As good as it gets

Visit Superyacht Cup Palma

Almost three decades after it was first staged as an end-of-season jamboree for yachts and crews preparing to cross the Atlantic, the 2024 edition of Superyacht Cup Palma promises to be a cracker, says Phil Riley

Superyacht Cup Palma, Europe's longest-running superyacht regatta, is now gearing up to celebrate its 28th anniversary from June 19-22 in what may be a spectacular 2024.

‘If you build it, they will come’ — the now famous prophetic line from the 1989 film Field of Dreams that inspired farmer Kevin Costner to build a baseball diamond in his Iowa cornfields, which then attracted crowds to view a who's who of ghostly baseball stars.

In the service of full disclosure it is unlikely that, 28 years ago, the Mallorca-based sailmakers Patrick Whetter and Spike Thompson had quite that vision in mind when they put together an end of Mediterranean sailing season party for yacht crews about to go transatlantic.

Ghostly apparitions aside however, the consequences of that humble gathering back in 1996 has had a similarly significant outcome: Little acorns, mighty oaks hardly begin to cover it.

Main picture: one of Superyacht Cup Palma’s key strengths is that the event attracts a diverse fleet of entrants from ultra-modern vessels to classic icons

Legend has it that the first few editions of Superyacht Cup Palma were competed for in the absence of, in many cases, the competing yachts’ owners. In any event, the 33.6m Dubois-designed Alloy Yachts sloop Imagine was the first to take the SYC title in 1997, while the following year saw a second successive victory for a Dubois-Alloy combo with the 36m Sovereign claiming top spot. And so it began, the word spread and Superyacht Cup Palma quickly found its place in the diaries of superyacht owners and captains.

In the run-up to the millennium it was the 33m Bolero — named after her South African yard — that took the 1999 title, a feat the Frers design was remarkably able to repeat as recently as 2017.

Next up in the winners' enclosure — and pre-dating Bolero’s double by some margin — was the 42m Kokomo, with the late Lang Walkerowned uber sloop taking consecutive victories in 2000 and 2001, a double whammy for the clearly formidable Dubois-Alloy double act.

Dubois design no doubt also played a part in the success of the Vitters-built Timoneer as the imposing 44m ketch took the SYC crown in both 2002 and 2004, with the 34m Unfurled filling the gap while flying the flag for Frers and Royal Huisman, and also returning for a second overall victory in 2014.

Over the following years other yachts would work their magic to claim two titles — the 47m Hyperion in 2006 and 2008 again highlighting the Frers-Huisman magic, and Mallorca's own Javier Jaudenes’s high-performance 33m Baltic Yachts design Win Win in 2016 and 2019.

However, the growing level of interest in Superyacht Cup Palma also served to increase the level of competition in the always diverse fleet, with the event delivering no fewer than 15 one-time winners to date.

While the Bay of Palma and its seemingly nailed on sea breeze is the gift that has kept on giving over the years, behind the scenes and off the water a series of other initiatives have helped to keep the superyacht festival of sail buoyant and responsive to changing demands.

In 2011 SYC Palma took on professional race management courtesy of the famed Real Club Náutico de Palma, a long-standing partnership that has now extended to the RCNP also hosting the event for the third year in succession.

The following year saw the formation of the SuperYacht Racing Association in recognition of the growth and particular requirements of this eye-catching racing, followed by the arrival of the ORC Superyacht Rule (ORCsy) — aka the ‘wine and piano rating’ — which has created a remarkably level playing field embracing the wide diversity of superyachts seeking a competitive outing, as many of the winners mentioned above can testify.

Above: the J Class is a spectacular element of the regatta, with half a dozen of them making regular appearances.
Below: use of the ORCsy rating system has helped create a remarkably level playing field for all participants

Then in 2013 Kate Branagh’s Aquamarine Events took over the regatta, continuing a clear-eyed vision that Superyacht Cup Palma needed to have an across-the-board appeal that encompassed the professional racing sailors, Corinthian owners and their friends and families, along with entry-level crews.

‘It has been one of the real pleasures of playing a part in Superyacht Cup Palma that we have been able to deliver an event that has proved popular with an eclectic mix of owners and sailors, young and old, delivering the professionalism that they expect alongside great racing and a fun and informal social scene back on shore at the RCNP,’ says Branagh.

The considerable evidence to date suggests that Branagh’s responsive approach — which includes the offer of Performance and Corinthian classes — has struck a chord within the superyacht community, with first-timers a constant feature at SYC alongside repeat attendees who return regularly over the years.

Among this latter group are the J Class, who clearly recognise well-managed racing when they see it. Over the years a variety of these classic vessels have claimed bragging rights in their own class, with Ranger, Hanuman, Lionheart and Svea among them, while the venerable Velsheda took an overall SYC win in 2018.

This year will see all three of the current J Class racing campaigns taking part, with the newly refitted Rainbow, her new owner and experienced crew going head to head with Velsheda and Svea, last year’s class winner. Their appearance at Superyacht Cup Palma launches a trio of regattas in 2024 which will also include the J Class World Championships held during the America’s Cup in Barcelona.

It’s worth noting that at the last Mediterranean America’s Cup — Valencia in 2007 — SYC Palma attracted 54 entries, the largest superyacht regatta ever held. While there is no expectation of a repeat on quite that scale in 2024, alongside the Js the event has already attracted a number of first timers comprising a trio of Hoek designs, the 32m Namuun (ex- Simba) from Turquoise Yachts and two Pendennis-built Hoek Truly Classics — the 40m Halekai and the 39m Vijonara — as well as the striking 28m Ron Holland Design ketch Tawera (ex-Catalyst), from Alloy Yachts NZ. Further adding to the mix, the 24m Wally Rose will be returning to defend her hard-won SYC title.

It’s a further indication of Superyacht Cup Palma’s durability that organisers are able to rely on the continued support of Preferred Hotel Partner St. Regis Mardavall Mallorca and Official Timepiece Jaquet Droz, while welcoming the return of Pendennis as a Gold Partner alongside long-standing Silver Partners Astilleros de Mallorca, Marinepool, North Sails, Southern Spars, Pantaenius Yacht Insurance and RSB Rigging Solutions. The pitch is prepared, so it’s game on for 2024.

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