Monaco Classics Week

The tenth Monaco Classic Week (it's not annual) is a strange, only-in-Monte-Carlo event. Where else is there a competition to select, according to the official website, "the most elegant crew which lives up to the codes of naval etiquette?" It's only correct that these crews be "judged by a panel including princesses and artists." Walking around the harbor during the showing, we have been struck by how beautiful and immaculately kept these craft are.
The show brings together about eight boats, many of them "centenarians" or older. Organized by the Monaco Yacht Club, it's a chance for some of the rarest and most valuable craft in the world to come together for a race, for the spectacle and for bragging rights. The Hispania, pictured above with her crew, was built for King Alphonse XIII of Spain in 1909. It's one of four surviving 15 M IR boats - a group of racing yachts designed and built by the legendary scottish shipwright William Fife. All four examples are in town for the week, including the Yacht Club's own Tuiga. A near flotilla of Chris Craft and Hacker motor skiffs fill in the margins, along with some larger sailing craft and a few broad steamships.
There are also a small number of classic cars, including this Monegasque plated BMW Isetta 250. In a city overrun with expensive autos, though, the quay's collection wasn't especially fascinating. Anyway, the effect of glimmering paint and polished chrome was lost when compared with the century-old gleam of much polished wood and brass.Two very particular types of people crew the boats - young, broadshouldered, suntanned men with quick hands and sure feet... and somewhat-aged, more generously-paunched men and women, who pick up a rope now and then. The boats have owners, after all, who do love to participate. There are costumes, of course, with straw hats and stripes of many widths and colors. A red carpet rings the dock, maintained by a woman with a vacuum cleaner.
Nearly all of the yachts have little baskets near their gangplanks, filled with slippers, boat shoes or other soft-soled footwear. Tours are occasionally possible on some craft, visits more common, and hard shoes are inadvisable.
As surreally impressive as the Monaco Classics Week is, it's only a prelude. The real event is the Monaco Yacht Show, which begins this Friday. Already, tents and large trucks have begun crowding the waterside, a flurry of activity focused on new ships and sales contracts. In the background, rows of hulking, SUV like mega-boats dwarf the old masts and decks. There is a disheartening sense of opulence at play - fanatically cared for, centenarian, royal yachts playing second fiddle to new, consumer grade toys.
Still, it must be breathtaking to sail these magnificent things on a calm Mediterranean, with so much history ingrained in the wood underfoot. In the end, the show isn't for the spectators but for the people crewing the yachts. From high atop the Monaco bluffs, we watched them tack lazily in the light breeze. They looked especially elegant from afar, their low, classic shapes recalling another era.
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