News from Normandy

Sunrise off Grandcamp

A quiet Sunday aboard, and it seems a long time since I left Weymouth ten days ago. A pleasant crossing mostly under engine left plenty of time for reading, though a thermal breeze allowed me to arrive under sail as one should, and in time to race aboard the Sigma in the CNC Thursday series, when we came second by a few seconds. It felt good to be back with Thierry and his crew after a long winter in England.

After a beer at the CNC clubhouse, I collected my gear and went aboard Philippe Rios’s Dufour 34 ‘Gwaihir Venturi’ to leave at 0330 for Cowes, a trip notable for its chilliness and the dense fog off the Isle of Wight, though the convivial company of Philippe and crew Alain, Cyrille and Mathieu (and an excellent lunch) was more than a match for a lack of visibility. Sure enough, as we passed Bembridge it cleared and we had a sunny arrival in Cowes, to get ready for the start of the RORC Cowes-Le Havre race on Saturday.

The lack of gradient meant of course that there was very little wind all weekend, though we managed to leave the Solent via the forts and got as far as the shipping - 33 miles in 12 hours! Then it was a question of whether we would make it round the course and back to Cherbourg in time for people to go to work, so we retired as it got dark and headed back to Cherbourg under engine again, while the more committed plugged on to be rewarded by a light breeze from the NE, which no doubt made it all worthwhile...

A brief respite to recover from all that zipping backwards and forwards across the Channel was most welcome before a trip to Grandcamp on Monday, by car though, to meet up with Georges Courtay and his crew Jean-Marie to do the Coupe de Normandie in his Winner 9 metre ‘Crazy Goose’ in which we did the Double de Normandie last year. Georges had just completed the Baie des Veys weekend with Thierry and Bernard, so Grandcamp was chock-full of boats, many of which were doing both events - a very cheerful sight in the sunshine. Most of these events are inter-club, and many people know each other from doing them in previous years, and the friendly atmosphere is an excellent context for some keen competition on the water.

The tide required another early start, at 0500 to leave Grandcamp, and the fleet processed for some time under engine before a start was possible as the wind filled in off Corseulles; ‘Crazy Goose’ showed her speed off the line to be fifth round the first windward mark, a position we kept right to the finish off Ouistreham, having completed as many legs up and down as the breeze would permit; the idea is to have a long race before the arrival at the next lock or sill at high water, using the many cardinal marks along that coast, with legs sometimes as long as 15 miles.

At Ouistreham I was able to meet up with old friend from Olympic days at Weymouth David Lanier, the French team meteorologist; a barbecue at his house was a great opportunity to catch up, and learn more about the success of his boys at badminton rather than sailing. Then the next day, Wednesday, the start off Ouistreham saw the ‘Goose’ fly again up the first windward leg, though the fading breeze turned the race into something of a lottery, and everyone was glad when the race committee announced a shortened course so that we could be in time to enter the basin at Dives-sur-Mer around 1800. Dives is a must - the entrance is most improbable, though historically important as the gathering-place for the invasion fleet of William the Conqueror in 1066. A communal meal ashore restored the crews in preparation for the final day’s race back up to Corseulles.

Met planning with David had shown that the wind was finally going to pick up to 20 knots from the NW for the start off Dives, which meant that getting clear of the estuary would be an interesting challenge, and so it proved, with breaking waves of a metre and about that under the keel! The start was quite lively, though for those conditions we were a bit undercrewed; having figured out how the boat wanted to sail, though, we were soon picking up places again, and the long windward legs were most useful in trying out our barberhauling system for the jib. The wind remained more or less constant all day, only dropping as we were waiting for the tide to rise sufficiently at Corseulles to be able to enter the port when the gate opened.

The end of racing was celebrated with a barbecue at the very friendly Corseulles yacht club, and the event prizegiving in the morning, before everyone left on the tide to head back east or west to their home ports. With a respectable mid-fleet final place we felt honour was satisfied, and had the advantage of a good breeze from the SE to do some tourism along the coast past Arromanches and Port-en-Bessin, trying to go slowly for a change, so that we didn’t have to wait too long at Saint-Vaast for the tide at the end of the day. Passing between the Saint-Marcouf islands was a chance to take some photos of a place best visited with locals, and we had the time to explore the bay on the west side of Saint-Vaast with the fort at La Hougue, before restoring the Goose to her place in the port, and making our way back to Georges’s house for supper.

A great week’s sailing, and a big thank you to Georges and Jean-Marie, and to Georges and Catherine for their hospitality. Now it’s time to prepare for ‘la Weymouth’ as it’s called - at the moment the forecast looks ideal, so if you’re thinking of signing up for this signature event, don’t hesitate! The bar is set high for conviviality, but I’m sure WSC will be able to meet the challenge, so that this event continues to grow in popularity as it has done over the years.

Steve Fraser

Submitted on 13th May 2018