LATEST UPDATE – Since the start of the third edition of the Normandy Channel Race yesterday at 1500 UTC, offshore of Hermanville-sur-Mer, the sailors have been working flat out. As they initially made headway along the landing beaches, they benefited from a solid NW’ly breeze of 15 knots, but with the fleet tacking upwind the breeze dropped and progress was further hampered by having to punch tide.
From 1700 hours yesterday, the major manoeuvres began with a few changes of tack, which had to be timed just right with all the sails hauled on. In the battle for precision, Yannick Bestaven and Julien Pulvé, currently leading the 2012 Mini 6.50 standing in the prototype category, were the best at carving out a route down the middle of the course, neither too far inshore nor too far offshore. They were accompanied by the impressive Jean Galfione and Eric Péron, a high-flier on the Figaro circuit, and the two young guns racing under the British flag, Sam Goodchild and Ned Collier-Wakefield aboard their Akilaria RC2, leading tonight as we go to the presses.
It was at around midnight UTC last night that the Normandy Channel Race competitors laboured around the Saint Marcouf Islands before their first Channel crossing. The Norman sailor Halvard Mabire and Briton Miranda Merron, both very familiar with this stretch of water, made the most of their experience to move up into pole position. With the wind regularly shifting, to the North then the NNE and even the SE, the Class 40s ended up in a complex situation, constantly having to adapt their trim. One of each duo spent the day at the helm whilst the other trimmed in search of any puffs of breeze on the race zone. Gradually the lateral separation between the boats opened up and it was midway through the afternoon that the frontrunners began to tackle the waters of the Solent, a sound which separates the Isle of Wight from the English mainland. Fortunately the current was favourable for the leaders, the majority of whom are currently ‘pebble-hopping’ along the South coast of the island in virtually no wind. A tricky passage then, which is sure to have repercussions at the next position report in the Normandy Channel Race.
“In my opinion, the wind will be very light to non-existent along the South coast of England”, says Sylvie Viant, Race Manager. “It will gradually shift round to the West. The competitors will sail along the coast in order to benefit from a light thermal breeze. Right now and according to the tide times, they’ll be practically at a standstill and some may even have to anchor. If the leaders manage to cover the 9 miles between the eastern tip of the Isle of Wight and the middle of the Solent within the next three hours, before 1630 UTC, they’ll have a good chance of getting out of there with a favourable current. They look well set-up to pull that off, whilst things could have a rather bitter taste for their pursuers.”
The Normandy Channel Race, just like the Class 40s in the Solidaire du Chocolat, the Figaro Bénéteaus in the Transat AG2R and the Imoca 60 foot monohulls in the Barcelona World Race, is a sailing event raced in double-handed configuration. In contrast to the Solitaire du Figaro where the sailor sails the boat single-handed, when sailing as a duo the skippers are able to divide up the tasks and, unquestionably, get a lot more out of their machines. While one person helms then, the other takes care of the trimming. Whilst one sleeps, the other manoeuvres, continuing to drive the boat at its full potential day and night… There is less use of the autopilot and there’s virtually always someone at the helm in order to concentrate fully on the trajectory of the Class 40. The race is also a great moment for exchanging and sharing ideas amidst the changing weather conditions, the sunsets, the night sailing and the spectacular scenery along the coasts of Normandy, England and soon Ireland. Indeed, even though the main aim for most is to win, the Normandy Channel Race remains an adventure.
Quotes from the boats during the 1000 UTC radio session:
Julien Pulvé, co-skipper of the Class 40 Phoenix Europe Express: “All’s well aboard. We have a SE or even E’ly wind of 5 to 6 knots. We’re tired. We’ve been sailing in contact with the others since the start of the race. Right now we can see “Campagne de France” and “Talanta”. We were the first to get around the Saint Marcouf Islands. On exiting that zone, we hit fresh breeze before the others, but we were also the first to hit the calm conditions. We’re optimistic about our passage across the Solent.”
Nicolas Boidevezi, co-skipper of the Class 40 Mare: The end of Mare’s bowsprit broke at 0300 UTC this morning. Since then we’ve been trying to find a solution. We’re in the process of trying to effect repairs but it looks like we’ll have to retire. It’s a bitter disappointment as we got off to a pretty good start and we’re getting along well aboard.”
Marc Lepesqueux, skipper of the Class 40 Les Conquérants Caen La Mer: “The wind has been capricious since the start of the Normandy Channel Race. Last night we got some seaweed caught around our keel, which seriously handicapped our progress. Added to that, we didn’t sail well along the landing beaches. Being some distance from the top of the leaderboard, the passage across the Solent is agonising as we may be punching tide”.
Catherine Pourre, skipper of the Class 40 Earwen: “We’re not receiving our grib files. For now it’s not that important but it could be annoying for the rest of the race. We’re nearing the Solent. With a bit of luck we’ll pass through it at the right moment”.
Miranda Merron, co-skipper of the Class 40 Campagne de France: “We’re approaching my native country. “Phoenix Europe Express” is just ahead of us and “Talanta” is behind. We spent the night switching headsails and performing a number of sail changes! For now, we have 5.8 knots of breeze.”
Thibault Reinhart, co-skipper of the Class 40 Jasmine Flyer: “All’s well aboard Jasmine. We’re not very happy with the way we exited the Baie de Seine, but that’s how it is. All of a sudden we’re trying to pull out all the stops! Giddy-up Jasmine! Giddy-up! However there are a lot of cargo ships on this lake!!! We’ve come across loads! Otherwise the atmosphere is great! It’s good to sail among friends! It makes a nice change!”
But how is the fleet doing now? Follow the race on the tracker by clicking HERE