Zsolt Szemerszky and Bernard d'Alessandri

Bernard d’Alessandri – Five decades at the helm of the Yacht Club de Monaco

Seaman at heart with a touch of humility, General Secretary and Managing Director, Bernard d’Alessandri is among the strongest pillars of the Yacht Club de Monaco. He is also one of the key persons who made the Principality of Monaco the Capital of Yachting.

Founded in 1953 by Prince Rainier and presided over by HSH the Sovereign Prince Albert II since 1984, the Yacht Club de Monaco brings together more than 2,500 members from 79 nationalities. Many of the world’s most prestigious private yachts fly the Yacht Club de Monaco’s burgee, testimony to its unique position on the international yachting scene.

Bernard d’Alessandri, who is Monégasque by naturalisation, was born in France. He studied in Nice and Grenoble before he arrived in the Principality of Monaco back in 1976. He stands at the helm of the Yacht Club de Monaco as its General Secretary and Managing Director. 

How did you end up at the Yacht Club de Monaco?

I was only 23 years old and I arrived just for a short time. I was hired by the yacht club, but it was very different back then. We were a team of four compared to more than 180 people today. I think it was a decision provided by life to me because since then, I am grateful enough to live by my passion.

Bernard d'Alessandri
Bernard d’Alessandri / Photo: Yacht Club de Monaco © Mesi

Bernard’s career at the Yacht Club de Monaco started under HSH Prince Rainier III and followed later with Prince Albert II when the Prince became Club President in 1984.

Was Monaco different back then?

In many senses, yes. For example, the population is much younger nowadays. Also, in the 1970s the Principality was not so international as it is today. However, it was a good thing because everyone knew everyone. This is something that we aimed to maintain because one of the good things in my job is that I know the people around me. We are like a family here at the Yacht Club de Monaco. It is interesting to see that some of the kids grew up and learned sailing with us, and now are part of our valued team.

One of the first tasks of Bernard was the development of the sailing school in 1976. Later on, he accompanied the development of sport by creating new events. Starting with a relatively humble configuration during its first decades, the Yacht Club de Monaco now enjoys one of the most amazing environments in which to grow and develop its activities.

Based on your opinion, what is the greatest value you teach to children via sailing?

I would say that sailing can bring out a lot of values such as teamwork, discipline, persistence. However, for me to be a good person is the most important value in life. We try to teach them how to be valuable members of the community through everything they learn via sailing.

From where does your passion for sailing come from?

I was seven years old when I first tried sailing on a small boat,” remembers back Bernard.  – “It was a different boat than the Optimist we use nowadays, but right after a few minutes of navigation, sailing became my passion. It is funny because I was barely 10 meters from the shore but I felt I had discovered a whole new world.

Does your passion for sailing stem from a family heritage?

Interestingly, nobody was interested in sailing from the family. I am the first generation of sailors, which is a strange situation.

Do you go out often on the water?

Not enough, unfortunately. I have the intention to sail, I love it, but my time does not allow me as much as I would love to sail.

The Principality of Monaco went through an amazing transformation. In the early 1900s for example, Port Hercule was a home of pioneering aviators. Many Monégasques still remember that growing up they used to swim at the port. Yet, nowadays there is a big concentration of mega-yachts all year-round, which however creates considerable economic numbers and activities.

I think it was important to realise that in Monaco we are lucky to have the sea and the infrastructure.

The values of the sea were recognised almost 160 years ago by Prince Charles III. He wanted his country to be a showcase for yachting and technological innovation, therefore, the first regattas were held in 1862. The Société des Régates de Monaco was established in 1888 by a group of men passionate for sailing and rowing who, from 1889 attracted famous international regattas. 

In 1904, the SBM launched the Exhibition and International Motorboat Meeting where leading car manufacturers tested their new engines, as road races were banned because they caused too many fatalities. All the big yachts flocked to the Principality to be privileged spectators of these exceptional gatherings. Within a few years, Monaco had become the center of the world when it came to innovation and fashionable water sports.

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. 

HSH Prince Albert I inherited this passion for the sea and would go on to become an early pioneer of modern oceanography and a famous navigator, who would inaugurate the Oceanographic Museum in March 1912.

