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Interview

Bernard d’Alessandri: “The Yacht Club de Monaco is no ordinary yacht club. It’s a meeting place”

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Bernard d'Alessandri, Secretary General of the Monaco Yacht Club - © Michael Alesi

As part of our feature on the 70th anniversary of the Yacht Club de Monaco, we spoke to its Secretary General, Bernard d’Alessandri. An opportunity for him to look back at the highlights of the club’s sporting and social life.

Un esprit, une équipe, un club” (one spirit, one team, one club) is the motto of the famous Yacht Club of Monaco, founded in 1953 by Prince Rainier III. With Prince Albert II as its President since 1984, the club now boasts 2,500 members of 81 different nationalities.

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Something of which Bernard d’Assandri, Secretary-General of the Yacht Club of Monaco, is proud. “70 years on, the club is still dynamic, young, with a lot of hope, innovations and plans,” he says. I am immensely proud  to have been part of this club. But I would like to remind you that Monaco’s first regattas date back to 1863! Prior to the Yacht Club, there was the Monaco Nautical Society. We mustn’t forget the old guard’s work, which has enabled the Principality to be part of the yachting world for over a century.”

And Monaco does have a prominent role on the international nautical scene. Including through its participation in the many competitions around the world. “Monaco takes part in at least one international event per year. The first was a memorable one, the Monaco-New York [in 1985], just after the Sovereign joined us. There were about a dozen boats in the race, including a Monegasque crew; it was the first transatlantic race to start from the Mediterranean! I believe that race heralded the dawn of a new era for the Yacht Club of Monaco,” says Bernard d’Assandri.

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Monaco – New York, 1985 – © YCM

“We have high hopes for Malizia-Seaxplorer”

Since then, the Yacht Club’s active participation in international races has not waned: “some of the boats we prepared here have travelled around the world, such as Merit Cup in 1997/98, or yachtsman Pierre Feldman’s boat. (…) Whether it’s crewed or solo circumnavigations, we have been involved in ocean racing around the world for a long time. A few weeks ago, a Yacht Club boat, skippered by our club member Peter Harburg, even won the Rolex-Giraglia, one of the flagship events on the Mediterranean. We are very proud! And we’re also proud of our youngsters, because they are doing well too. We are hopeful that Alexander Ehlen will be selected for the Paris Olympics, whose sailing events will be taking place in Marseille. It would be a first , it is one of our goals in-house.”

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Merit Cup sailed around the world in the late 1990s – © Carlo Borlenghi

All this pride is not just reserved for the competitors: in this family-minded club, the youngest members are welcomed from the age of seven, and can learn on Optimists until the age of 14, when they move on to Laser dinghies. “We follow them on their entire journey,” says Bernard d’Assandri with a smile.

For the club’s Secretary General, there is no doubt: the excellent results achieved by the boats prepared in Monaco play a major role in inspiring the younger members and stimulating their interest in nautical activities. Like Malizia-SeaExplorer, skippered by Boris Herrmann, which made a stopover in the Principality in early July during the Monaco Energy Boat Challenge, after finishing third in the 14th edition of The Ocean Race. And Boris has just announced he will be taking part, with Will Harris, in the next Jacques Vabre Transat, whose solo return voyage is a qualifier for the Vendée Globe.

“Malizia-SeaExplorer certainly contributes to the Club’s image, although it was not the first to do a round-the-world race. We have high hopes for this IMOCA. Last time it got a very, very good result. It also broke a speed record: which bodes well for Boris in the Vendée Globe [November 2024, Ed.] with an even better set-up. He ran the last edition of the Vendée Globe on a second-hand boat. This time he will be on a brand new one. (…) And every time Malizia-SeaExplorer is here, we organise outings for the youngsters. During our summer camps, we have about 400 youngsters between the ages of seven and 18. We give them an introduction to sailing, raising awareness and discovering the ocean environment. It’s basically a different approach to sailing,” says Bernard d’Assandri.

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In all 400 young people, aged 7 to 18, take part in the summer camps at the Monaco Yacht Club  – © Mesi-YCM

Members are very involved in the life of the club

The adults are also entitled to their share of activities throughout the year. Gym classes with a coach, lunches, conferences, sailing classes, bridge tournaments, golf, billiards, skiing trips … Members can meet up outside of the nautical aspect. “The Yacht Club of Monaco is no ordinary yacht club,” says Bernard d’Assandri. It’s a meeting place. With our rich sporting and social life, we are sufficiently representative on the international yachting scene to be one of the Top 5 international Yacht Clubs.”

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The club’s Secretary-General is also delighted with its members’ involvement when competitions take place: “We can measure the vitality of the club through its volunteers: for every regatta we can rely on 50 to 100 volunteers, who help out with the organisation. In fact I would like to thank and commend the Fleet of Stewards, because we wouldn’t be able to do anything without them. In the club, there are those who practice and compete, and there are those who facilitate that. “One Spirit, One Team, One Club”: That’s our motto ! »

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The Steward’s’ Fleet boasts many volunteers come competition time – © Francesco Ferri

After seven decades of activities, both sporting and social, the Yacht Club of Monaco is not about to rest on its laurels. With an air of mystery, Bernard d’Assandri tells us that “many things are in the pipeline, like Monaco Classic Week (September 13-16, 2023), a unique gathering of traditional yachts (sail and engine) to honour the living maritime heritage. Some projects are still waiting in the wings, we’re not short of ideas. The club is still around, thanks to its ingenuity and vitality.”

We did get one small clue about what projects lie in store:  Bernard d’Assandri tells us that the Club wants, “very soon”, to be the first yacht club to run events with Zero CO2 emissions, in line with the “Monaco, Capital of Advanced Yachting” initiative, such as the Monaco Energy Boat Challenge (next edition 1 to 6 July 2024). A very innovative project, which is part of a long list of actions aiming towards environmentally responsible yachting.

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The Monaco Energy Boat Challenge showcases sustainable sailing – © Stefano Gattini