On the second day of competition in the bay of Palma, a prevailing north-easterly wind had made conditions formidable for tacticians as an opposing breeze began to loom large. Europe’s longest-running regatta was coming down to the wire with more than one result calculated on countback. Join us as Peter Robinson finally sets sail for Palma to see the action in the Balearic waters first-hand.
I have eagerly dispatched writers on several occasions to capture the jewel in the crown of what I consider to be one of the world’s most engrossing superyacht races. It’s taken four years of calendar clashes to get to this point. As such, to be finally stood on deck with a pair of binoculars, spotting an armada of J Class and Superyachts take off in pursuit of the day’s class wins is enthralling for so many reasons.
Navigators, tacticians, crew bosses and helmsmen travel in from around the world to attend the Superyacht Cup Palma year on year; an event which maintains a relatively close-knit familiarity for its attendees and entrants, not to mention the congregation of media, designers, sailmakers, sailing veterans and alike. It’s quite the industry gathering indeed.
I hadn’t competed since the 2017 Spetses regatta, and even then I was largely relegated to the See and be Seen department on deck. As a result, I wasn’t expecting an invite to crew any of the leviathans competing in the four-day event program. Nor would I have to therefore bunk up with the crew – no, far more salubrious lodgings were made available at the St. Regis Mardavall Hotel, a short drive south between Puerto Portals and Palmanova. As the preferred partner of the event and host of the glittering owners´ Summer Barbecue, it was a suitably fitting retreat. Situated within a gated complex, the seafront property has the feeling of visiting friends at a large family estate. The personal butler service certainly helps to solidify that stately feeling of a weekend away with friends in The Hamptons. Impeccable service is certainly the St. Regis Mardavall’s hallmark.
The property is set across four ornate terracotta-hued buildings and despite its formidable size, caters to only 125 guest rooms and suites. Each has a truly biblical view of the exotic botanical gardens and the deep blue bay beyond. The centrepiece of this homage to Mediterranean design is the expansive lobby with its raftered ceiling, oak parquet floor, wrought iron doors and original art from local Mallorcan artists.
Having arrived a little too late to watch the Pantaenius Race Day I decided to take lunch at Aqua, the property’s all-day Mediterranean restaurant. I was told by a close friend that Aqua’s Sunday brunch was divine and for her, worthy of a standalone visit whenever frequenting the island. Salt-crusted sea bass or grilled Chateaubriand? I certainly wasn’t going to be able to navigate my way through a cut that size, so I erred on the side of caution. Try the poultry veloute with seven herbs, morels, ravioli and white asparagus, or the kimchee prawns with rice praline and nori, daikon and wasabi caviar. Both are to die for.
If you’re looking to step up the culinary exploration, the property’s Michelin-star restaurant, Es Fum, fuses artistic cuisine influenced by outstanding local produce. Whilst I didn’t manage to dine there myself, it makes for a suitably fitting reason to return.
After lunch I chalked up a few hours in the 4700m² Arabella Spa, one of the largest in the Mediterranean. You’ll find the obligatory indoor and outdoor pool along with a Turkish bath, Finnish sauna, ice cave and a heated saltwater pool. In terms of tailored treatments you’ll find far eastern and western therapies working in harmony, with a particular penchant for Traditional Chinese Medicine. Hours more could have been whiled away in serenity if I hadn’t had to make haste for supper.
Where the hotel meets the sea, you’ll find a path which runs alongside Carretera Palma-Andratx and leads to several seaside neighbourhoods in Calvià. This pretty winding path also leads to a small rocky outcrop and the resort’s jetty below. Rocking gently on its mooring is the resort’s traditional Mallorcan llaüt. Apply christened Astor – after the founder of The St. Regis New York, Colonel John Jacob Astor IV – this is the island’s first electric Llaut. Designed in a traditional style, it’s the perfect vessel to explore the turquoise waters around the Balearic Islands. Don’t let all this talk of electrification and modernity fool you, though; the Astor features a traditional lateen sail and beautiful wooden deck. Handcrafted by ‘mestres d’aixa’, the masters of the adze are a group of craftsmen and artisans who preserve the ancient art of llaüt building. As we set sail, the views out to the Tramuntana Mountains were certainly a sight to behold, and armed with a glass of chilled Ruinart and an array of local delicacies, it was undeniable that all was right with the world.
As the sun continued to set over the island, we gently moored at Puerto Portals; a smart marina attached to the town of Portal Nous. The award for most nautically-themed restaurant goes to an establishment named Flanigan. Founded in 1987 by Miguel Arias, there’s no Guinness on tap here, so you can be confident of the property’s local roots. I’m told it’s become quite the institution, serving tapas and fresh seafood to the guests moored in the marina beyond. I was quite happy propped up at the bar, glass in hand and wondering whether anyone would dare take the modest swim back with me. No takers.
The following morning we were up at a leisurely time for the drive to the Real Club Náutico de Palma (RCNP). The club has taken the helm for race management of the event for over a decade and its location in the heart of Palma means, not surprisingly, it has idyllic views across the marina, not to mention the strong bar patronage and silverware. Given the increase in boat size and depth requirements, you’ll not find many competing yachts moored at the RCNP. Despite this, the site of the 73’ sloop Baglietto is enough to do as God intended and leaves me wanting to get out into the blue. Sir Francis Drake once wrote, “It is not that life ashore is distasteful to me. But life at sea is better.” Certainly in the 21st century, yes.
A little past 1200hrs and we embark on the Wajer 55, Tiffany. A striking tender decked out in (perhaps unsurprisingly) Tiffany blue, which served as the perfect ocean outpost to survey the New Zealand Race Day. Joined aboard by Nigel Fyfe, New Zealand Ambassador to Spain, we watched in awe as the quartet of J-class yachts hit the start line in unison. As Ranger, Topaz, Velsheda and Svea’s black sails overlapped on their way upwind towards the city the race was off to a thrilling start.
