11th Edition of the Gstaad Yacht Club Centenary Trophy 2022 sailing race for over 100-year-old classic craft at Les Voiles de St. Tropez sailing weeks. (Photo: Les Voiles de St Tropez)

There is growing awareness of the challenges facing the Mediterranean with time running out.

Ever since the Gstaad Yacht Club (GYC) launched in 2011 the Centenary Trophy, the world’s only sailing event reserved for yachts of one hundred or more years, this classic race has developed into one of Les Voiles de St Tropez’s leading regattas. It is now drawing enthusiasts, including growing numbers of onlookers and fans, from all over the world. Of course, when one reporter jokingly questioned Manrico Iachia, the club’s commodore, how it is that Gstaad, which is completely landlocked in the Swiss Alps with no body of water, is engaged with the Mediterranean, it was clear that he’s heard this query again and again. “We have a lot of sailors,” Iachia explained with a smile. (Full disclosure: the writers and Global Insights/Woods Communications are part of the WIKI initiative).

Founded in 1998 by a group of sailing aficionados, the GYC, a leading force on the Swiss sailing scene, now has over 400 members from 35+ countries. The purpose of the Centenary Trophy, Manrico explained, was to have a unique classic race including yachts of different lengths and tonnage, all of them sailing together and competing on equal terms with a constantly refined handicap system.

The crew of the winning boat, Kismet, built in 1898. (Photo: Juerg Kaufmann/GYC)

Winner of the 11th edition Centenary Trophy 2022 was the British flagged Kismet, a gaff cutter built in Scotland in 1898 and skippered by Briton Richard Matthews. Second was Scud, built in 1903 and currently owned by Italian businessman Patrizio Bertelli.

Belle Aventure, a classic yacht under sail in the Gulf of St Tropez. (Photo: WIKI’s Centennial Expedition)

“The real purpose of the race is to remind people what true sailing used to be about, and what it is today, but also to engender a respect for the sea with wind in the sails,” noted one GYC member, owner of a motor yacht currently moored at St Tropez.

The original overall line-up consisted of a total of 23 classic boats including wooden craft such as the 8-metre Nin, a gaff yall designed in 1913 but later Bermuda-rigged; the gaff cutter Gaudeamus built in 1914 in the port of Rostock and, after surviving World War II, was used by its owner and family in 1962 to flee East Germany; the 1897 Lulu, which competed in the 1900 Olympics and is today considered a French heritage yacht; and the staggeringly imposing gaff schooner Shenandoah of Sark designed by American Theodore Ferris and launched in 1902.

The classic gaff schooner Shenandoah of Sark designed by American Theodore Ferris and launched in 1902. (Photo: WIKI Centennial Expedition)

Another GYC member, a leading European businessman, pointed out that crew members aboard the wooden sail boats are often themselves owners of large yachts, or “gin palaces” as some call them, but are enthused by the prospect of physically sailing a boat. “People want to feel close to the sea. You just don’t get the same feeling when you’re on board a large yacht,” he said at a Centenary Award dinner held at La Bouillabaisse, one of St Tropez’s best known restaurants located on the outskirts of this still well-preserved Mediterranean village.

Wiki, built in Kiel, Germany, in 1920 and docked in St Tropez during the Voiles de St Tropez 2022 races. This iconic wooden ketch is serving as flagship of the three-year multi-media Wiki Centennial Expedition to highlight both threats and solutions regarding the Mediterranean in the public interest. (Photo: WIKI Centennial Expedition)

Much of the St Tropez event is about socializing and networking in a more relaxed outdoor fashion with boat parties, parades and dinners, coupled with major corporate sponsors ranging from BMW to Rolex and North Sails keen to make their mark. The whole point of the two-week long regatta, which completes the summer season, said Patrice de Colmont, director of Club55 and founder of Les Voiles, is to have “a pretext to have a real party that wasn’t all tinsel and affectation, but somewhere people could find real pleasure.”

