Serious yacht racing has been described as akin to standing under a shower whilst tearing up huge quantities of bank notes. So it’s perhaps appropriate that one of the world’s most prestigious regattas should be held at Geneva, one of the world’s premier banking and financial centres.
Organised for the first time in 1939, the Bol d’Or has become the world’s most important regatta on an inland lake, attracting champion sailors from all over Europe, as well as some big sailing names from the rest of the globe. It all started with just 26 boats, but by 1990 there were 684 entrants. In 2007 that number had been reduced to a more manageable 526, still a spectacular sight as they all jostle for position on the start line.
The setting is magnificent, as competitors glide across the crystal clear waters of Lake Geneva against the magnificent backdrop of the snow-capped alpine peaks. Held every year on the second weekend in June the weather is usually fabulous, as you’ll see from the videos.
The start line is directly opposite the Geneva Yacht Club and the course is kept incredibly simple. There’s only one mark yachts have to round, at the very far end of the lake, just off the town of Le Bouveret – leaving this to starboard the boats then head back to the finish line at Geneva. It’s a 66.5-mile (123km) round trip made especially challenging by the variable winds which swirling around the valley, bouncing off the surrounding mountains. Even when these winds are light the bigger yachts achieve terrific speeds thanks to the huge amount of sail they carry.
The race starts at 9am on Saturday morning and the fastest yachts return by mid-afternoon. The real-time winner of the race wins the Bol d’Or Mirabaud challenge. This trophy is put back into play each year, but a team that manages to win the trophy three times in five years earns the right to keep it (with only three boats achieving this to date). There’s a separate prize, the Bol de Vermeil trophy, awarded to the first monohull boat across the line.
The Bol d’Or Mirabaud has forged a fabulous reputation over the years and has become one of the great Classics on the international sailing calendar. The world’s greatest yachtsmen have participated in and won the Bol d’Or, including Loïck Peyron, Ernesto Bertarelli, Alain Gautier, Russell Coutts, Philippe Durr, Eric Tabarly, Dennis Conner and many others. With about 2,500 crew members, and huge numbers of spectators, it’s an all weekend affair with a spectacular selection of parties and celebrations
Over the years the event has notched up a number of notable milestones, but here are some of the highlights:
1939. 26 entries, Ylliam IV, owned by F. Firmenich, won in 23:08’34”.
1950. 50 participants entered, 1st completion in under 20 hours achieved by Glana, 8mJI, owned by H. Guisan, in 16:25’45”.
1956. First race in less than twelve hours, by lliam IX, owned by A. Firmenich, helmed by Louis Noverraz, in 11:04’57”.
1980. First victory by a multi-hull, Altaïr IX, owned by Ph. Stern, in 15:27’06”.
1983. First victory by a flying boat!!! The Super Tornado Holy Smoke of A. Schiess wins thanks to its hydro foils, allowing the boat to set sail and fly in the “Morget” wind.
1986. New speed record of under eight hours set by Altaïr X, owned by Ph. Stern, in 7:20’55”.
1989. Dennis Conner and his revolutionary catamaran Stars and Stripes – with which he just won the America’s Cup – establish a new time record of 6:57’33”.
1994. “Bise” windstorm. Multi-hull record beaten by Triga IV, owned by P.M. Leuenberger, in 5:01’51”. Mono-hull record beaten by Corum Modulo 108, owned by B. Siegfried, in 8:45’40”.
The Hotel d’Angleterre, with fine views towards the start and finish lines, is the perfect choice if you want to make the most of this spectacular occasion. But hurry, rooms are being booked up fast!