A 120 Year Legacy: Shenandoah of Sark wins Rolex Trophy

By Heather Collier

For sale and charter with Burgess Yachts, this 54.4m three-masted topsail gaff schooner was undoubtedly one of the main stars at this year's Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez, going on to win the 17th edition of the Rolex Trophy.

Les Voiles de Saint Tropez is an exquisite rendezvous of yachts. Founded over 35 years ago as La Nioulargue, the regatta brings together the most extraordinary collection of yachts from around the globe, from the ultra modern to the most elegant and traditional. A plethora of racers and sailing enthusiasts gather from all around the world to do battle in the iconic bay of Saint-Tropez.

Originally commissioned from naval architect Theodore Ferris by the American investment banker Charles Fahnestock and inspired by the lines of Meteor III, this incredible three-master vessel was built by the Townsend & Downey shipyard in New York, and launched in 1902.

"SHENANDOAH OF SARK combines the authenticity of a bygone era, over a century of sail, with the modern amenities that deliver the full luxury of a modern yacht charter," comments Burgess Yachts.

From the family-friendly, line-free guest cockpit at the heart of the action, you can watch as her talented, highly experienced crew trims and tunes the sails to extract every tenth of a knot. At anchor, her wide-open deck spaces present limitless options for relaxation, entertainment and generally being the centre of attention.

At 120 years old, Shenandoah remains one of the finest classic sailing yachts in existence today. She was never intended as a race boat, but rather as a global cruising yacht. Nevertheless, she is still able to turns heads whilst doing both.

On-lookers were able to view her in all of her glory at this year's race, a must-see event in the sailing calendar.

"The build up to the Voiles de Saint Tropez cannot be exaggerated." says Russel Potter, Shenandoah of Sark's Captain.

"It’s the last event of the classic calendar ad the end of the summer, so there’s quite often an emotional attachment to this regatta for a lot of sailors."

Captain Russell Potter has been with the yacht for over a decade, and knows her inside and out.

"For us on Shenandoah, the intention was to bring the boat to the south of France to showcase her on the circuit because, after a 22-year tenure, the owners are looking for the next custodian to take on the reigns of this majestic old lady."

Potter and his expert crew went to every extent and heightened every advantage, harnessing everything in their power in order to win this race. Consisting of 6 permanent crew members, 6 seasonal and 12 additional race crew, they removed unneccessary weight, and brought some sails out of deep storage, training themselves to push the boat to a competitive level against similar boats in her class. 

"As is customary before Saint-Tropez, we participated in the Regates Royales in Cannes, with a couple of days training preceding that. It’s been a while since Shenandoah has graced the racecourse, so we spent a week removing all the charter toys, extra anchor, books and many spares that we habitually carry on board for the ‘what if’ scenarios during the summer charter season."

With 3 masts, 10 upwind sails with 1000sq/m and 3 downwind sails, taking the square meterage above 2000, such numbers should not be taken lightly, requiring all hands on deck.

Arriving on the Sunday, it was Potter's first time at the port with Shenandoah, and the atmosphere was electric. By the third day, with the Gstaad Centenary Cup behind them, Potter and his crew only had two qualifying races remaining for the Rolex Cup.

The 1st of October, the day was finally here. The gun sounded, and they were off. The start of the race was downwind, but with around 20 to 25 knots blowing in the starting area, there was a little hesitation whether or not to use the kite. After the start, it was La Seche A l’Huile to port and then on to a mark off at Saint-Aygulf, before returning back to Saint-Tropez for the finish. 

Shenandoah started downwind toward the pin end, however this did mean being crossed by Naema. With Ashanti and Puritan behind them and the wind looking light ahead, Potter and his crew made the call for the kite, narrowly avoiding the wind shadow of Ashanti who was catching them.

With the kite up and the wind fading from 20 down to 12 knots, it was a real effort to balance the boat speed with keeping the kite flying and heading up thereby avoiding two gybes before La Seche.

After a stressful leg, the focus was now on Viveka who was only 500m or so ahead of them, but closer to the shoreline. Looking on, there were other things on their radar. The fleet ahead were now heading back towards them, close hauled and on Starboard.

The return leg back into the bay of Saint Tropez was going to be a little closer on the breeze, so the crew readied the fore and main topsails for drop and hold. Conditions were growing livelier by the minute.

At the final hurdle, Shenandoah was down to 6 sails and overpowered by the winds, but the crew were using it to their advantage. 

"We were pushing the boat to the absolute limit and she was responding with total grace. She was in her element and so was I, watching each wave breaking over the windward bow throwing up a spray that lashed down the deck, bellowing over the cockpit and turning into a white mist over the aft deck," says Potter.

"Watching the crew was magical, they were clearly all in harmony saying "Come on, is that all you’ve got?! We can take more!", the view, the wind, and the taste of victory were all mixed into the air."

Managing to keep Shenandoah on the lay line, she blasted across the finish 15m from the pin end to take the victory.

"We had sailed a race with only one gybe and no tacks. It was quite simply our day, and as the gun sounded when we crossed the finish the atmosphere was euphoric. Never in our wildest dreams did we believe we could win a regatta like this with Shenandoah, but we’d done it, and each and every crew member was on a real high for days following this historic victory."

This is a vessel that is the epitome of the golden age of yachting. She inspires passion and has been cherished and relentlessly maintained to deliver the ultimate sailing yacht experience every time.

Superyachts.com would like to extend our congratulations to Captain Russell Potter and all of his crew. We look forward to witnessing Shenandoah grace our waters once again.

"Never in our wildest dreams did we believe we could win a regatta like this with Shenandoah, but we’d done it, and each and every crew member was on a real high for days following this historic victory."

Russell Potter, Captain, S/Y Shenandoah of Sark


"Never in our wildest dreams did we believe we could win a regatta like this with Shenandoah, but we’d done it, and each and every crew member was on a real high for days following this historic victory."

Russell Potter, Captain, S/Y Shenandoah of Sark
By Heather Collier