June 14, 2013
SAINT-TROPEZ—To the once-upon-a-time sleepy fishing village, now the focal point for Russian oligarch excess, outrageously ugly super-yachts, and what is commonly known as the scum of the Earth, the nouveaux riche of the 21st century. A tiny but perfect airport for small planes and jets means the 747s the camel drivers prefer are too big to land and thus have to use Nice or Marseille.
I am here for the annual Pugs Club regatta. I flew down from Gstaad in Peter Livanos’s chopper, a great machine that slalomed around the snowy mountains in a fog, skipping the dense parts, climbing and diving around protuberant rocks, getting us down from door to transom in one hour and thirty-five minutes. Sorry, folks, but it’s the only way to travel nowadays. Five minutes by car from my chalet to the Saanen Airport, 75 minutes of inspecting the Alps from very nearby, then a 15-minute ride to the port of Saint-Tropez, where a chartered racing machine was waiting for me.
The four competing boats were all lined up: Tim Hoare’s beautiful Alexia, Roger Taylor’s Tiger Lily, Tara Getty’s Skylark, and the poor little Greek boy’s toy, a modern marvel that can reach twenty knots in a high wind and is as ugly as she’s fast. All the competing boats had to bribe the local powers to secure a place right in front of the famed Saint-Tropez quae, which is usually reserved for the most flamboyant boats owned or chartered by types that think Paris Hilton is class personified.
The first evening dinner took place at Rolf Sachs’s house in the bay—he’s Gunter’s boy—where it wasn’t the first time the competitors got much too chummy with each other and by far too drunk. I spilled the beans about my boat’s speed and like a fool demanded I be given a handicap to match. Alexia is a truly beautiful boat, even more so than my Bushido, but I think of her as a ravishing woman who is lousy in bed. Alexia under sail is slow. Tiger Lily is like an old girlfriend—comfortable, round, always welcoming, and deceptively fast. Her owner—the drummer of Queen—and her captain have a lot to do with her ability to keep snatching victory from faster-looking boats. I know little about Skylark, but she is a true classic of the twenties, her owner has a professional crew that races her in all major events, and she had the Crown Prince of Greece crewing on her—more of that later.
The next morning during the trials, I was too hung over to attend the meeting on the mother ship. My son had not yet arrived, and my French captain’s vocabulary in English was limited to one word: “rosbiff.” Although Commodore Hoare is a very fair man and our president-for-life Nick Scott is even more so, it was decided that the twenty-mile course of one leg upwind and one downwind would be sailed by all boats once, except for the poor little Greek boy who would have to sail it twice. I was still asleep when my captain explained it to the mother of my children, who although as fair as a German can be, nevertheless described it as more of a punishment than a handicap. Ah, these Germans have a way with words, especially when not in their Panzers.