Every year in the last weekend of September, a global celebration for the most luxurious yachts takes place in the heart of Monaco. Specializing in superyachts (yachts ranging from 40 metres to more than 180 metres in length), the Monaco Yacht Show prides itself as the reference in Europe and in the world since its inception in 1990. This picturesque gathering of rows and rows of spectacular and luxurious vessels at the Port Hercule of Monaco remains as one of the highest circulated images of Monaco on the Internet, etched in the impressions of visitors from all around the world.
But how did yachting become such an irreplaceable part of Monaco, contributing to its global reputation?
Back in the late XIXth century, Monaco had already established itself as a centre of sailing, rowing, motorboat and hydroplane races. In fact, Monaco was the birthplace of the motorboat hydraulic engines, a technology later tested and pioneered on motorcars, thereafter creating the first Grand Prix in the world. Prince Charles III of Monaco, who built Monte-Carlo, developed Monaco to become the forum for European and American boat constructors and engine specialists to test out their most advanced equipment.
A few decades later, believing that “the future of Monaco lies with the sea”, Prince Rainier III took to his responsibility to develop the yachting industry of Monaco beyond its then current watersports reputation. The Yacht Club de Monaco was therefore established in 1953 to oversee the development of the port and of the nautical tourism of the Principality. In 1984, Prince Albert II was appointed as the President of the Yacht Club de Monaco and still is the visionary and spearheader today.
With an incredible and intimate affinity with the marine world and an experienced skipper himself, Bernard d’Alessandri assumes the respected role as the General Secretary and Managing Director of the Yacht Club de Monaco. In an exclusive interview, we speak with Mr. d’Alessandri to learn more about the respected Yacht Club de Monaco (YCM) and its activities in Monaco and abroad.
What is your background and how did you manage to run such a prestigious organization as the YCM?
More than prestige, the Yacht Club of Monaco is the ideal place to share one’s passions for the sea. Personally, I discovered sailing when I first boarded a boat and felt a real feeling of freedom.
It has been more than 40 years since I was entrusted with the privilege to serve this beautiful institution: a wonderful experience that I never get tired of. I started in 1976 thanks to the development of the sailing school. Then, little by little, under the leadership of HSH Prince Albert II, who took over the presidency in 1984, I accompanied the development of our sport with the creation, in 1985, of new regattas, such as the Primo Cup or the transatlantic race – Monaco to New York – where I also skippered Biotonus, the sailboat flying the flag of the YCM. A true sportive and human adventure, and one rich in encounters.
From a relatively humble configuration during its first decades, the YCM now enjoys one of the most amazing environments to feed its activities and development. How and why did all this happen?
Both the Yacht Club and yachting have evolved over the past 30 years, as evidenced by the exponential increase in yachts’ size. Thanks to the work done by members of the “Monaco Yachting Cluster”, a study carried out by the IMSEE (Monaco’s Institute of Statistics) has shown that our industry is the 4th largest in the Principality, representing more than 5% of Monaco’s global turnover.
With the construction of the new building designed by Lord Norman Foster in 2014, Prince Albert II of Monaco wanted to show His interest in this key sector of Monaco. This new Yacht Club has allowed us to intensify our representation internationally and to enter a new dimension with the project of “Monaco, Capital of Yachting” that we initiated, to affirm our ambition to be a leader in this sector.
In accordance with our statutes, the YCM is not only a private and exclusive club dedicated to its members, but a major player in the attractiveness of the Principality of Monaco with its training center “La Belle Classe Academy” and also an attractive partner for the port, considering the many nautical activities and competitions organized throughout the year.
You have recently created and promoted a nautical event unique in the world based on solar energy-propelled motors. Can you tell us more?
Since 2014, the YCM organizes, each year in July, in collaboration with the Union Internationale Motonautique and the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, the “Solar & Energy Boat Challenge”. This unique event revives Monaco’s tradition of innovation in terms of motorization when the Principality organized its first motorboat meetings in 1904.
The objective of this motor-nautical gathering, which brings together 3 categories of boats: Solar, Offshore and Energy Class, is to leave the field free to the creativity of the young engineers associated with the experience of industrialists, in order to imagine, create and optimize the various modes of propulsion for the Yachting sector of tomorrow, exclusively with clean energy sources. This is a real technological adventure, to face the energy and environmental challenges of the nautical and maritime industries. I invite you to discover these surprising innovations every year in July! We challenge both competitors and our members to get as close as possible to zero emissions daily, throughout the week.
Is the YCM active in Asia and what is its advantage?
YCM forges links with Asia through the development of its “La Belle Classe Destinations” label, with the mission of supporting the creation of yacht clubs and marinas around the world. The first yacht club with which we initiated such a collaboration was the Visun Royal Yacht Club of Sanya, more than 8 years ago.
Located in Hainan, this Club is unquestionably the first true Yacht Club in China. President Lawrence Wang is a true precursor. As part of this “La Belle Classe” certification, the YCM offers support in both social and sport domains. Through “La Belle Classe Academy”, we organize training camps for their young, their technical staff and their supervisors. It is our wish to educate the youth in the world of sailing, so we are jointly developing the Monaco Optimist Team Race, by organizing a selective regatta in Sanya for young Chinese athletes.
After a collaboration with the Chinese group Wanda in Qingdao, we are currently working on a project near Shanghai, which is still confidential, with the teams of awarded architect Jean Nouvel.
As the Managing Director of the YCM, what legacy do you want to leave behind?
Our heritage and our history are our wealth. Our ancestors created the first regattas in Monaco in 1862, before creating the Society of Regattas, the origin of our Club.
“To know where you are going, you have to know where you come from”: it seems important to me to keep our marine and sailing heritage alive and to be able to transmit it intact to the new generation. Today, while worries are growing about the future of our planet, I really believe in the development of yachting towards clean energy and I hope that with the Solar & Energy Boat challenge, we will raise awareness and help these young engineers – that I find very concerned by the environmental problems – with their will to preserve the Ocean.
Representing more than 70% of the Earth’s surface, the sea is our future. Fifteen years ago, we thought we knew about 15% to 20% of the underwater fauna and flora. Today, scientists agree that we know less than 1% of marine microbiology: imagine the potential! Thanks to the ocean’s resources, we have many opportunities to meet the challenges of tomorrow.
But to achieve this, I think that shipowners play a key role, because they are the ones who often give the impetus and finance research and development. A proof of this is the advanced technology on some super-yachts. YCM must accompany them and honor those who make a special effort to develop certain types of boats, such as the Explorers. It is in this spirit that we created the YCM Explorer Awards, to celebrate the conquering spirit of Prince Albert I of Monaco, who spent his entire life running the seas in search of scientific truth.
Learn more about La Belle Classe at the Yacht Club de Monaco here.