mills design launched in 2017, and Galateia, designed by Reichel-Pugh, launched in late 2015 and the Wally class winner at the 2017 Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup. A fourth 100-footer (30.5 metres), Leopard 3, former line honours winner at the Rolex Fastnet Race and favouring heavier conditions, adds a different dynamic to the frontrunners.
The fastest yachts may provide much of the glamour, but the Rolex Giraglia is about far more than record-chasers and size. The race was founded with a Corinthian spirit at its core, as a means of bringing together the French and Italian sailing communities. Now with global appeal, this fraternal essence remains fundamental and continues to be embraced by the organizers, the Yacht Club Italiano and the Société Nautique de Saint-Tropez. For most crews, this is the race of the year, the one their calendars and commitments are built around. They all dare to dream of success, of triumphing on handicap and claiming the emblematic Rolex timepiece and the Rolex Challenge Trophy as overall race winner.
Over the 20 years of Rolex’s involvement, a host of yachts have savoured this moment of achievement. Entrants representing eight countries and ranging from 33 feet (10 metres) to 100 feet (30.5 metres) have etched their names indelibly into the event’s history. To prevail in a fleet of 250 yachts is a significant challenge, one requiring the qualities that have united Rolex with yachting for the past 60 years: unrelenting determination, flawless preparation, outstanding skill and an unremitting passion for the sport.