With wind in your sails

Geneva on the path to the America’s Cup

Claude Hervé-Bazin
Loris Von Siebenthal | Mario Schoby, Red Bull Content Pool | Samo Vidic, Alinghi Red Bull Racing
Summer 2023

Geneva on the path to the America’s Cup

It all started in 1872, when the Société Nautique de Genève was founded. The yacht club’s early members initially focused on rowing and Italian-style water festivals in the bay. Then a few motorboats and sailboats came along, and boating officially took off in 1903, with the creation of the Section
de la Voile, which was later renamed Cercle de la Voile.

In the early 1930s, the SNG dropped anchor at Port-Noir, near the new Genève-Plage facilities, and is still there to this day. Its solitary Art Deco building is two steps away from the Olympic-sized swimming pool and faces the marina, which has grown from 200 to 1,000 places. The mid-1960s saw the rise of single-handed sailing, which led to the creation of a fourth section of the SNG. Monohulls, multihulls… Lake Geneva has since seen all kinds of boats, many that are more accustomed to salty waters.

The biggest lake regatta in the world
Excellence and athletic performance are at the heart of the SNG. Now, more than 150 years after its founding, this institution is the biggest yacht club in Switzerland, with over 4,000 members. That being said, the private club is very selective and only allows new members through co-opt.

The club also organises very ambitious events, like the Translémanique en Solitaire (Aug. 26), la Semaine de la Voile (June 26-30), and, the club’s flagship event, the Bol d’Or Mirabaud (June 9-11). First sailed in 1939, the race is sponsored by Mirabaud bank and the watch brand Tudor (in partnership with the InterContinental Geneva Hotel) and is the world’s largest freshwater regatta. Some of the planet’s best sailors are among the participants, which numbered more than 400 in 2022. There are locals like Christian Wahl, nicknamed the “Sorcerer of Lake Geneva,” who had already won the race seven times, and won again for the 8th time in 2022 at the helm of Ville de Genève, accompanied by youth in training from the CER (Centre d’Entraînement à la Régate). There are also prestigious guests, like Loïck Perron, and multihulls. Multihulls of every kind, and even a few UFOs, because, yes, the Bol D’Or is more than a race. It’s a catalyst, a laboratory where naval architects and engineers can put their ambitions for excessive speed to the test. The 2022 edition saw the new hydrofoil TF35 catamaran fly at 25 knots, thanks to a late gust of wind towards the end of the race…

A laboratory for excellence
Lake Geneva is no stranger to being used as a sailing test laboratory… with the adventure of Alinghi serving as hard proof. Launched in 1990 by Swiss businessman Ernesto Bertarelli, who loves sailing, team Alinghi also has seven Bol d’Or Mirabaud wins to its name. Even more impressive, however, is that they successfully became the first European team to win the mythical America’s Cup – the oldest competition in international sport, which only takes place every four years – not just once, but twice in a row, in 2003 and 2007! Their double win encouraged the emergence of new generation of passionate Swiss skippers, who are now considered some of the best in the world.

Bertarelli and his team have every intention of trying to repeat their achievements again in 2024 in Barcelona, for the 37th edition of the race. In close partnership with Red Bull Racing, and supported by watchmaker Tudor, this time team Alinghi will be led by Austrian Hans-Peter Steinacher. Steinacher is a double Olympic Champion in Tornado sailing from the early 2000s, who then moved on to high-level sailing as the leader of the Red Bull Extreme Sailing Team in the spectacular (and sadly, now defunct) Extreme Sailing Series. Steinacher has one key goal in mind: Tap into the new generation of Swiss skippers who are masters of the hydrofoil’s secrets in general, and specifically, masters of the AC75 foiling monohull, which first hit the race circuit in 2021. This new protocol resembles a Formula 1 rule for streamlined seas, with larger hydrofoils enabling earlier flight and potential speeds of up to 50 knots! And therein lies the challenge: set new seawater speeds… and let fly, proudly, yet once more, the Société Nautique de Genève’s banner.