Circolo

If you ever get the chance to go to the Yacht Club de Monaco. Go. It’s the most beautiful club in the world with an ambition as bold as the club is big. It’s a stunner. Set on the harbour right by the famous tunnel used for F1 and runs the most incredible events all year round both on and off the water – who can argue with Lionel Ritchie, Duran Duran, Sting and Elton John as line-ups at their annual YCM Marina parties? (The best my clubs run is some old geezer with a banjo and a ukelele.) And on the water they host everything from a very competitive Optimist fleet, through Melges 24’s and J70’s to unbelievable Classics, right up to their flagship events – one of which is the Palermo-Monte Carlo race alongside others.

Circolo della Velo Sicilia club burgee

A few years ago, I blagged my way into the YCM and thought I was very special. We had the best spaghetti vongole I have ever eaten for lunch and then whiled away the afternoon at the club’s tension pool situated on the afterdeck – the club is shaped liked a cruise liner. A very expensive cruise liner come to think of it. My son splashed in the water with some gazillionaire kids off a superyacht and it was all pretty glamorous. A sunny place for shady people.

Looking out to sea I picked up some shadows on the horizon and as the afternoon wore on they got closer and closer. First into harbour, literally right under our noses was Gazprom and ‘Mr Professional’ Jochen Schumann stepped off. He sort of recognised me as that Alinghi-baiter of old but you could tell that he couldn’t work out where he knew me from. He waved. I waved back. More boats followed and I went back to the pool. About an hour later I had an existential experience. There sitting at the bar was James from Birmingham, a mate from sailing days of yore, with the broadest Brummy accent and a down-to-earth manner that well and truly popped my Monaco pretensions.

I had never heard of the Palermo-Monte Carlo race. I doubt whether you have either. It’s a tri-club event with the Yacht Club Costa Smerlada (another off-the-scale club) and it’s here where the relationship between the YCM and the Circolo della Vela Sicilia meets. The two clubs are ‘twinned’ and whilst the Monaco club bristles with ambition, the Circolo quietly goes about its business serving a membership of 650 in one of the most stunning coves in Mondello replete with swimming pool, sun loungers and parasols. You get the impression that it’s more of a country club for rich locals but their sailing roster is impressive. And unlike many an international club with grand ambitions and designs for being ‘the best’, the Circolo has actually walked the walk in the America’s Cup.

Today it’s the Challenger of Record and that’s quite something to say. The Cup doesn’t lend itself naturally to the pine groves of Punta Celesi and warming Mediterranean zephyrs. It’s a white hot competition that presents itself as F1 on water and one can only wonder what the locals of the Circolo make of it all. And can you imagine if they won it? Stranger things have happened and the club boat looks as magnificent as a Prada leather jacket. They’d have to build a new wing. They’d probably need a new clubhouse. Hell they might even get a marina out of it – or at the very least an upgrade to their pontoon. But would they want it? Now that’s the question.

So let’s imagine a world where the Circolo wins. They could try and squeeze a pint into a quart and host it in Mondello or they could shift up the coast to Cagliari. Or they could tap up their chums at the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda where bomb alley would provide the perfect setting – big winds, big waves, (I have never been so seasick in my life out there), and a ton of glamour.

Or, and this is the big call, they could ring up their old mucker and ‘twinner’ His Serene Highness Prince Albert – a Cup fan, I once explained to him what a tack, gybe, set was in classic karate yachting style – and host it in Monaco. Not a lot of wind in summer but would be stunning in winter. The Principality would be rocking. The jet set would be in town. Participation would rocket and the high rollers would flock. It would be THE Cup to end all Cups. The Yacht Club de Monaco would become the hottest ticket in town. I’d love to see it happen.

It won’t however. The Kiwis will win this defence by a country mile. But we can dream. And all credit to the Circolo for achieving the impossible and proving that you don’t need to be a super-club to mix it with the big boys. Small can be beautiful.

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