A few decades later, believing that “the future of Monaco lies with the sea”, Prince Rainier III, a true visionary in every respect, made it his responsibility to develop the yachting industry of Monaco beyond its sporting aspect. Keen for the Principality to have a yacht club like those he had visited when cruising on his boats, he wanted to develop a structure capable of attracting and retaining the loyalty of the yachting fraternity worldwide.

As a result, the Yacht Club de Monaco was established, the desire being that this Club “fulfill its mission as a link between people who love the sea, that it serves the interests of tourism and promotion of Monte-Carlo, and that at home and abroad fosters only affection and friends.” 

The defining focus of the Sovereign’s vision for the Yacht Club was that it to be a key element in the future development of the port and tourism in the Principality.

The Yacht Club de Monaco was therefore established in 1953 to oversee the development of the port and the nautical tourism of the Principality. On June 17th, 1953, a Constitutive Assembly was held in the International Hydrographic Bureau’s premises and Prince Rainier agreed to be the Club’s President.

From 1954, the Yacht Club de Monaco re-launched the motorboat meetings, organised international events as well as many other activities (big game fishing, scuba-diving), while training generations of sailors at the Sailing School set up in 1957. The result of all these events was a 50% increase in boats frequenting the harbour. 

In 1959, this “Builder Prince” also encouraged Carlo Riva to build the first dry port and floating pontoons, and several decades later in 2002 the semi-floating harbour wall, all of which have had a significant impact on the economy of a country that looks to the sea for its future prosperity.

In April 1984, HSH Prince Albert II was appointed by his father Prince Rainier III to assume the role of President of the Yacht Club de Monaco. 

Already very involved in the life of the Club, the Prince immediately set about developing the Yacht Club de Monaco’s sporting side, strengthening the training structure for young sailors, and introducing new international-scale events, a part in which Bernard was also involved.

If you could choose, would you rather be on a sailing boat or a superyacht?

My passion was always for sailing boats. And my baby is Tuiga.

Tuiga is a sailing boat, built in 1909, that symbolizes all the values dear to the Yacht Club de Monaco such as elegance, tradition, sportiness, and sailing with a united crew by building a team spirit. For Bernard, she is not only the most magnificent boat but also the perfect one to teach the young generation the secrets of maneuvering and adjustments.

Do you remember when you first saw her?

Yes, it is a very vivid memory, because it was love at first sight. It was a Sunday morning when HSH Prince Albert II and I went to see her in Cannes. She was rebuilt piece-by-piece by Albert Obrist during a stunning four-year restoration. Eric Tabarly accompanied us with the handover of this boat he considered to be one of the world’s most beautiful yachts. I can honestly confess that Tuiga is the best thing in my sailor career.

Is it difficult to sail the Tuiga?

She is very different to sail. You have to start again to learn sailing with the Tuiga. It is always a special experience because you need to have a team of 15 to sail her. I had a wonderful team and after many years of practice, we arrived at a level where we could harness all her potential. However, to reach this point, our team first had to be very close. We also did many races with her.

You probably safeguard many vivid memories with the Tuiga.

It is always dear for me to think about the past and all the time spent on the Tuiga. I remember that once we sailed from Monaco to England which was the best part of my sailing career.

Do you remember any other memorable sailing event?

I would highlight my trip from Monaco to New York back in 1985. It was a wonderful experience with some friends. We did 28 days of sailing without any stops. It gave us a profound sense of freedom.

That’s a long period on the water. One can only imagine the feeling you had when you first saw the coast again after such a journey.

Yes, it was very interesting because we started from Monaco’s summer and we arrived in the cold almost winter-like to New York. The first image that comes to my mind is when I saw the Brooklyn bridge. 

It was a very special moment because it was the first time I saw cars again within a month. Arriving in New York, we were again in contact with people and life. It is a feeling that is hard to describe.

You must be extremely proud to see the new building, the whole development, and transformation. What was your biggest challenge with YCM?

I think the transformation with the new building. For me, it was very important to bring the new spirit and ambiance of the old club together. 

Obviously, with this new building, we have more opportunities and since day one the expectations were higher. However, for me, it was always important to maintain the core values and heritage of the Yacht Club de Monaco.

