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Home > Features > Regatta News: Classics Owner Driver Debate

Regatta News: Classics Owner Driver Debate


This month we are looking within The Mediterranean Regatta Circuit. Every summer from June – October The World’s most iconic classic yachts convene. The circuit attracts luxury sponsors, passionate sailors and a close-knit fraternity that will go to any lengths to protect Paradise. Who wouldn’t?


A key to this success has been a firm hand, one could say iron fist of the governing body, The Comité International de la Méditerranée, (CIM). Established in 1926, CIM adopted a rating rule that enabled classic yachts of varying shapes, sizes and authenticity to all race together as one fleet.


It’s worked well for 20 years. So why all the fuss, and why now?


I believe that classic yacht racing is evolving, the dynamics have changed. Owners are investing more on their campaigns and need to see better results and fair play. They demand an equal playing field, precision and transparency. The desire for faster more competitive yachts results in optimisation. Professional crew are increasingly present on the circuit.


Enter Bruno Troublé, the French sailing legend who with a legal background made his name both as a sailor and media mogul. Two Olympic campaigns and three times America’s Cup Skipper; he founded The Louis Vuitton Cup and managed its media for twenty years.


Troublé has in the past eight years turned his attention towards the Mediterranean classic yacht circuit, racing on the Q-Class Jour de Fete, the Universal Rule boat. He is BCBG bon chic, bon genre, the French expression meaning well-educated, well-connected, with style and attitude. Who better to challenge the status quo and navigate any political fallout?




Backed by Frederic Berthoz, President of L’AYFT, The French Association of Classic Yachts, Troublé launched in November an initiative to survey the members of L’AYFT on Professionalism, Optimisation and The Rating.


The result of this call to action from owners has been strong, opinionated and emotive. Hot debate.





Troublé is campaigning for a balanced boat. He believes in the owner-driver rule. “Owners who helm could receive a credit such as a one-minute per mile. We want the owners to be happy.” He argues.

Howard Dyer, the British businessman and owner of NY40 Rowdy supports this initiative, “I think owner drivers are a great idea! ”


A key part of his manifesto is the prevention of an all-professional crew.

Palma based British Captain Marcus Kemp, Captain of Seven Seas of Porto tells me, “I have had this discussion with my crew several times, so glad it has been brought up at last. I think some of the issues that are brought up are very valid. Owner-drivers are a must. CIM and The Med circuit is all about the fun on the water and the social side of things off it! I think it’s too easy to get away from that ethos. If we had owner-drivers that would even out the playing field immediately. Or you receive 3-5% penalty for professional helmsmen? Much the same way they do in the Wally class. If a modern sail is used it’s a 3% penalty why not similar for professional helmsmen?

My owner is at the helm all the time and although this is immensely frustrating at times when pitted against the pro helmsmen/women, we are on the racetrack for one reason only; to make sure he has a great time. To see the smile on his face if we are lucky enough to get the gun is priceless!  


The owner of Argyll was keen to comment,


“There are a lot of professionals about now. Some participants are like Formula One with huge back ups and racing sail designer teams. Well. It is amazing.  Good for the boats. Perhaps less good for amateurs like me. But we can’t limit that. And to keep the regattas happening is important. Sometimes my boat can go when the owner can’t and my skipper Alex will helm. And a number of boats run a fully professional crew. I wish I could afford it. But it would be less fun. So I gain in conversational opportunities and lose in lost friendships.”


Griff Rhys Jones

Owner, Argyll


André Beaufils President of the Société Nautique de Saint-Tropez and organiser of les Voiles de Saint-Tropez shared with me his own views on professionalism,


“It is evident that this situation is real. Is it a real problem? Yes, if these professionals are true mercenaries paid to win. But what is a professional? If it is a professional mariner, I imagine he is on board to navigate safely and bring the boat and crew back to port without risking the perils of the sea.” says Beaufils


He goes on to add, “If a professional sailor understands perfectly the rules of sailing and if he is there to win he must respect others and understand that he is navigating in the middle of competitors who do not necessarily have the same depth of knowledge of the rules.”


“However, imagine if one wanted to forbid the professional sailors on board. How would one prove it and then go about refusing them from boarding the yacht?” asks Beaufils.



