New leadership for the Superyacht Racing Association

Written by Roxanne Hughes

Photo by Michael Kurtz

Written by Roxanne Hughes

Photo by Michael Kurtz

Established in 2011 to improve safety and implement fairer rules for the racing of sailing superyachts, the Superyacht Racing Association (SYRA) has made a remarkable impact to date and has big plans for the future. 

Now under the management of double-Olympic gold medallist Shirley Robertson OBE, alongside a team of committee members that reads like a who’s who of the sailing superyacht sector, we took the opportunity to catch up with Shirley at this year’s St Barths Bucket where she made her management debut and SYRA held its annual meeting. 

What is SYRA, and why was it established? 

SYRA works in the interests of the yacht owners and the industry to ensure fair racing and, as a priority, help ensure safe racing. At the time of SYRA’s incorporation, superyacht racing was growing in popularity and an increasing number of very large yachts were taking to the racetrack. The need to reduce any safety issues became paramount. New rules were written to keep the boats further apart, and significant improvements made to the ratings (so different boats could race against each other) on a more level playing field.  

What have been some of SYRA’s key achievements so far? 

SYRA has worked closely with sailors, captains, owners, the industry, and event organisers to ensure a high level of consistency and quality in the racing wherever in the world it’s taking place. It was under SYRA’s direction that the 40-metre rule was established (preventing yachts from coming too close together) and the Corinthian class was also brought into play.

Which superyacht regattas are part of SYRA? 

Nearly all the superyacht racing events around the planet are sanctioned by SYRA, we collaborate with event organisers whenever they need advice or guidance. We realise it’s a massive investment in time and resources to take part in a regatta, and we want all the events to be of a high standard so owners return year on year. 

Why is SYRA so important? 

Although we are always improving and updating the details of racing, our main focus now is to work on the sustainability of superyacht racing, making sure the owners and captains remain passionate and excited about the events they compete in, and we are helping event organisers to move with the changing demands.  

In your experience partaking in superyacht regattas, how have you seen SYRA in action? 

I’ve raced in superyachts for 15 years, and the biggest change in that time is around safety. The boats now are better specced and maintained for racing, the crews are more experienced and aware of potential dangers. The rules work to protect both the yachts and the people onboard. In short, I’ve seen SYRA make superyacht racing way safer, the competition is better, and the standard is higher as a result. 

SYRA has the backing of many sailing yacht sector companies, and the AGM sees competitors sit side-by-side to discuss and collaborate on new initiatives. How important is that teamwork?  

SYRA has to represent everyone in the superyacht ecosystem, and we’re aware that it’s a delicate balance - it’s our job to keep owners loving it, to look after the welfare of the people taking part, and make sure all involved have a fun event. To achieve that requires everyone’s involvement and buy in, including of course the industry experts. The teamwork is essential, we need everyone’s voice.  

Does a yacht have to join SYRA in order to race at an event? 

We encourage any yacht that’s going to participate in a regatta to join SYRA, whether their racing ambition comes with competitive intention or its for more convivial fun in the Corinthian class. SYRA represents the owners’ interests and we communicate with them and their captain throughout the year so we’re aware of their entry plans. If a yacht is not a SYRA member or isn’t sure how many regattas they might join, they can pay a contribution when they enter their first race and take it from there.  

Tell us more about the Corinthian Class, how does that differ? 

Racing superyachts can appear intimidating to outsiders. The Corinthian class is a slightly more chilled option, requiring less crew and no spinnakers, but still all the fun! It’s a perfect option for anyone new to superyacht racing to dip their toe into it all.  

How does SYRA operate, who’s on the various committees and what are their responsibilities? 

I am the manager of SYRA but our committees are crammed with experts in their respective fields – experienced sailors, owners representatives, industry professionals, naval architects – those people who are at the sharp end of everything to do with sailing superyachts and, of course, all the event organisers are deeply involved. We regularly review if we’re still providing safe and fair racing, that the racing continues to be meaningful, and if we’re getting all the input needed. Yachts are getting bigger and more technical, and we need to keep a close eye on any future issues. 

Wanting to attract as many owners as possible to regatta participation, do you think we’ll see other racing classes established at the main regattas, such as a foiling class or catamaran class? 

For sure the fleet will evolve - our overriding goal is to ensure safe, fair racing so we will see how it all moves on. If they means further class divisions then that’s what it means, the clever thing about SYRA is that it enables yachts of various designation to get round a racecourse together – the J’s alongside the latest high-performance modern sloops, historic classics and even dyna rigs.  

Taking over from Peter Craig as the Association’s manager, what are your ambitions for the coming year? 

Peter knows superyacht racing inside out - he has been involved since the inception of SYRA, he leads his team at the Bucket and is the primary race officer on the superyacht scene – it’s very big shoes to fill! This year I want to get up to speed with it all, to really listen to everyone who’s invested in making it all work and see how to move forward together. What does the modern-day superyacht owner want, and how can we pique the interest of new owners? Let’s find out! 

What do you think the greatest challenges will be? 

Owning a sailing superyacht is a fantastic thing but owners are both time starved and also very ambitious with their boats - wanting to explore further afield and not be tied to the timing of our regattas. We need sympathetic scheduling of the big events, making sure they are not too time hungry is crucial. Communication is key!

Having just been appointed, you were immediately brought into action at the St Barth’s Bucket in March. How did that go? 

I’ve raced in the Bucket many times, and taking the world’s biggest and most beautiful yachts around this astonishing island is a privilege. I’m delighted to be back this year and have been determined to really listen to everyone’s views. This event is our ‘big one’, the World Championships, it’s essential to be here. 

What’s your advice to superyacht owners thinking about participating in a regatta for the first time? 

Get in touch! If you are unsure about anything we can help. I know it can look like a lot but we can help guide you. Also, come for the first year and sail in the Corinthian class, less people, less hassle, and they can get a great feel of what it’s all about. But I warn you, it’s addictive! Being on the boat, often one that an owner has been integral to the design process for and seeing it sailed to its fullpotential, developing a team around you and potentially winning – is all quite fun.

How can owners and captains get involved with SYRA? 

Contact me – I’m here to help, and please join the Association! The more members we have, the more we can do to move the sport forward.


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