The 60 and 40 footers really showed what they were made of in the bay of Douarnenez in NW France today, such is their presence as they power along. Two starts were given this morning with remarkable precision on the part of the race committee headed by Loïc Ponceau: 1038 hours on the dot for the Class 40s and 1108 hours for the 60 footers, in exactly the same manner as yesterday. In contrast though, today’s weather conditions were very different, with 15 knots of N’ly wind and clear blue skies. The monohulls quickly devoured the 47 miles of the course which took them as far as the Tas de Pois and ultimately line honours at 1517 hours went to BT. As such the British contingent stood out, with Artemis getting off to the best start.
Meantime Le Pal was the first out of the starting blocks in the 40 foot category and the self same Bruno Jourdren and his crew of Bernard Stamm and Kito De Pavant also led proceedings yesterday, even beating in two 60 footers, DCNS and Artemis. Today there was a bit of a frosty reception on Jourdren’s boat as the crew were forced to retire for technical issues, which nobody onboard wished to comment on. In substance, Nono (Jourdren) did admit that they could have continued but not without risk of damaging the boat, “a bit like when you have tooth decay and you don’t get it seen to so you end up with a stomach ulcer”. In short, this retirement gave Giovanni Soldini outright victory today. “It’s to thank him (Soldini), because he’s come a long way to come and sail on our waters”.
For the Class 40, the Grand Prix Petit Navire is a gathering which completely corresponds with the mindset of the sailors in this series: a clever mix of sport and conviviality. So much so that the Class, which has seen a spectacular rise since 2006, is opening itself up ever more on an international level and gathers together both experienced amateurs and professional sailors. “They are boats which are easy to power up and incredibly entertaining on the water” explains Bernard Stamm, skipper of a 60 footer. “It’s rather nice to be invited to sail on a Class 40”.
Fifteen nationalities in the Dragon class
“The Grand Prix Petit Navire Dragon is the second largest French meet after Hyères Week” comments Jimmy Pahun, who’s racing on British Dragon Jerboa. “There are 15 nations, which is extremely interesting and the fact that there are so many craft on the water makes it an exciting exercise. It’s an admirable mix of cultures”. The president of the SRD who’s organising the Grand Prix, Louis Urvois, is also a Dragon enthusiast. “It’s a series which gathers together the greatest number of Olympic medallists. The technical level is very high. This boat requires a huge amount of precision and to finish in the top quarter of the fleet is a great result in itself. It’s hard to say who could win this year, but we can rely on the kings of the series such as Vincent Hoesch and Thomas Müller, as well as the Finnish crew of Rat-Pack, the Danish African Queen and a young French crew could really put on a good show on Q-Ti-Too”.
Passion, precision and… loyalty is an asset and Bijou Bihen’s crew have an abundance of this as they haven’t missed a single one of the Douarnenez meets over the past 10 years. Francis le Bihan, Francis Mouremble and Régis Brachet form a closely-knit trio. Pure amateurs, they come all the way from Toulouse in SW France to the bay of Douarnenez ‘for the sheer enjoyment and conviviality’, even though they sincerely hope they’ll pull off a few blinding performances along the way. The race organisation was able to give the starts on three races today as conditions were great. The local trio of Dirastarc’h (FRA 355) got off to a great start as the top French crew after two races, before giving up pole position to a fellow local crew on Ar Youleg (FRA 365), currently in third. It came as no surprise that the battle has been raging between the Bunker Boys (UKR and Sinewave (GER 996), with the latter winning two races but nevertheless lie in second tonight behind today’s start performers, the Ukrainians.
The low-down on the pontoons this morning!
François Angoulvant (Fermiers de Loué-Sarthe): “We’re happy with how the day went yesterday. We worked well scoring a series of third places. Today things will get a bit more complicated as there are three of us tied in second with Telecom Italia (Giovanni Soldini) and Zed 4 (Gérald Bidot). As such there are three of us battling for second and third place. Fortunately there’s more wind than yesterday: the race will certainly be more dynamic because yesterday’s racing was about as calm as you can get. I’m sailing with a group of students who are finding their way around the boat. This has always been the scenario on the yacht: it was designed by Olivier Gouard at the Institut Supérieur des Matériaux et Mécaniques Avancés (ISMANS), the engineering college where I’m employed as teacher and researcher. Consequently my crew is made up of students.”
Christopher Pratt is sailing on DCNS 1000, skippered by Marc Thiercelin: “The Grand Prix Petit Navire has enabled us to express ourselves on a number of levels. For the first two days we concentrated on speed with the runs across the bay. That was very entertaining and, in addition to that we had a good result on the last day. Yesterday and today the onus has been on strategy and control during manoeuvres. We’ve been struggling a bit on the latter in relation to the others as we don’t know our boat so well. Today’s course was reminiscent of yesterdays, but longer. It’s going really well on the boat: we’ve been able to rub shoulders with people from many different backgrounds. It’s interesting to show them the boat and let them share the sensations we get from sailing”.