Utilising his past experiences and all the heritage and core values, Bernard is the type of captain at the helm, who is always looking ahead, without thinking about what has been left behind. For instance, one of the added benefits of the new location was to simultaneously develop social and sports activities, giving a great boost to the Club’s life. From a sporting point of view, moving from the historical site to the new one has resulted in a strong development, introducing new categories like the J/70.

Convinced that understanding the past is the key to building the future, HSH Prince Albert II was keen to keep a focus also on traditional yachting by organising every two years the Monaco Classic Week.

Monaco is the headquarters of several important shipyards, brokers, insurers, designers, charter companies, and many others which operate in yachting.  For Monaco, they certainly represent an important economical asset.

In 2015, the Yacht Club de Monaco also launched the La Belle Classe Academy which intends to encourage the development and promotion of the yachting professions.

The La Belle Classe Academy is dedicated to owners and future owners, but also open to anyone involved in yachting such as captains, crew members, managers, and other professionals. These courses enable people to refresh their knowledge such as basic safety training or navigation techniques. Our training centre alternates navigation and pleasure boat courses, to support the young generation.

How do you see the young generation? Are they passionate sailors?

Absolutely, we educate kids on sailing almost every day. We have a very good team and the young generation is achieving quite good results. They are very interested in sailing.

In this spirit, during school holidays we organize our SeAdventures Camps. Every child aged 6-17 years old can come and discover the joys of watersports.

You mentioned that sailing with the Tuiga is significantly different. Is it easier to sail today?

Sailing nowadays is much easier. Sailors have a lot of help, starting from GPS navigation to a great variety of other assisting tools. Back then, we only had a compass. Obviously, the development of technology has opened the door for passionate, non-professional sailors as well, offering a special experience for families to enjoy the sea and the ocean.

As part of the strategy and to promote the appeal of the Principality of Monaco, back in 2012, the Conseil Stratégique pour l’Attractivité launched a commission entitled “Monaco: Capital of Yachting”. The President of the Commission is Bernard, alongside representatives from the Sovereign Prince’s Cabinet and various yachting professionals.

It rests with members of this Committee to mobilise and work together for the development of our Club, its longevity and also more broadly to promote our country. We have so many strengths, and this building offers us new prospects. I am confident that together we can continue to build them forward around our motto: One Spirit, One Team, One Club,” – says HSH Prince Albert II.

Looking back at all the changes, how did you experience the transformation of the old building of the Yacht Club to the new one?

I am proud of all the work we have done. We have made a huge effort and the result has exceeded expectations.

Can you please describe why Monaco is the capital of yachting?

No, Monaco is only one of the capitals of yachting. At the Yacht Club de Monaco, we do not consider ourselves specialists and especially not above others. What we did is to build up a platform and, by inviting professional and non-professional people, we created the opportunity for everyone to communicate among themselves.

During the past years, among many actions, the Committee successfully developed a charter and the Monaco flag. More importantly, by successfully promoting the “Monaco Yachting Destination” on an international scale, they initiated far-reaching actions to encourage owners to settle in the Principality of Monaco. These actions have increased awareness among Monaco authorities of the yachting sector’s economic weight, namely, that a “yacht” is a mark of social significance and generates revenue for the state.

What is more important or more popular in Monaco, sailing or yachting?

Neither of them. The most important quality is the passion for the sea and ocean. Once you share this passion it will not be important anymore whether you are sailing or yachting. The important thing is to do something with the ocean and for the ocean.

Can you explain the “for the ocean” part?

When you spend significant time on the water you start to understand the importance of our sea life. This is something difficult to see when you are not used to the water, but it is highly important to look underneath the surface, to understand and protect it.

Representing more than 70% of the Earth’s surface, the sea is our future. Today, scientists agree that we know less than 1% of marine microbiology. Thanks to the ocean’s resources, we have many opportunities to meet the challenges of tomorrow.

What does sustainability mean for you?

Sustainability means preparing for the future,” explains Bernard in simple terms. – “As part of our collective “Monaco, Capital of Advanced Yachting” approach, my wish is that the Club will continue its momentum and remain a major player in the yachting world and the environmental transition. 

The Yachting industry must continue its eco-responsible development. It has no choice – its survival depends on it. We must be a driving force and a role model. It is for the new generation that we are working to accompany the sector’s mutation, to encourage it to become more eco-responsible in order to protect the environment and allow our children to continue to enjoy the sea.

