53 Dragons took to the water yesterday for the first race of the Cannes Grand Prix, the beginning of the European Grade 1 events for 2015. After a 2 hour wait, conditions were “stunning” as the wind came in from 160 degrees and the sky stayed blue without a cloud to be seen…..

Although it took 4 attempts to get the fleet away, with 6 Black Flag DSQ’s (including the event favourite and last years winner Lawrie Smith), the remaining 47 boats had a fantastic race over a superbly set course by PRO Philip Faure, who is also in charge for the Worlds in La Rochelle in June.

First advantage went to German sailor Helmut Schmidt and his team in GER 1071 “Kleine Brise” who had started well down towards the pin end and picked up a nice port tack shift that saw him cross the whole fleet on the 1.5m first beat. Rounding in the lead Helmut and his crew of Stefan Hellriegel and Jannik Von Reichmann, elected to “bear-away-set” so as to not sail back into the “dirty” air of the fleet, also they had made their gain from the left side of the beat, so it made sense to run back down that same side.

In close pursuit were FRA 409 “Tsuica” helmed by local sailor Gerard Blanc and FRA 412 “Irina” helmed by legendary Marc Bouet , these two boats had made good starts from the middle of the line and were able to hold their “lanes” well to enable them to also pick up the left-hand shift that had given the lead boat his comfortable position.

On the second upwind the wind was slightly stronger on the right hand side of the course, so when a 10 degree wind shift also came in with the added pressure, gains could be made. This enabled FRA 409 Gerard Blanc to take the lead at the top mark and with his experienced crew of Jean-Gabriel Charton and Pierre Germain they elected to “gybe-set”.  The fleet were now more spread out (so less bad air after gybing) and the 10 degree shift meant the port gybe was now more favourable for the downwind leg…..

Also having made a nice gain on the second beat ,FRA 412 Marc Bouet and his team of Pierric and Morvan Bourbin, elected to gybe set and follow the leader down the final run. With GER 1071 now in 3rd place these three boats pulled away from the chasing fleet despite many top international sailors doing their best to catch up. At the leeward gate FRA 409 rounded the left hand mark first with FRA 412 directly behind, Marc Bouet then tacked immediately both to clear his air and also “split” tacks with the lead boat to give him a chance of a victory.

This was to prove the winning move, as when the boats next came together on the final beat, it was indeed FRA 412 “Irina” with Marc Bouet at the helm that took the win. 2nd was FRA 409 “Tsuica” Gerard Blanc and 3rd GER 1071 ” Kleine Brise” Helmut Schmidt.  A very close finish to an excellent race… With no time remaining for a second race the fleet sailed back into the much improved facilities of the Yacht Club de Cannes. With extra room made in the Marina by the locals removing their boats for the week, all 53 boats can easily be catered for with fresh water hoses and ample storage space for the trailers.

Today will see the competitors meet on shore at 10.30am and receive instructions for racing, lets hope we can get 2 more races in as the sun shines and all sailors appreciate how lucky they are to be part of this excellent event.

Higher, Faster, Longer…….   Stavros.  (GBR 585).