Rolex-Swan Synergies Sparked Worldwide Regattas

The Rolex Swan Cup was one of the earliest events in this superb Swiss watchmaker’s yachting portfolio, dating back to 1980, and its 20th biennial regatta held in Sardinia mid-September attracted another 110 entires from 117 countries. 

Dec 10, 2018 | By Bruce Maxwell

Photos: Carlo Borlenghi for Rolex. The sailing environment in NE Sardinia is renowned for its rocky outcrops and emerald waters

It isn’t hard to see the synergies. Nautor’s Swans are described as “the ultimate ocean-going, performance, luxury sailing yachts of unrivalled build quality”. Rolex Oyster and Cellini brands are equally recognised as “superlative chronometers for their precision, performance and reliability, and as symbols of excellence, elegance and prestige”. So organisers of the Rolex China Sea Race, the Rolex Sydney-Hobart and many other great regattas worldwide have good reason to be grateful that the original Rolex-Swan partnership was struck, worked well, and expanded. Prior to regattas, Rolex began a role in yachting from 1958 America’s Cup.

Rolex Swan Cup 2018

Geneva-headquarted Rolex was founded in 1905, and Nautor’s Swan in 1966, improbably in Pietarsaari in Finland, also known as Jakobstad in next-door Sweden. The Scandinavians don’t bother much about borders on the edge of the Arctic Circle, apart from the Russian one. Dinner is likely to be a succulent moose steak, and Swan clients are often booked into a hotel room that has been secretly outfitted to resemble a Swan interior. Something seems oddly familiar then suddenly realisation dawns.

Pekka Koskenkyla was its founder, building a Swan 36 that he sold for export to Mike Kelsey Snr, of Palmer Johnson super yachts fame, on the shores of the Great Lakes. That got the yard started. Pekka later moved to Jomtien near Pattaya in Thailand, where he surprisingly built the Mirabella super sailboat series, using only a few imported foremen and local tradesmen. He once hired an elephant to help launch. (Mirabella V switched to Vosper Thornycroft in England). Sparkman and Stephens of New York designed the early classic-looking Swans, which marked the first successful fibreglass sailboat line, as opposed to wooden hulls that had hitherto prevailed. About 1,000 S&S, circa 1978-81, and then began a long Fres family dynasty, starting with patriarch German Frers, an Argentinian, which continues to this day.

Photo: Carlo Borlenghi for Rolex

Finally the ClubSwan 50, launched 2017, was drawn by another legendary naval architect, Juan Kouyoumdjian. Thus the Rolex Swan Cup this year had three One Design Classes for ClubSwan 42s, Swan 45s and ClubSwan 50s, plus Swan Classics, Swan Grand Prix (18.29m and below) and Swan Maxis ()18.29m and above).

If any readers would like to have a go at the Maxi class, former Hong Kong and Singapore-based Lord Irvine Laidlaw tells us he has decided to sell Swan 115. Paul Winkelmann, and Andy Soriano from the Phillipines, are other regional owners who have contested the Rolex Swan Cup, while the Sultan of Selangor sailed around the world on his Swan 68 Jugra and co-founded the Raja Muda Regatta. The Swan 65 is another pedigree model, distingushing itself in events such as the Whitbread Around-the-World Race, while flagship of the fleet is presently the regal Swan 131.


From the outset at famous Yacht Club Costa Smeralda in Porto Cervo, the inaugural ClubSwan 50 World Championship signalled its intent – close competition between 12 one-design yachts. A contest in the purest form: who sails best, wins. The no discard rule added an extra measure of pressure. Crews were required to compete at an extremely demanding level, performing consistently across a relentless racing program.

Photos: Carlo Borlenghi for Rolex

Proof of the impressive level of competition: in ten, predominately short, intense, windward-leeward races, seven different yachts finished first. In their quest to become the first Class world champion, the owner-helmsmen of ClubSwan 50s put their faith in some of the world’s most renowned tacticians – the likes of Ken Read on Cuordileone, Bouwe Bekking on Niramo and Xabi Fernandez on Stay Calm to cite three. By the final day, three yachts found themselves in contention for the title:  OneGroup, Mathilde and Cuordileone. Then by the final race of the series they were all tied on points.

“it felt like nothing went right in the first race today”, reflected OneGroup tactician Cameron Dunn on an eighth place which wiped out their overall advantage. “in the second race (and final race of the Worlds) we then got a terrible start. The other two yachts (Mathilde and  Cuordileone) went out hard one way and our side it came good. We managed to control the race but Cuordileone came back at us all the time. A brilliant gybe at the end helped us win by a boat length”.