The survey sought for opinions on the optimisation of classic yachts racing today. It is true that yachts are undergoing extensive works during restorations to lighten and maximise their success on the racecourse. Bruno believes that problem is often exacerbated by the lack of original plans of these yachts making it impossible to establish the truth.


Here owner, Rhys Jones expressed his concern,


“I do really worry about stripping out boats. I have watched a cabin window mist over with sawdust as a jigsaw took out inconvenient bulkheads and eventually the head. We need to reward authenticity. That might for once include bronze fittings instead of lighter sniper stainless steel, eh? As for infeasible foresails on masthead rigged boats, which were cutters originally. Well, we have a few broken topmasts. But some amazing balloons on show. Some people have taken everything out. We race similar hulls with none of the cruising features we have retained. They pay no weight penalty. However, I understand the complexity.”





Troublé does not hold back, “CIM has reached its limits. It is arbitrary, imprecise, unfair and it lacks rigour”. His key argument is the lack of clarity. The fact that displacement and weight are not considered. The width of the headsail is not measured.


It is a bold statement so what have been some of the reactions from around the Mediterranean?


The reaction from some organisers of the larger events was receptive to progression if required.


“All rating systems could certainly be improved, and nothing is perfect. Competitors will always find the rating rule unfair, Beaufils challenges.


“As an organiser, we have seen that the CIM have done incredible work the last 20 years (proved by the growing amount of yachts and events) but we should always keep an eye (and an ear) towards the owner’s requests and propositions. Our event should keep their fun, competitive and fair spirit.” Yann Joannon, Director of Les Voiles d’Antibes


“I had the opportunity to discuss the subject with these owners and there is a lot of things to analyze in order to be able to make a response that is fair and that can meet everyone’s expectations. The question is how to make it fair for all. There is a lot of work to do. The road is still long, but so exciting.” Jérôme Nutte, Principal Race Officer of Les Régates Royales Cannes and a member of The Board of Advisors Cannes Yacht Club.






Troublé has proposed to switch to the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC) IRC rating as a rule and to add CIM specific ratios for authenticity and obsolescence. A fluctuation ratio relative to the results could change each season to level the playing field. IRC dominates the world of handicapped sailing and even the Wally fleet have switched to it.


Jean Sans, Director of Rating (IRC-UNCL) and Co Creator with the RORC of the CHS Rules, now IRC has been working with Bruno to document how an IRC rule for Classic Yachts works.


According to Sans 7,000 yachts raced globally last year with IRC ratings and 246 of these were classic yachts.   The J-Class Yachts are using the IRC rating as are the Metre Classes: 6, 8, 12, 15MJI.


Some classic yacht Captains have expressed keen desire for change:


“The IRC is a far superior rating system that is easy to use, easy to compare and promotes fair racing.”


Captain Charles Wroe

Mariette of 1915



“The main problem of the CIM rating system is that it is not an accurate rating across the board. I’m in favour of the change for the IRC rating.  IRC is a good system and has evolved for many years, it will be a lot better than the CIM rating.”


Captain Tim Goodbody

Rowdy NY40





Renaud Godhard, General Secretary of L’AFYT and French representative of the CIM Rule Committee confirmed to me that they are “listening” to yacht owners,


“We have analysed this initiative which in principal is good. To build a performance rule adding an allowance to defend the authenticity of the classic yachts which is the basis of CIM’s success.


We are listening and can start to simulate regatta representatives if and when we have enough data. For now we are preparing the 2018-2021 CIM rules based on some adjustments and current rules.”


L’AYFT added, “The main interest is to have the owner’s vision of how we can improve the actual rating. Depending on all the options proposed by owners, we are going to conduct during the 2018 L’AFYT season a simulation of the different options (IRC, ORC, Time on Time, Time on Distance….) and study the results.





And Troublé, the face of change or L’Enfant terrible? Owners need a voice. There may never be the perfect rating rule but pray there will always be classic yacht owners. As a community it is our responsibility to listen to these custodians and to respond with careful consideration.


Alice C I’ A Widdows is a Regatta Manager on the classic yacht regatta circuit.   A keen yachtswomen and self – confessed island hopping addict, preferably by boat. Meet our Classic Yachting Columnist. You can find more at www.alicewiddows.com and on social media @alicewiddows



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