Michel Desjoyeaux (Foncia): “It’s already the third time I’ve been to the Grand Prix Petit Navire with Foncia. We’ve taken part in the event ever since we’ve had the boat. I’d already participated here in the Dragon class some years ago too. Since we began coming here we’ve been trying to share it with as many people as possible, not just confirmed sailors, but also the shore crew, friends and economic players. Yesterday was a bit drawn out. We sailed in light airs but we finished just a few minutes shy of six o’ clock, which was aperitif time so the timing was perfect. In the Class 40s though, some of them missed dessert! This Sunday is likely to be a little livelier on the water…”
This morning saw the first offshore racing for the Open 60s and 40 footers, whilst the opening of hostilities for the Dragons has been postponed until tomorrow due to a lack of wind. Indeed the bay of Douarnenez swapped yesterday’s spring nuances for a veil of mist. The result was a change of atmosphere on the water with phantom boats emerging from out of the gloom and then disappearing just as quickly as they were swallowed up into the wispy nothingness.
Local sculptor and highly-skilled Dragon sailor Yann Kersalé could be seen scanning the bay of Douarnenez this morning. “I bought my first Dragon 20 years ago and it was already painted black and christened Dirastarc’h (Breton for ‘win it all’). This bay has a unique geographic configuration, due West, which the sunshine just sinks into. We’re at the tip of Europe so we benefit from the first light and that’s something that is never the same, it’s constantly changing”. A loyal competitor in the Grand Prix Petit Navire, Yann sails with Tanguy Ravac’h and Gildas Philippe, the 4.70 m and Mumm 30 world champions. The crew is 100% local and hope to rank in the top 15. “We’re going to have to watch out for the black flag though as it’s known to be our speciality. In fact we’ve painted the nose of the boat white because a black one is too easy to spot”. Yann’s two crew share this enthusiasm and zest for competition! “It’s an ideal race zone, no matter which way the wind blows. It takes 10 minutes to get out on the water which is perfect” explains Gildas Philippe. “There’s no current, no rocks; the race zone is clear and protected. You come and go as you like” continues Tanguy Ravac’h.
Safe, practical, ideal… what more could you want? Fred Gourlaouen, crew for Bruno Peyron on Ar Maout, goes further: “It’s a genuine stadium for watersports and if we had the infrastructure on shore, it would be the perfect race zone to play host to the America’s Cup”. Jimmy Pahun doesn’t originate from Douarnenez, but the sailor from Morbihan in SW Brittany is just as forthcoming when he talks of the bay: “To sail here is like sailing miles away. It’s about sailing in the verdure, it’s reminiscent of Ireland”. Bruno Peyron is just as enthusiastic: “Quite simply it’s the most beautiful bay in Europe. I am very sensitive to colours, landforms and contrasts and you’ve got it all here”. The Jules Verne Trophy recordman shares Jimmy’s views on preserving this landscape. “We have the Conservatoire du Littoral to thank for protecting such fabulous sites.”
A taste of the open ocean
Meantime the Class 40s set off on a far from ‘bracing’ coastal course this morning at 1038 hours and thirty minutes later it was the turn of the Open 60 footers. Seemingly at a crawl wading through cotton wool, the monohulls distanced themselves from the port of Rosmeur. The whole of the first part of the 36 mile coastal course was coloured by a very light breeze, but fortunately, early in the afternoon, this filled gently to 10 to 12 knots, which enabled the fleet to lengthen their stride. This respite was only short lived however as at 1800 hours, the wind had dropped again and there was still no sign of the Class 40s. By the end of the first offshore race, it was the 60 footer BT which was first to cross the finish line at 1743 hours, followed by Foncia at 1752 hours.
The low-down on the pontoons this morning
Jonny Malbon (Artemis): “It’s my first time at the Grand Prix Petit Navire but I’ve known about the event and have wanted to be part of it for a long time. It’s also the first time I’ve come to Douarnenez: it’s a very pretty town and the coast is fantastic. When I arrived here three days ago, it was like being home in England: certain coastlines in Brittany and England are very similar. I’ve loved sailing in the bay, even though the sailing has been a bit difficult for my crew as some don’t know the boat very well yet. We’re getting on well though and we’re relishing being out on the water: that’s what’s important. Above all else we’re here to learn to control the boat better and naturally the best way of doing that is to sail against other honed crews. As such we’re clearly in the right place”.
Jean Galfione sailing on Foncia, alongside Michel Desjoyeaux: “I really enjoyed the first two days of sailing. I’m really lucky to be able to sail on Foncia with Michel Desjoyeaux and his crew. There’s a great atmosphere aboard and I’m learning loads of things on this boat that I didn’t know before. For the time being we’ve racked up some good speeds with some great results comprising firsts and seconds. On the water it’s been fantastic, especially yesterday in the sun which stayed with us the whole afternoon. Though it’s misty today it’s so beautiful. I love the landscape here in Douarnenez. There’s no stress on the boat at all. Added to that, for Michel this racing is above all a chance to enable sponsors and friends to sail. The upshot of this is that the Grand Prix Petit Navire has a very nice, festive air to it”.