Yesterday, Friday and day three of the French Open National Championships was not a day for the faint-hearted, as winds from a southerly direction (190-200 degree’s) peaked at times up to 30kts !! It was not just the strength of the wind that the 30 boat fleet had to cope with, but also the direction of the ever changing “gusts”. At times on starboard tack, a bearing of 180 could be maintained, only to see a sudden “header” drop this bearing to 145 or 150 degree’s…  This meant that boats could be converging on opposite tacks, fully hiked out, with only 20 – 30 degrees of angle between them.  Some real “Brown Trouser” racing!

Then on the downwind legs, it was not only difficult to spot the small yellow buoys in the sometimes overcast and low visability conditions, but also choose which gybe you wanted to be on to give yourself a save set-up for the next 30 kts gust…..  This meant that quite a few “death – rolls” were made and spinnaker poles along with shredded kites were not uncommon thoughout the racing. Indeed FRA 405 Baboo and his team who led the first race had such a death-roll on the final downwind leg that cost them the race..

However, the battle was on for this prestigious Championship and it was POR 55 Jose Matoso and his crew of Gustavo Lima and Stefan Hellriegel who just got the jump on FRA 365 Ar Youleg (Louis Urvois’ beautiful coldmoulded Petticrow), helmed by Martin Payne and crewed by the Bakker Boys, Dominic and Olivier to round ahead in the hooked “Dog-Leg” to the finish in race one. Both teams had predominately played the shifts on the right-hand side of both beat’s along with FRA 396 Remy Arnaud crewed by his son Herald and Ronan Autret who finished a close 3rd place.

Many of us were surprised to see a second race started as conditions were not getting any easier and only 17 boats remained out in the bay as nearly half of the fleet were either too tired, being sensible or had broken gear.  However, the race did get underway and this time FRA 386 Luc Pillot was out to prove he can not only sail fast in the light breezes but also the heavy. After mixing tacks with FRA 365 all the way up the first beat it was Luc and his team who were first to round the windward mark closely followed by FRA 365 and GBR 744 Tigger helmed by John Greenwood who is a very experienced Finn Sailor (like Remy Arnaud), but new to the Dragon, so being guided well by Nicola and Thomas Wilton.

It was the young and eagle eye’s of Dominic Bakker on my boat that were first to spot the leeward gate marks and so we gybe immediately which gave us an advantage on Luc. During an almighty gust that had both boats at their optimum speed “Ar Youleg II” inched ahead so rounded the lefthand gate whilst Luc Pillot took the right. At the finish it was indeed FRA 365 that took the gun with FRA 386 just behind and GBR 744 a deserved 3rd.

So with a 2nd and 1st FRA 365 Ar Youleg II has now closed the gap on the overall leader FRA 386 Luc Pillot to just two points. In 3rd place is the consistent FRA 396 Remy Arnaud who holds a slender advantage over FRA 391 Jean Breger and GBR 744 John Greenwood. With the last race to be sailed today it will be interesting to see how the boats cope with the strong winds as it moves around to the west & the waves are predicted at around 4m high! 

This wonderful bay of Douarnenez and it’s helpers and volunteers are all ready and very able to welcome the huge fleet that will assemble this time next year for the 2013 Gold Cup. Make sure it’s in your diary as there can be no better place to hold such an event…

Higher, Faster, Longer……………     Stavros (FRA 365  Ar Youleg II)