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Normandy Channel Race: On the path to salvation?

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Normandy Channel Race: On the path to salvation?
Normandy Channel Race: On the path to salvation?

Although they’re still making headway on two different trajectories, half the fleet still making for the Fastnet, whilst a dozen or so Class40s are now making for the entrance to the English Channel, the competitors in the Normandy Channel Race are suffering the effects of a stormy low-pressure system circulating above them. The upshot of this is a particularly light breeze of 5 to 6 knots, still blowing in from the East, providing downwind conditions for the boats making their way along the coast of southern Ireland and close-hauled conditions for Imerys (Sharp-Pulvé) and their pursuers. The war of nerves continues for the top 7 boats, all bunched together in around a dozen miles or so, each of them fearing a setback for which only the scriptwriter for the Normandy Channel Race holds the secret.

In the Normandy Channel Race, it’s the skippers who really tell it how it is, especially in terms of the extraordinary race configuration, which has seen them racing in close contact for a particularly long time over a particularly long distance.  In this way, Maxime Sorel (V And B) poured out some of his feelings this morning: “We must stay focused and keep our heads, the motivation’s certainly there… This race is all about mental strength now rather than a sporting challenge.” 

Some 5 miles shy of the leader, V And B are sharing the same trials and tribulations and the same doubts as the duo aboard Lamotte Module Création, as is echoed in Luke Berry’s description of the atmosphere during the return to the English Channel. “The wind is lifting, heading, rising and dropping back down and the trimming is down to a matter of centimetres on the sheets… We’re losing metres and gaining them…”

Posting a brilliant performance and putting in a brief appearance in third place, Louis Duc and Gwen Riou (Carac) are keeping a 360° watch in light of the threats from all sides: “We’re continuing our hunt for the Englishman, with a constant eye on our rear-view mirror!! We’re enduring frequent attacks so we’re certainly not immune to being caught up. We know that Campagne de France (Mabire – Merron) still has a few tricks up its sleeve too!!!”

Just 300 miles from the finish, everyone is feeling under threat from a stroke of luck or a stroke of genius from one or other of the protagonists battling it out a few boat lengths away. They are all too aware that the time for prevarication is over. Despite the fatigue, they have to give it their all and gain ground to the South, where a favourable breeze might well appear tomorrow morning, albeit rather breathless. At this point, the stress will ramp up yet another notch in the struggle to put in some well-timed gybes, in the light airs, to slip along in front of their fellow playmates, bound for the Cotentin headland.

Claire Pruvot and Alois Kerduel have decided to throw in the towel after running aground in the rocks of Ireland late last night. There are now 21 boats still racing with the duo on Up Sailing (Morgane Ursault Poupon and Arnaud Dhallenne) bringing up the rear, some 141 miles astern of Imerys, after an absolutely epic battle to catch back up with the tail-end of the fleet and hang on in there.

Quotes from the Boats

Louis Duc (Carac): “We rounded Fastnet lighthouse last night. It’s always impressive under the cover of darkness to see the flashes from the lighthouse in full in the spinnaker, listening to the waves breaking and then suddenly being able to make out the rocks 10m from the boat whilst you’re manoeuvring, dumping the spinnaker and hoisting the gennaker as quickly as possible in a bid to claw back a few metres in relation to our neighbours... The fleet has really compressed since passing Tuskar Rock and as we cross tacks we’re almost close enough to speak!! As a result, we’re continuing our hunt for the Englishman, with a constant eye on our rear-view mirror!! We’re enduring frequent attacks so we’re certainly not immune to being caught up. We know that Campagne de France still has a few tricks up its sleeve!!!”

Phil Sharp (Imerys Clean Energy): “The Fastnet Rock was a night rounding, but still incredible to see. It’s typically raining around the SE of Ireland, and funnily enough today was no exception. However, as it was very light winds it made our passage past this monument quite special. We ended up sailing the closest I have ever sailed to the lighthouse, and it was incredible to look up and see it towering above… Currently we are reaching back in the direction of the Scillies. Both Carac and Aina are fast in these reaching conditions, but Aina is posing the biggest problem to us, steadily eating away at our margin since the Fastnet. I am dreading tonight… the conditions are going extremely light and variable and it could be that we have a park-up similar to what happened in the Solent, or like the first night in the Channel, where one boat randomly gets wind and the other doesn’t. We are trying to bank some sleep today so we can focus our attention on this next weather transition zone tonight, and work on how we can come out first, or at least near the front… This stress is highly counter-productive!”

Sam Goodchild (All in for the Rhum): “Spinnaker up and pistachios out on All in for the Rhum. Happy to be back horizontal again after the long beat across the Irish sea. Still fighting hard to catch up the lost boys and keep our little pack behind us. I managed to fry the computer trying to fix a small electrical fault earlier so we are down to old fashioned iPads for charts and finger in the air for weather routing. This evening we’re discussing whether we're also halfway in terms of time or just distance!”

Maxime Sorel (V And B): “It’s a war of nerves! We’ve just rounded Fastnet aboard V and B and not without difficulty. The downwind sprint from Tuskar appeared to be all mapped out, but once again, the wind had other plans. We favoured positioning on the race zone when for once we should have trusted the grib files and headed offshore in search of a wind shift. Carac Voile anticipated this phase fantastically well, congratulations to them. We hope to finish on Saturday night but it’s not a done deal as there are one or two tricky sections to negotiate, which we hope will be gentle with us so we don’t have to get the second set of ground tackle out! We learnt about our rivals’ misfortunes and we’re thinking of them. The podium’s within range, but we’ve seen that you can’t count on anything till the end. We must stay focused and keep our heads, the motivation’s certainly there… This race is all about mental strength now rather than a sporting challenge.”

Claire Pruvot (LeClerc Drive): “Early last night we rounded Tuskar with the wind easing and a fair bit of tide and we were in contact with Gras Savoye and another boat, which we nicely caught up with. We had about 4 knots of current on the nose to leave Tuskar under spinnaker and we decided we wanted to really hug the coast to protect ourselves from the current so we were looking for the right spot using 2 types of chart on the tablet and 1 of those gave us a false reading of the Irish coast, suggesting that we still had enough water. There wasn’t much breeze and we suddenly found ourselves coming up slowly on a rocky zone under spinnaker. We dumped the sail pretty quickly but we weren’t quick enough to find a way out and the tide was falling so we ran aground. About 5 minutes later we put in the call for assistance, secured everything before being taken off the boat and stayed nearby. They brought us back on zone at around 5:00am local time, but the boat wasn’t really in any better a position than when we’d left her so it was a real pain getting her out over a rocky plateau and ultimately a local fisherman showed us the way out, just 20m or so away, so luck hadn’t been on our side. We think there’s some damage to the bulb but as we weren’t going very fast, structurally she seems sound. We’ll make for Land’s End first in around 6-8 knots.”

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