It is first and foremost a story of men. Of a friendship and a shared passion. These are the ingredients that drove Richard Mille and Benoit Couturier to create a unique event: the Richard Mille Cup. (Here all our posts about Richard Mille)
The Richard Mille Cup
The absolute stars are 15 of the most beautiful vintage boats still in circulation today that will compete from 10 to 23 June along a 245-nautical mile course. The race course will take place in the waters off the south coast of the United Kingdom, the cradle of modern yachting. It is here, in this stretch of sea that separates England from France, that the fifteen boats will battle it out along a course that will take them from Falmouth to the finish line in Le Havre after stopping in Dartmouth and Cowes. Yes, you read that right, there is also Cowes, the town on the Isle of Wight where the Royal Yacht Squadron made headlines 172 years ago.
Inspired by the America’s Cup
On 22 August 1851, the schooner America, in the traditional regatta organised by the yacht club, crossed the finish line first, thus winning the Hundred Guineas Cup, which from then on was called the America’s Cup. A story that somehow repeats itself more than a century and a half later. Yes, because the task of making the Richard Mille Cup was entrusted to Garrard, the same jeweller who conceived the Hundred Guineas Cup in the mid-19th century. This is no mere coincidence. Or rather on a closer reading there are many elements that combine to make the Richard Mille Cup something that goes beyond the logic of a simple rally.
The aim of the organisers, with the invaluable support of William Collier, is to revive the splendour of an era where it all began and whose most important moments were immortalised by the lens of Beken of Cowes. With the exception of the America’s Cup Jubilee organised in August 2001 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the America’s Cup, an event that brought together an impressive fleet of vintage hulls and more, to keep the memory of vintage sails alive in that corner of Europe, there is only the Fife Regatta among the events worth mentioning. At least until today. It is precisely this regatta, which every five years brings together in Fairlie, Scotland, the boats designed and built by the Fife family and prized for their elegance and beauty, has had Richard Mille playing the role of official partner in the last edition, held in 2022.
Richard Mille and sailing
The watchmaker is not new to the world of sailing. In addition to the Fife Regatta, Richard Mille also associates its name with Le Voiles de Saint Barth, a regatta that has been held on the exclusive island for 12 years and, together with the St. Barths Bucket Regatta, has become a highlight of the Caribbean sailing calendar. With the Richard Mille Cup, the boats change but the spirit remains the same. The yacht clubs involved will also play an important role. In addition to the famous Royal Yacht Squadron, the likes of the Royal Cornwall Yacht Club, the Royal Dart Yacht Club, and the Societe des Regattes du Havre are involved.
“Restoration alone is not enough, though. These yachts need an environment in which their fame can spread, and that is why it is so important to involve the Yacht Clubs by allowing owners to socialise in an atmosphere that evokes the true spirit of the pre-war era,” says Richard Mille who, together with Benoît Couturier, has created the Fife Team that under one banner brings together Mariquita, Moobeam and Moobeam IV all of which have naturally come out of the famous Fairlie yard. “It all started with Couturier,” says Mille, “He was the one who introduced me to the beauty, magic and fascination of vintage boats. It was a real discovery, especially for someone who, like me, has always had land-related passions so far, such as classic racing cars. For me, it was the beginning of a fascinating new adventure in a world that I had not known at all before”.
A spark, the same spark, that went off when Benoît Couturier first came across Mariquita. It was 2019. “I love rare and beautiful things. I am a car collector. When I saw this boat without a buyer, I was speechless and wanted to do something about it. The first step was to bring it to Brittany because, generally, vintage boats are all destined for the Mediterranean whereas I think we should do something different. I bought the boat and brought it back here to build a project on the Atlantic coast. I don’t know how to run a boat. I didn’t go on board when she arrived in Brest, but I enjoyed admiring her from the sea. I am happy to see all the crew on board with so much enthusiasm,” says Couturier.
Mariquita in particular, and the Fife Team more generally, are part of a broader project to bring attention back to a corner of Brittany where seafaring traditions have deep roots. It was precisely in Brest in the Chantier du Guip that Mariquita underwent a meticulous philological restoration thanks to which she has returned to her original splendour. But it is only the first step on a path whose ultimate goal is to turn Brest and Brittany in general into the new destination for classic boats. And the Richard Mille Cup is heading in precisely this direction. “An event born with the idea of celebrating the beauty of these hulls in their natural environment, i.e. ocean waters, and not in the mundane settings typical of the Mediterranean,” adds Mille.
Richard Mille Cup
Whoever wins the right to engrave their name in the prestigious trophy conceived by Garrard for the first time, the Richard Mille Cup already has a winner. It is the history that accompanies each of the 15 boats at the start of the regatta. Strictly launched before 1939, according to the regulations (or faithful replicas even if built more recently), and divided into the cutter and schooner classes, they must have a minimum length of 10 metres. Standing out above them all, of course, is Mariquita.
Launched in 1911 and designed by William Fife III, she is the only 19-metre schooner of the six built, which included Cecile, Corona, Ellinor, Norada and Octavia. Next to Mariquita is Moonbeam IV. Launched in 1914 and also built to a design by William Fife III, she is a gaff cutter whose history is also linked to the name of Prince Rainier of Monaco, who was her owner from 1950 to 1959 and who spent his honeymoon with his wife Grace Kelly aboard this very yacht. And keeping with the theme on the starting line of the Richard Mille Cup there will also be Tuiga.
Another William Fife III design, she is one of the rare 15-metre international yachts still in circulation and today is the flagship of the Yacht Club de Monaco. Launched in 1909, she boasts a victory at the Fastnet in 1935 and in recent times has been the protagonist of fierce duels with the twins Mariska, Hispania and The Lady Anne at various classic boat rallies. And it is precisely the latter that will be present together with Tuiga at the Richard Mille Cup. The Lady Anne, also a 15m International Tonnage, also bears the signature of the famous Scottish designer and was commissioned by wealthy yachtsman George Coats. Finally, on the starting line stand the masts of Mariette of 1915. Designed by Nathanael G. Herreshoff, she immediately distinguished herself for her outstanding performance in the regattas in which she took part.
Credit must surely go to the genius of the American designer known by the name of Wizard of Bristol, but also because she carried on a naval tradition whose history is inextricably linked to that of the famous schooners of the Newfoundland shoals conceived at the time to reach the fishing grounds as quickly as possible. Many epic pages have been written by this splendid schooner. Among these is the one that saw her starring in the second edition of the Trofeo San Pellegrino for vintage boats, the rally born from an intuition of Vincenzo Zaccagnino and organised by the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda.
Due to prohibitive weather conditions, the race committee decided to cancel the regatta, which did not meet with the approval of some owners. Hence the decision that saw Mariette, at the time owned by Alberto Rizzoli and with Erik Pascoli as skipper, Altair, Agneta, America, Skagerrak and Aile Blanche take the start anyway. With a sea whitewashed by the mistral, the five yachts gave life to a regatta that has remained in history and ended with Mariette’s victory. I was only 13 at the time but I still remember it with great emotion. The same emotions that I will relive on the occasion of the Richard Mille Cup.