Ranger was the first to tack away with Topaz following close behind. Having clinched victory at the St Barths Bucket back in March – a victory Ranger took by a single point ahead of Velsheda – both crews had a point to prove. Svea and Velsheda, however, stayed on their starboard tack, establishing a narrow lead at the first mark which they subsequently held through to the finish. Race winner Velsheda’s captain Barney Henshaw-Depledge said: “Today we managed the beats well and we managed to get around in front of Svea. It was obviously a lot more encouraging and the owner was locked in on the helm – he left very happy. As for tomorrow, it may be more of the same, and it’s great to be back in the pack.”
Meanwhile the striking Wally 80, Rose, was forging a fitting reversal of fortune having had to drop out of the opening race due to prop issues the previous day. At 23m, Rose was the smallest entry at the Superyacht Cup Palma but still took a very deserving win in Class A. Tactician Jesper Radich said: “It was not easy as it was a tricky forecast, but we got round the racecourse really well and picked our shift at the end to win our class. If we do really well tomorrow we have a chance of the top spot, so we are going to give it a shot. We are a new team and the smallest yacht here, so we have a lot to learn and fighting against the big boats is tough. We have to play it smart and stay out of their wind shadows.”
Class B saw the final race result decided by just a single second as the 27m Savannah edged out the far larger 46m Ganesha, taking their second successive win. Ganesha’s tactician Mark Sadler said: “To finish the day with a one second delta to the first boat is pretty fantastic. Obviously you look back and think where that one second could have been gained or lost, but it’s the same for the other boat. We sailed well today, and Ganesha’s a big boat so getting the sails up and down around the course is an achievement in itself. We have two seconds, so it’s all to play for tomorrow.”
As the day’s racing drew to a close in the bay of Palma, all that was left was a full-tilt pass of the magnificent Cathedral of Santa Maria of Palma. The Gothic Cathedral was built between the 13th-16th centuries on the order of James I, who was king of Aragon and count of Barcelona. James I decreed the consecration of the former great mosque to the Virgin Mary as a site for Christian worship, using part of the site of the historic mosque. If you do find yourself on dry land, it’s absolutely worth a visit. Its central nave is approximately 44 metres high, making it one of the tallest cathedrals in Europe. You’ll struggle to find a better view over the bay than from the roof, I can assure you.
Back at the Real Club Náutico de Palma the North Sails, Happy Hour was in full swing for the daily prize-giving. The packed terrace at the RCNP included a who’s who of sailing stars, alongside the newest welcome addition to the SYC roster of friends and partners: Jaquet Droz. The famed Swiss watchmaker came aboard as the Official Timepiece for the 2022 fixture to showcase its distinctive and sophisticated timepieces, most notably its range of art-and design-inspired watches.
“We are delighted and honoured to welcome Jaquet Droz to the Superyacht Cup Palma family as our Official Timepiece,” said Event Director Kate Branagh. “It is a vital role for which they are supremely capable. Alongside that, the unique elements surrounding the brand make it a great fit for an event like ours, which also values innovation, excellence and the celebration of inspiring design.”
No top-tier sailing event is complete without an opportunity to let one’s hair down and as always, The Superyacht Cup Palma does it distinctively well. The owners’ Summer Barbecue at the St. Regis Mardavall is an opportunity for those competing and invited individuals to take a well-earned knee and catch up properly. Having spent the majority of the evening meeting, greeting and congratulating, I did manage a quick visit to the barbeque as the light started to fade, and quickly came to the conclusion that Fettuccine Alla Ruota should be a side dish to every barbeque. With an array of musicians taking to the stage and a magnificent firework display to bookend the evening’s proceedings, guests departed to rest up for the final St. Regis Race Day. I, however, encouraged a small band of sailors to join me in the hotel bar for a final libation of the evening. You really should try the Mallorca version of the famous Bloody Mary cocktail born at the St. Regis New York. The St. Regis Mardavall version comes with gin, spicy pimientos de padrón and crystalized sea salt. A morning tonic for the ages, I can assure you.
Joining us aboard a striking Sunseeker the following afternoon was ex-captain of Fair Lady, David Richardson. David, in addition to being an all-around lovely chap, proved to be a wealth of knowledge, providing live commentary as the racing got underway. Round after round of delightful local canapés began to arrive as we followed the action with Ruinart in constant flow. The St. Regis Mardavall team certainly knows how to host. Chapeau.
After another thrilling day spent crisscrossing the course, with a few brief stops in secluded bays to cool off, Ganesha and the 43.6m J-class Svea were level on points. However, it was Ganesha who emerged victorious in the overall standings by winning the final race.
Ganesha’s thrilled owner Dr. Peter-Alexander Wacker said: “It is a great moment as we really didn’t expect it at all, but we worked hard for it and I am glad we are a winner today. It’s not my first time here – I have just bought a house here in Palma, so I am going to be a Superyacht Cup Palma regular for sure.”
His sentiment was also echoed by the ship’s skipper Alex Pamment: “It was a bit of a surprise win and we certainly weren’t expecting it, either the class or the overall.”
Speaking before the celebratory prize-giving at the Real Club Náutico de Palma, SYC Event Director Kate Branagh said: “Superyacht Cup Palma has always offered friendly but competitive racing, and this year has delivered that in spades. Having the overall winner in doubt until the last moment makes for incredibly exciting racing, and we hope that all the owners, captains and crews have had a great time whatever their finishing position. We look forward to welcoming them all back in 2023, and offering them the chance to win the Superyacht Cup Palma Trophy.”