This Thursday will see more than 120 yachts ranging in size from 30 footers to the latest 90 foot Maxis line-up for the 243-mile race from St Tropez in France around the Giraglia "Rock" and North to Genoa, Italy for the finish.
At stake is the Giraglia Rolex Cup along with the current race record. But perhaps most importantly is the honour and pleasure that more than 1500 sailors will extract from racing on the finest yachts across the ever tricky Mediterranean Sea.
Situated just 1.5 miles to the North of Corsica, measuring 800 metres long by 50 metres wide and whose highest point is just 60 metres above sea level is the rocky islet known as 'la Giraglia'. Exposed to all wind directions and isolated from humanity for most of the year this once strategically important rock with its lighthouse, medieval tower and accompanying chapel, has for the past 51 years lent its name and served as the turn mark to the largest offshore race in the Mediterranean.
The success of the Giraglia Rolex Cup over the years has led the event to expand into a week-long regatta split into two parts. The first section consists of three days of inshore races starting and finishing from the Gulf of St Tropez. Then on the fourth day the fleet starts the long race, the course taking the boats initially South West along the French coast, rounding the island of Levant before crossing the Ligurian Sea to the Giraglia. From here the fleet will turn North to cross the Gulf of Genoa to the finish line in front of this famous Italian port that lends its name to the Gulf.
The race record set in 1998 by Riviera de Rimini stands at 24 hours 21 minutes and 47 seconds, which equates to an average speed of 10 knots. This year there are 12 boats over 20 Metres in overall length each capable of beating the record, should the wind conditions comply. Amongst those boats, and certainly favourite to collect line honours whilst making her European debut, is Neville Crichton's 90-foot Alfa Romeo, the line honours winner of the Rolex Sydney-Hobart race last year.
The highlight of this event from a spectator's point of view is the mixture of ultra modern and classic yachts parading up and down in front of the old town of St Tropez before being released on the long offshore race. From the point of view of the competitor it is the thrill of the start, the excitement of the inshore section, the anticipation of landfall at the Giraglia Rock and the satisfaction at the finish.
In association with the Société Nautique de St Tropez, the local organiser, the Rolex Giraglia Cup is organised by the Yacht Club Italiano. It was the YCI's present day's Commodore Carlo Croce whose father devised the race 51 years ago. In 1953 Beppe Croce, along with two colleagues René Levainville and Franco Gavagnin, let their ideas flow as they sat around a café table one night in Paris. Their brain child was to launch a sailing challenge between the Italian and French Mediterranean fleets using a common piece of water.
The event has been sailed almost ever since and last year's Golden Jubilee event attracted a record 160 starters for the race that has been named by some as the 'Fastnet of the Mediterranean'.
The first boat at the Giraglia Rock will be awarded the Beppe Croce Trophy, the first yacht to cross the finish line the René Levainville Trophy and the boat with the best corrected time overall for the long race, the Giraglia Rolex Cup.
The 2003 Rolex supported sailing season continues after the Giraglia Rolex Cup with the Rolex Farr 40 World Championships (1 - 5 July) Porto Cervo, the Rolex Fastnet Race (10 - 16 August) Cowes-Plymouth, the Maxi Rolex Cup (7 - 13 September) Porto Cervo, the St Francis YC Big Boat Series presented by Rolex (11 - 14 September) San Francisco, the Rolex Women's Keelboat Championships (27 September - 3 October) Annapolis, the Rolex Middle Sea Race (22 -October - 1 November) Malta, the prestigious ISAF Rolex World Sailor of the Yea Awards (12 November) and the Rolex Sydney to Hobart Race (26th December - 2nd January 2004) Sydney-Hobart.