In line with the wishes of YCM President, HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco who believes, “Faced with the climate emergency, it is imperative that living proof of progress replaces the promises,”Bernard and his team also want to demonstrate that the technology exists and is efficient. 

We must try to achieve the UN’s sustainability targets. The Yacht Club de Monaco has changed a great deal in 70 years, as has yachting: the size of the boats, the way they are used… We are supporting this evolution, particularly regarding decarbonisation of the sector. We are also acting as a platform to present new solutions to gradually decarbonise yachting.

Bernard d'Alessandri, Alexey Antropov
Bernard d’Alessandri, Alexey Antropov / ELEVATE Monte-Carlo Space Conference Gala Dinner

One of the great initiations of the Yacht Club de Monaco is to focus on clean and renewable energies.

I strongly believe in the development of yachting towards clean energy,” – starts Bernard. – “Personally, I am very concerned by the environmental problems. While worries are growing about the future of our planet, I hope that initiations such as our Monaco Energy Boat Challenge will raise awareness and help these young engineers with their will and effort to preserve the Oceans. But to achieve this, I think that boat owners play a key role. 

Still, with the goal of positioning Monaco as a centre of excellence and innovation in the luxury yacht sector, YCM in a partnership with Credit Suisse has set up the SEA Index in 2020, a benchmark for 40+m yachts to assess the CO2 emissions of their propulsion systems and generators.

The development of the next generation of yachts will only be possible if we accompany and support the creation of sustainable infrastructures to welcome them.

The SEA Index® and the Superyacht Eco Association, both created in 2020 by the Yacht Club de Monaco and Credit Suisse, aim to encourage eco-responsible actions among yacht owners.

The SEA Index® is the first carbon footprint calculator to enable a quick comparison of superyachts over 25m, targeting the environmental objectives of reducing CO2 emissions in yachting, with an incentive system for less energy-consuming yachts. It is now a benchmark tool for nearly 2,000 yachts over 40m around the world.

This index measures the energy intensity of yachts. We provide it to owners to make them aware that eco-responsible yachting is possible, and we give them advice on how to improve their energy performance.

We are demonstrators: we welcome people who propose solutions to reduce CO2 and other gas emissions, but that’s not all! Yachting also involves noise and light pollution, which we are trying to reduce.

For the past ten years, with the Monaco Energy Boat Challenge, Bernard and his team have been bringing 30 to 40 universities and engineering schools every summer from all over the world to take part in CO2-free yacht races.

It’s unique in the world, and it allows us to highlight new solutions. The 500 students present are certainly building the yachting of tomorrow!

The Monaco Energy Boat Challenge (next edition 1-6 July 2024) is the only event gathering top industry players and the future of engineering around the topic of alternative propulsion and sustainability.

It is an international event and also a mix of commercial boats and prototypes to drive progress in yachting’s energy transition. The goal is to stimulate their creativity to design eco-friendly propulsion systems and share the experiences and knowledge gained in open source.

Since its launch, the event has taken on a whole new dimension. Today, the yachting industry is really getting involved, with many renowned shipyards taking part such as Oceanco, Ferretti Group, Monaco Marine, Sanlorenzo, Lürssen and Palumbo SY Refit. Their presence in such numbers this year sends out a strong positive signal.

How would you summarise the evolution of the Monaco Energy Boat Challenge?

Initially dedicated to propulsion, then alternative energies, today the Challenge puts the spotlight on sustainability in general, the aim being to improve efficiency and reduce the environmental impact of all the vessel’s components.

On the sea, some 50 teams representing 31 universities and 25 nations demonstrated the efficiency of their solutions. For the 10th edition there was an obvious trend to lower the impact of the entire life cycle of the project.

Among many new features for this 10th edition was the YCM E-Boat Rally organised in partnership with Aqua superpower. It saw around 15 electric boats strutting their stuff between Monaco and Ventimiglia (there and back, 21 nautical miles). 

All the boats could moor up at the first YCM E-Dock, an eco-designed pontoon with AC (Alternative Current) and DC (Direct Current) chargers that can supply rapid reliable power to 20 boats at one time.