The Smallest of margins separated OneGroup and Cuordileone after ten races. “The amount of adrenaline and tension was impressive”.

It is some Leonardo Ferragamo, Nautor’s Swan Chairman and owner of runners-up Cuordileone, adding sportingly: “Congratulations to OneGroup, they were well prepared, well trained and deserve this world championship”. For OneGroup owner Stefan Heidenreich, a former champion windsurfer, victory comes in one of his first regattas as owner.

Photos: Carlo Borlenghi for Rolex

The ClubSwan 50 Worlds is set to become even bigger with the fleet expanding and those already competing improving at every regatta. “The racing in this fleet is phenomenal. It is as good as it gets with one design sailing”, concluded Dunn. Despite the final outcome, Ken Read also enjoyed the week, remarking: “Close racing is great racing”.



Spanish yacht Porron IX arrived in Porto Crevo as defending world champion, German rival Elena Nova as class winner at the last Rolex Swan Cup in 2016. The rivalry proved tone the defining one in the Swan 45 World Championship. Across ten races, the two crews claimed eight victories. A pattern began to emerge, Porron IX the better performer in the lighter conditions, Elena Nova in the stronger breezes. On the final day Porron IX,  enjoying the return of lighter winds, was able to extent her slender advantage to retain her world crown. “I am proud of the progress we have made. Two years ago we were ninth”, explained owner Luis Senis Segarra.

“Last year we were the surprise world champions in Spain and now we have won in Porto Cervo. The Rolex Swan Cup is the top event in it is incredible to win here”.



Photos: Carlo Borlenghi for Rolex

Fourteen yachts contested the ClubSwan 42 European Championships. Romanian yacht Natalia had won competition on the last three occasions it has been held in Porto Cervo. This time Natalia Brailoiu’s crew had to contend with an average start to the week before winning four of the last five races. A stunning comeback was thwarted by the consistent performance of Andrea Rossi’s Italian yacht Mela which only finished out of the top four places on one occasion.

“The Swan 42 class is very competitive because there are very good sailors, a lot of regattas, and the boats get faster after each one”, explained Hello Pavoni, Mela sail trimmer and boat captain. “We have worked very hard on getting faster and improving”.



Representing tradition, the Sparkman & Stephens division was also the largest attending class welcoming 26 yachts. Marking the Class out this year was the appearance of ten Swan 65s, a model renowned for its legendary ocean racing feats in the 1970s. “The 2018 Rolex Swan Cup witnessed the biggest ever gathering of 65s, a unique boat and an icon in our line”, said Nautor’s Swan Vice-President Enrico Chieffi. Owners across this Class have a unique bond with their yachts, and maintaining them demands a considerable commitment. “The Swan 65 owners are proud of their boats and as. piece of art you can’t resist looking at them”, continued Chieffi. “We are here to race hard”, admitted John Sims-Hilditch, co-owner of Venator, the fourth Swan 65 hull ever built, “but with a little bit of tenderness for the boats as they are magnificent and we love them as people”.

Photos: Carlo Borlenghi for Rolex

Fittingly the S&S division was won by a Swan 65 in the shape of Tony Ball’s Six Jaguar, triumphant in two of the five races. “Being involved in the Rolex Swan Cup for a second time with this boat is fantastic and especially in this Class”, remarked Ball. “Victory came down to seconds for us. It is a terrific event with a great social scene and iconic boats”.



The Swan Maxi Class welcomed the most diverse range of designs from 60-100 feet, including one of Nautor’s most recent launches – the Swan 78 Haromi – and the largest competing yacht in Varsovie. With two bullets from the opening races, Vincente Garcia Torres’ Swan Plis-Play quickly emerged as the yacht to beat. Despite resilient competition from Stephen Cucchiaro’s Swan 601 Flow, it was a lead Spanish yacht was able to maintain taking a total of three out of five coastal races. “We are really happy to have won” said  Plis-Play navigator Enrique Martinez-Asia.

“The event is brilliant, there is no place like this to sail with the beautiful islands and challenging wind conditions”.


A duel between Swan 53s Crilia and Solte dominated the Grand Prix class with neither yacht dropping from the podium in five races.

Three bullets handed Solte the class crown. “It is our first time here. All week we were very consistent and we are very happy with the results”, remarked helmsman Hasip Gencer.

The six class winners were recognised for their performances and excellence on the water with trophies and Rolex timepieces at the final prize giving held on Piazza Azzurra at the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda. The 21st edition of the Rolex Swan Cup will be held in September 2020.

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