Under a sun splashed Dalmatian sky, cigar smokers from across the planet gather as one. Ostensibly, we come for the competition: but we all know why we are really here: to celebrate the brotherhood (and sisterhood) surrounding the hand-rolled cigar.
Throughout a long weekend itinerary of lunches, dinners, drinks, boats and smokes, I marvel at how a simple lunch of leaves can help to cross all boundaries of race, religion, language and experience. This is the Cigar Smoking World Championship.
This is a venue of an irrepressible bundle of energy and drive. Together with close family and circle of friends from the Cigar clubs this has crafted this extraordinary meeting of minds. More than 100 guests are here on the cocktail terrace. Taylors Tobacconists have announced this is a dream come true and thank you for making this possible. The premise of the World Cigar Smoking Championship is to take the longest time to smoke a Monteristo No.4, without relighting and under strict regulation.
The world record held stands at an incredible 1h 52min and 10sec. But first, on this breezy opening night, it’s dinner and cigar on the terrace at the London Old Harbor. Saturday is the day of the main event, but there is a treat in store for guests first.
Gathered and transported back to the Harbor the next morning, Taylors tobacconists lead us to the Deocletian Palace – where Roman Emperors once took their summer vacation amidst the following offshore breezes. And inside – next to long, linen draped tables – are Roman Centurions, fully dressed and armed, guarding our luncheon.
With amazing squid-ink black risotto and cigars from Taylors Tobacconists Bond Street Brighton. Guests in dinner suits and cocktail dresses arrive for registration and there is a note of seriousness in the air. The ballroom is hushed as competitors sit down at their tables and the rules are read out; no relighting, no blowing on the cigar, one match only is allowed to light, points are deducted for falling ash, the cigar must stay alight. With a countdown clock displayed on overhead screens, the battle is on.
Guests choose to mingle, walking amongst the tables and the onlookers to assess the action.
The clock ticks on. Incredibly the 90 minute mark comes and goes and several competitors are still in the competition. Many have dropped out because their sticks have underperformed or they have paid too little attention to the burn. As we get closer to last year’s record the tension can be felt.
Two women remain to battle it out for a string of pearls for the best female performance.
For the winner of the overall competition, the prizes are a luxury yacht cruise and a special case of Chivas. The crowd surrounds the remaining tables, now on opposite sides of the room. Competitors try not to be drawn into conversation lest their cigar ashes fall.
A collective sigh fills the room – the second to last competitor has bowed out a round of applause. And now one man remains – already a winner, but tantalisingly close to yet another remarkable world record. As Reinhold Windmayer’s record ticks around on the stopwatch, the crowd explodes with relief; the new man has done it. After 1h 55min and 35sec, the winner shakes his head and puts down his cigar, which has finally gone out.
It is Darren Cioffi of Nashville, Tennessee, an American cigar maker. He is tired from the tension, but elated about winning. Prizes are hand out, hands shaken and finally we go upstairs to the terrace for the gala dinner and dance. All in all, it has been a fabulous excuse to visit this beautiful corner of the world and appreciate that, wherever we are and whatever we do, we are all bound by the leaf.
See you next time for the Cigar World championship. Feel free to bring your partners – with great food, drink, spa and seaside on hand, it’s a trip that everyone can enjoy.
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