I should also mention that in 2019 YCM launched the Job Forum to meet and match a growing demand from young engineers for internships and jobs to the needs of the industry. Monaco Marine, Sanlorenzo, Palumbo SY Refit, E1, SBM Offshore, Comarbel, Vita and M3 (Monaco Marina Management) all met competitors and potential candidates on a one-to-one basis. This year, there were more than 80 interviews much to the delight of the students.

A key objective is for participants to exchange ideas, particularly through the daily Tech Talks in Open Source, giving contestants a chance to present their project to all the other teams. It was in this spirit that this year saw the launch of the Corporate Mentoring Program so the industry can give bespoke support to students on their projects.

It is with this event that the Monaco Yacht Club effectively demonstrates that we are a major player in the environmental transition, positioning the Principality as a spearhead of responsible yachting.

Other initiatives, organised by Monaco Marina Management (M3), and hosted by the Yacht Club, again are dedicated to innovation and include the Monaco Smart Marina Rendezvous, (3rd edition 24-25 September), and the Monaco Smart Yacht Rendezvous in March. 

We believe that to have the most responsible ecosystem possible, marinas must be able to accommodate new technologies, just like yachts. To say that a yacht will have “0 emissions”, I do not believe in that, it is not possible,” – concludes Bernard. – “But we have already improved, and we will continue to improve. It’s clear that regulations are coming: there will be a huge transformation in yachting.

What are the next adventures/events you are looking forward to?

There are so many. But I would definitely say the next two. Monaco Classic Week – La Belle Classe (13-16 September) pays tribute to all the splendour associated with Yachting heritage, and above all to the tradition of innovation of the Principality, which hosted the first powerboat meetings as early as 1904.

Launched in 1994, it’s a biennial event unique in the world, that pays homage to large and small pleasure boats that bear witness to the yachting of yesteryear. 

The meeting brings owners and their crews out on the water for a range of contests with social occasions in the evening in the time-honoured tradition of a certain ‘Art de Vivre la Mer’ so dear to YCM. 

By invitation only, around 110 classic sailing and motorboats are expected for this 16th edition alongside a 20-strong fleet of the clinker-built Dinghy 12’ class; a fabulous line-up that will fill the YCM Marina comprising a dozen period motor-yachts, 50 vintage motorboats, including around 30 Rivas and 3 powerboats from the early 20th century as well as 50 classic sailing yachts.

Among those joining Yacht Club de Monaco’s flagship Tuiga (1909) of note will be the three-mast schooner Creole, built in 1927 by the Camper & Nicholsons yard and Atlantic, replica of that famous three-mast schooner helmed by the legendary Charlie Barr which left her mark on the history of sailing by setting the first record for a North Atlantic crossing. It was a record that would remain unequalled for 75 years.

Also, the Monaco Smart & Sustainable Marina Rendezvous (24-25 September) is a main event, which we will host for the third time. YCM has a mission to be a platform of communication and a place where innovations with potential can be expressed and applicable solutions developed to build sustainability into yachting from now on.

It’s organised by M3 (Monaco Marina Management), consultancy experts in development, management and promotion of marinas & yacht clubs, and the focus of this original networking event is to introduce the latest innovations to encourage development of virtuous marinas.

An ecosystem of 250+ people representing key players in the sector (entrepreneurs, startups, industrialists, investors, promotors, marina developers and all those involved in yachting) are expected. It is a unique opportunity for those selected to present their low-eco-impact projects in one-on-one sessions during the summer and take part in the International Smart & Sustainable Marina Awards. 

What are your future plans related to the Yacht Club de Monaco?

There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.” – starts Bernard with a quote from Oscar Wilde. – “It has been more than 45 years since I was entrusted with the privilege to serve this beautiful institution: a wonderful experience that I never get tired of. 

I spent my life bringing my sport to Monaco and I hope I left a good footprint and positive memories. 

Regarding the future, I do my best to continue this road and strengthen all the values we have built up over the past 47 years.

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Seaman at heart with a touch of humility, General Secretary and Managing Director, Bernard d’Alessandri is among the strongest pillars of the Yacht Club de Monaco. He is also one of the key persons who made the Principality of Monaco the Capital of Yachting. HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco / Photo: Yacht Club de…