The 2017 pursuit race, held traditionally on the Challenge Day of Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez, was fought between the challenger, The Blue Peter – a 65ft Alfred Mylne design – and the 53ft Skylark of 1937. Five other boats competed in the Challenger Race for the next event in 2018 – Griff Rhys Jones’ S&S yawl Argyll, Christopher Spray’s S&S yawl Stormy Weather, the classic 6m Alibaba, Peter Dubens’ contemporary Spectre and Sir Charles Dunstone’s S&S sloop Blitzen.
The BlueBird Cup challenger, The Blue Peter, was launched in 1930, although the teak used in the construction of her hull was brought from Thailand in 1870. She was designed by Alfred Mylne and built by W. King & Sons of Burnham-on-Crouch.
Her first owner Desmond Molins decided in 1938 that he wanted a bigger boat, but he loved The Blue Peter so much that he decided to have her lengthened by nearly 10 feet. She remains true to these plans to this day, though she no longer sports a bowsprit.
She was named The Blue Peter for luck, after the ‘P’ flag, which is used as the preparatory signal before starting a race. It worked, The Blue Peter won over 50 races in and around the south coast of England over the next 20 years, sailing out of The Royal Corinthian Yacht Club in Burnham-on-Crouch, UK.
The Blue Peter passed into Italian ownership after the war. She had three different Italian owners before her present owner, Mathew Barker, bought her in 1999.
After a long delay waiting for wind, a fine south-westerly breeze swept across the Gulf of Saint-Tropez from Talitha anchored to the north-west and BlueBird anchored to the south-east, allowing the race to get underway. Skylark started exactly 2 mins 20 secs ahead of The Blue Peter due to the size and predicted speed differential of the boats.
On the first two legs of the course in the building breeze, The Blue Peter was catching Skylark very quickly but at the first rounding of BlueBird, by now the leeward mark, The Blue Peter’s spinnaker inverted and jammed on the shrouds preventing a quick gybe-drop at the mark. The delay allowed Skylark to extend her lead over the remaining three legs of the course.
At the finish, Skylark crossed the line with a handsome lead over The Blue Peter thereby successfully defending the challenge and the BlueBird Cup Trophy. At the prizegiving party onboard the classic motoryacht Talitha, owners were presented a carafe of 100 year old Hennessy Paradis Imperial cognac, after which crews of all seven yachts were offered a small glass each of this rare cognac to both sample and celebrate.
In the Challengers Race – to determine the BlueBird Cup Challenger in 2018 – Charles Dunstone’s Blitzen swept the board with a resounding win, not least with assistance from her tactician Sir Ben Ainslie, assisted ably by both Yasmin and Simon Le Bon in the crew. In the S&S yawl battle between Argyll and Stormy Weather, Stormy won the start and led for the duration of the race – with Peter Dubens’ Spectre, with silver Olympic medalist Nick Rogers as tactician, blasting by on a longer course at over twice the speed of all the classic boats.