Philippe Monnet: “It was by sheer chance we set up the first European classic regatta 40 years ago…”
He has sailed around the world several times, has set records and has dozens thousand miles under his belt, and in 1978 was a key figure in the small group of enthusiasts who relaunched the Régates Royales
Forty years ago, what was the first edition like?
“I was 16 and I just moved from the mountains to Cannes with my parents, I was at secondary school. I fell in love of an 8m I.R. and bought it super cheap because it was rotting away due to some customs issues. It was the plastic-fantastic era and nobody wanted it. I didn’t know how to sail and I’ve learned all by myself. Then I met Pierrot Lambert, who also owned an 8 metre and sailed it in any kind of weather. There were three more boats: Folly, Ayana and France that sailed a lot. I was quite unknowledgeable, didn’t even know that 8 metres was not referred to the boat’s length… Pierrot and myself suggested to the yacht club de Cannes to relaunch the Régates Royales. So we were five boats, on a windless September day…”
The fleet has been growing constantly ever since?
“Yes, but it was not easy. At the time it was not very fashionable to renovate old wooden boats. While I was coming back home from a ski competition, I stopped at the Société des Régates d’Annecy to ask them to take part. The guy I was talking to replied: “We have five old Star boats and no money, it’s tough to travel around, go meet the people from the Société Nautique in Geneva.” The President agreed immediately to my offer to come to Cannes in September, but thought than a weekend was too a short time. So we decided to have the following edition a week long. That was incredible, they came with 30 boats… it’s them who deserve the credit. There were many one-design classes: Dragons, Toucans, Requins, 5.50m, some 6m and 8m I.R.”
When did you start having big boats too?
“At the beginning it was only small boats. Personally I was starting offshore racing so I left everything in Jean-Pierre Odéro’s hands. The Nioulargue (today known as Voiles de Saint-Tropez) was also launched and the organisers invited us to join. They had big boats, classic and modern, like the 12m I.R Ikra and Sovereign, that later came to race at the Régates Royales and more and more big boats followed. Without even realising we created the first classic regatta in Europe."
What has changed in 40 years?
“It’s incredible because this trend has relaunched also some jobs and crafts that were disappearing, like traditional rigging or woodworking… Today the boats are better looking and more competitive than in the past. Everything is more professional, there are awesome restorations that cost as much as 15 million Euros. This has also made for stunning scenarios in the port. But it is key that the racing stays high-quality, we don’t want the trend to reverse, that boats stays at the dock. This is not the case here in Cannes, our races are always interesting.”
On which boat are you sailing this year?
"On my boat Lys, that I’ve been owning for 20 years. It’s 16.70 metre long, from 1955, designed by Sparkman & Stephens and built by Sangermani. I bought it with a friend of mine and restored it. It’s a pretty light boat, it weighs only 15.5 tons and its size is ideal. I’ve done 5 editions of the Régates Royales on it but it’s with my 8m I.R. that I’ve done the most… 25 times!”