At the same time, there is clearly a new trend in approaches since the winding down of Covid 19 lockdowns, which cancelled the 2020 event. There is growing awareness of the challenges facing the Mediterranean with time running out, whether climate change, the need to move toward more sustainable tourism and agriculture, and even, as one noted, the war in Ukraine which is ensuring that “we will never be the same again.” The need to become more engaged with decisive action is becoming far more apparent. (See Global Insights article on threats – and possible solutions – for the Mediterranean)

Classic yachts at dock in St Tropez. (Photo: WIKI Centennial Expedition)

The GYC has an actively engaged planetary sustainability mindset. It believes that “small individual changes (can) make and have a huge impact to the environmental and preservation causes.” Given that 70% of our planet is covered by water, the Club maintains, “water governs our climate and the planet’s atmosphere…We are closer to the topic than we think.” The Club, which has particular access to Swiss industry and financial leaders, regularly invites speakers to outline the need for dealing with such concerns. (See Global Insights article on Building Bridges)

Young people at a presentation of the Blue Odyssey Sud information centre at the Voiles de St Tropez event village. (Photo: WIKI Centennial Expedition)

Various Mediterranean cities and businesses, whether winegrowers, hotels or transportation companies, are already moving in this direction. St Tropez, for example, has a special initiative not only designed to preserve the environment through more sustainable approaches, but also to make young people more aware. “We have to reach kids if they’re to learn of what needs to be done about the Mediterranean,” said a representative at the Blue Odyssey Sud St Tropez information stand at the Les Voiles ‘village’.

Wiki under sail during the Gstaad Yacht Club 2022 Centenary Award race. (Photo: WIKI Centennial Expedition)

Similar concerns were expressed by other participants. “We all need to become far more involved otherwise we’re not going to have much of a sea to sail on. But this doesn’t mean walking around beaches picking up plastic bottles,” said a Swiss entrepreneur and GYC member. “Everything has become merged. Pollution, forest fires, drought, Ukraine, and even traffic jams,” he added, referring to the constant congestion along the French Riviera’s coastal roads during the summer months. “People need to understand that this is their environment. Their sea. It should not be about cleaning up the beaches, but not littering or polluting in the first place.”

Living both in Gstaad and France, the businessman added that he was very much aware of what the International Geneva and “Building Bridges” initiatives in Switzerland are seeking to achieve by bringing together the private sector with the United Nations, NGOs, and academic institutions. “We have a responsibility. Companies should be collaborating with organizations like the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and WWF. We should all be helping to preserve the Mediterranean as well as the world’s oceans,” he said. “We should not be sitting on the side-lines in Gstaad. I think that we are realizing this more and more.”

One new global initiative designed to make audiences from policymakers to high school students more aware of the concerns (but, above all, solutions) at hand facing the Mediterranean and the world’s five oceans is the WIKI Centennial Multimedia Expedition to Help Save The Med. It brings together experienced journalists, filmmakers, photographers, a cartoonist and other media specialists as well as scientists, entrepreneurs, business people, policymakers and concerned individuals seeking to make a difference. This initiative will seek to report on issues such as climate change, conservation and wetlands, pollution, cultural heritage, sustainable tourism, and lifestyles.

Volunteer crew as well as interns aboard WIKI at the 2022 Century Trophy regattas. (Photo: WIKI Centennial Expedition)

Key to the WIKI initiative, however, is the emphasis on young people, who will form the project’s reporting teams. At the same time, there is a strong educational component. High school and college students are being invited to take part in regular week-long YouthWrites and Young Filmmakers workshops funded by sponsors to start in 2023.

Mentored by editors, producers and other specialists, they will learn about key issues, such as the impact of climate change or forest fires, but will also undertake their own reporting in the form of articles, photo essays, short films, cartoons and art. Certain reportages will be conducted on board WIKI.

Wiki at dusk in the Bay of St Tropez. (Photo: WIKI Centennial Expedition)

Edward Girardet is a foreign correspondent, author and editor of the Geneva-based Global Insights Magazine. He has covered wars and humanitarian crises worldwide for The Christian Science Monitor, US News and World Report and the PBS Newshour. His books include: “Afghanistan: The Soviet War”; “Killing the Cranes – A reporter’s journey through three decades of war in Afghanistan”; “The Essential Field Guide to Afghanistan” (4 fully-revised editions) and “Somalia, Rwanda and Beyond.” Girardet is currently working on a new book, The American Club: The Hippy Trail, Peshawar Tales and the Road to Kabul.

Tom Woods is an award-winning director and producer. He founded his production company, Woods Communications Ltd., in 1988. He has been awarded several national Emmys for his work as a cameraman and as a director. His company has produced sports, entertainment and factual programming for numerous international broadcasters such as The BBC, ABC, NBC, CBS, Discovery, Netflix, FOX, PBS, France Televisions, Arte, Special Broadcast Services, ZDF & ARD….He and Girardet have also worked together on various documentaries in Afghanistan, Haiti, Somalia, Zambia, Mozambique…He has also produced major productions for NBC on The Tour de France, America’s Cup and the World Cup.

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