Superyacht regattas are immense fun but for many owners the perception of increased stress in exchange for a few days’ racing keeps them on the sidelines – but the SuperYacht Racing Association is working to change that.
A recent online meeting of the SuperYacht Racing Association (SYRA) saw a selection of global superyacht event organisers focus their collective minds on one particular issue. On the agenda was the apparent hesitancy of some superyacht owners, along with their captains, to experience the delights of regatta racing.
While no single answer presented itself and there was a general acceptance that some owners prized their solitude and would remain beyond reach, the overall takeaway from the SYRA gathering was that a variety of identified obstacles should and could be addressed and overcome.
At the forefront of the campaign to pull back the curtain and share the joy of racing is Kate Branagh, event director at Superyacht Cup Palma, Europe’s longest-running superyacht regatta with the 27th edition set for 21-24 June. Branagh, who took the helm of the high-profile Mediterranean celebration of sail in 2013, recognises that the need to change is also in large part due to the covid pandemic which has dislocated previous patterns of behaviour across the sailing world, as in many other areas.
However, whatever the driver, there is clearly a significant potential market for SYC and other SYRA sanctioned regattas around the world says Branagh.
‘There is a perception, and this has always been there, that only raceboats go racing and some captains are possibly reluctant to introduce the idea to owners because either they think it’s not appropriate for their boat, or that there is too much work involved,’ she says.
‘On both these points we can communicate better. It’s not about having a superyacht that is built for racing, it’s about taking superyachts that go cruising out racing.
‘I think sometimes people might feel they don’t want to be part of something that brings in a massive crew of pro-racers and changes the boat into something it’s not. But that’s not what it is about as they will be in a class where the boats can fairly race against each other.
‘For some of the owners of course part of the appeal is racing with some of the biggest names in the sailing world.
‘On the other hand, there are those who don’t dip their toe in because they think that is what is needed, and I want to break that belief down. You only actually need a couple of extra people to advise on safety issues.’
Branagh highlights the fact that the entire purpose of SYRA – set up in 2011 and led by yacht owners, event organisers, designers, and yards – is to enable superyachts to safely compete together within the confines of a racecourse.
To that, of course, is added the ORC Superyacht Rule (ORCsy) which is carefully designed to create a level playing field – and which could be dubbed “the wine and piano rating”.
Branagh explains: ‘The whole ORCsy rating system was developed specifically for superyachts because they are so vastly different. The rule is there for yachts that are not specifically designed to go racing.
‘It also works for boats that are more performance orientated but it doesn’t close the door on anyone. There will always be competitive boats in the fleet that will spend 10 days switching from cruising to racing mode.
‘But on the other end of the scale there are boats that have a wine cellar and a grand piano onboard, and they don’t take a thing off the boat. If you’ve got two massive satcom domes on your spreaders and you have to roll the headsail up completely in order to tack, it’s taken into account in your rating. They don’t need to change their configuration as this is where ORCsy comes in – there’s no reason to take anything off as you are declaring everything, and it is built into the system.’
The groundwork for the SYRA-inspired initiative has in some respects already been successfully completed in the form of the already established Corinthian Class, which has been on offer at Superyacht Cup Palma for several events. Introduced alongside the core Superyacht classes – which groups yachts of similar predicted performance together – the non-spinnaker Corinthian division allows for far smaller crews, with the owner’s family and friends front and centre.
‘There are quite a few owners who are used to cruising with family and friends, and every year we get visitors to SYC who are just blown away that this kind of event even exists, and they had no idea,’ says Branagh.
And with the exception of adding one or two experienced sailors familiar with the nuances and safety rules of superyacht racing, Branagh points out that ‘your permanent crews cross oceans and are perfectly capable of leaving the dock, hoisting sails and racing around a triangle’. Also, the Bay of Palma offers a gentle introduction to the world of competitive racing, with inflatable buoys marking out the racecourse rather than islands and rocky outcrops. As Branagh says: ‘It is an easy entry and is addressing the barriers that stop people taking part. There are literally dozens of yachts here in Palma that are eligible and either could do it or have done it before – so what do SYRA sanctioned events need to do, collectively, to get them involved?’
While the messages aimed at the cruising side of the superyacht family is being put in the spotlight, Superyacht Cup Palma continues to appeal to the broadest possible church and is introducing a 90ft Class for the 2023 event. This new class addition is focused on the numerous cruiser-racers in the 80 -100ft LOA rating range who are already racing actively.
‘There are clearly a lot of performance-orientated cruiser-racers out there, like Swans, Southern Wind yachts and others, who are already racing and are not interested in pursuit-type races, so we will offer them competitive fleet starts,’ said Branagh.
While SYC continues to thrive, attracting regular competitors, newcomers, and the J-Class year after year, the event owes its success to its ability and openness to adapt to the times and to the wishes of owners. The event has set itself an ambitious target in broadening its market appeal, though attracting new entries to the long-running event is not a completely unexplored area. Consistently over recent years the fleet has more or less divided itself into equal thirds – one third being regular SYC participants, a second third less frequent returnees, and the final cohort first-timers.
To date the prospective entry for the 2023 festival of sail is developing along broadly familiar lines. Leading the line are the 2022 J-Class returnees Velsheda and Svea who will this year be joined by Lionheart, last seen at SYC in 2014 when she took three race wins – including a dead heat finish – to win her class.
Also set to return for a second year running is the 33m McKeon-designed Pattoo, while taking its place in the first-timer category is the Swan 100 Onyx (ex-Aquarius Alfa, Flying Dragon II).
Meanwhile, SYC 2023 will see another development with part of the fleet able to dock at the Real Club Nautico de Palma (RCNP). A long-standing SYC partner since taking on the race management in 2011, RCNP was the host venue for the event last year and owners, captains and crews will be delighted to be returning there once again. ‘Having the yachts together is great for the owner’s experience, it makes a big difference and creates a fantastic atmosphere,’ says Branagh. ‘Those unable to berth at RCNP will be offered a place at the Club de Mar marina, a five-minute tender trip away’, she added.
Superyacht Cup Palma has come a long way since it was established in 1996, and the SYRA conference suggests the journey is far from over for superyachting events globally.
‘If there was one reason people didn’t join these events it would probably be easier to resolve, but it was clear that there are many, many reasons – so our job now is to clear those blocks,” Branagh states.
‘We are creating a real opportunity for yacht crews and captains to say: “well what about our boat?” – making it clear to the owners how easy it is to get involved, without the need for days of optimising, it is a straightforward message we aim to get out there. Superyacht racing is open to all and fun for everyone.’