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  • Writer's pictureClassic Regattas Limited

A fitting finale

The Richard Mile Cup 2024 drew to a dramatic conclusion on Friday, 14 June, with a tough race off Le Havre that showed this fine classic fleet at its best and finished in a neck and neck sprint to the line between two magnificent Fife gaff cutters. In the spirit of the Richard Mille Cup, it was a throwback to races in these waters when yachts like Marquita, Moonbeam and Viveka were cutting edge designs. 

The Richard Mille Cup has sought to highlight the exemplary performance characteristics of this cream of the classic fleet and this final race, conducted in difficult seas and a brisk south westerly, proved the perfect platform. Black group yachts Mariquita, Moonbeam IV and Viveka gathered at the Richard Mille buoy marking the startline outside Le Havre shortly after noon. Following on was a phalanx of photographers in RIBs and the fleet’s two big schooners Atlantic and Elena. 

It was to be a last showdown between the Black group rivals, who had sparred in brilliant fashion over the course of the event. Each had taken fine victories and their gladiatorial battle at Cowes was inshore yacht racing at its very best. The Richard Mille Cup started in Falmouth, Cornwall, two weeks ago on 2 June. En route to Le Havre, it has visited Dartmouth in Devon and Cowes on the Isle of Wight, with inshore racing in each port and passage races between. In each port, the regatta has been hosted by a yacht club with a strong link to historic yacht racing - the Royal Cornwall Yacht Club, the Royal Dart Yacht Club, the Royal Yacht Squadron and finally the Société des Régates du Havre. 

After a series of early wins, Mariquita’s position on the overall leaderboard was dominant - only if the racing went Viveka’s way could she be toppled in this final race. 

However right at the outset Viveka’s chances were dealt a cruel blow when she dragged her spinnaker in the water during the countdown to the start. The crew fought to haul the sail back on board. Meanwhile the two Fifes hoisted their giant balloon jibs as they crossed the start line smoothly. Spectators were treated to a great sight as Mariquita’s crew lined up on deck to raise the sail in traditional style, with no winches. 

Viveka, however, with international sailor Pietro Luciani on board as tactician, was far from beaten and once she was under full sail again she immediately took a more offshore route. 

Meanwhile, it was exciting to see the two schooners Atlantic and Elena out in these conditions with sails up and heeling hard in the wind. 

Viveka continued her track very much to the west of the others, which were keeping to the coast. The Frank Paine-designed yacht, built for JP Morgan in 1920, was also sailing closer to the breeze, putting her staysail schooner rig through a series of gybes, while the Fifes tracked straight, running with the wind over the starboard quarter. It was another fascinating contest between the British-owned 12-Metre schooner and the two giant gaff cutters, which are both French-owned and based in Brest.  

Past the sea wall at Bruneval, the yachts were forced to fall into line and Mariquita was ahead of Moonbeam IV by 100 metres. Viveka cut back in, closer to the coast and sailing fast in the lumpy conditions. The breeze was dropping, however, and the race committee shortened the course to finish off Étretat, whose sheer white cliffs and natural archways were to provide a fitting backdrop to a dramatic conclusion. 

Still running fast downwind, Moonbeam IV and Mariquita converged towards the line, all sails aloft, neck and neck to the finish and no more than 50 yards apart. Moonbeam IV snuck ahead to cross just 25 seconds ahead of Mariquita, but on Moonbeam IV, the celebrations were muted, as the crew knew they had to give time to Mariquita on handicap. When the corrected time results came in, it was Mariquita in first place - by seven seconds. It had been a breathtaking finale to the Richard Mille Cup 2024.  

Romain Le Gall, skipper of Moonbeam IV, said: “We overtook them at the end because we had a better angle and we crossed the line in first place, so we are pleased, but on handicap we have to give Mariquita time. “The event has been very good. We have had some wonderful racing and we had a special race in Cowes where we were fighting with Mariquita and Viveka - we were swapping the lead all the time. It was a street fight! “We won the leg across the Channel, which was nice. What made the difference there was at the east end of the Solent we managed the currents well. After the Solent we had a lead on Mariquita and we kept the gap the same all the way across. “We have a good spirit on board. We try to be close to the classic spirit. We try to sail the boat like a classic boat, like they did a century ago. In our crew we have some young people, some old, some in the middle, and it’s good!” 

There was bad luck for Viveka today but tactician Pietro Luciani said: “We have a symmetrical kite with no poles, so we are gybing, if there is a little bit of a wind, with at least a 50 degree angle, whereas they [Mariquita and Moonbeam IV] simply go straight downwind. So as long as there is around 10 knots of wind or less, we can play with them, because in light conditions you need a bit of an angle to sail faster, but the moment there is 15 knots, they sail at least as fast as us, but they just go straight downwind. “We have enjoyed this event a lot and I always love to sail on Viveka. The crew is very good and they are friends, the owner is a real gentleman and the captain Gery [Atkins] is running the show very neatly, so it’s always a pleasure.” 

The prize-giving takes place tomorrow afternoon hosted by the Société des Régates du Havre. 


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