A Brief Report on the 2009 Classic Channel Regatta

MutinThe 2009 regatta was a resounding success in all respects. The weather gave us some great racing winds, the programme all went smoothly and everyone had a great time. “I’ve had the best sailing and racing ever and have met some really great people”, “Wonderful sailing, great parties and good company are hard to beat! That it all seemed to be effortless is a great compliment to all the work and organisation that must have gone into it” and “the world’s most enjoyable classic yacht regatta” are just some of the comments we have received from this year’s entrants.

A total of 49 boats took part in the regatta, with 13 coming over from France and one coming from Holland. The French boats included the French Navy training yachts ‘Mutin’ and ‘La Grande Hermine’, as well as the legendary original ‘Pen Duick’ which is owned by the family of the late Eric Tabarly. ‘Pen Duick’ was the oldest boat, built in 1898, whilst the newest was the Scilly Islands replica pilot cutter ‘Amelie Rose’ which had only just been completed and just made it to the final stage of the regatta in Guernsey.

The regatta started in Dartmouth with two days of great racing in Start Bay in winds of force 3-4, occasionally 5. The prizes for these races, which were sponsored by Pusser’s Rum, were presented at the Royal Dart Yacht Club on the Sunday evening. There was a BBQ party at the delightful Old Market Square in Dartmouth on Saturday night and a supper with folk music there on the Sunday evening after the prizegiving.

channel_raceDespite what appeared to be a fair weather outlook for the week of the regatta, a depression sprung up over Ireland bringing a brief spell of gale force winds on Monday night which forced a delayed start to the Channel Race to Paimpol. By the time the race started at noon on Tuesday the front bringing the wind and rain had just passed and the race fleet set off in a sunny westerly force 5 – fair stood the wind for France! The wind and clear skies continued throughout the race and, together with a full moon, gave the race the most wonderful sailing conditions – for all who took part it was one of those unforgettable sunny and moonlit fast passages in ideal conditions. And to top it off, there was the interesting navigation to make the most of the tide on closing the French coast and then short tacking up to the finish line between the rocks in the moonlight.

On finishing the race the boats anchored in the Rade de Paimpol to wait for the morning tide to lock into the port. The rest of the day was spent in Paimpol and in the evening the Channel Race prizes, sponsored by Raymarine, were presented by the mayor of Paimpol and his deputy in the town’s Salle des Fêtes on the quayside. This was followed by a buffet party and live music.

brehatEarly on Thursday morning the boats locked out of Paimpol port for the Classic Round Ile de Brehat Race. The winds were again ideal with a westerly 4-5 blowing and a great race was had by all. On the chart the course looks like a scary rock-hopping exercise, but in reality the course round the island is very well marked and not half as bad as it appears on the chart, but the channel is narrow in places and the rocks are spectacular at close quarters! With the good wind the race was over by early afternoon and the boats were able to anchor off Ile de Brehat for an afternoon of relaxing, swimming and visiting the island before returning to lock back into Paimpol in the evening.

This is the first time the regatta has been to Paimpol and it was just ‘parfait’. The harbour is plenty big enough to accommodate the regatta and is right in the middle of this delightful town which has just the right atmosphere and maritime heritage. And everyone in the town; from the mayor and the people at the mairie, to the harbourmaster and his staff, were all so helpful, charming and welcoming. There is no doubt that the Classic Channel Regatta has found its natural home in Brittany.

The Friday passage race up to St Peter Port in Guernsey had to be abandoned due to a lack of wind at the start. After an hour’s delay it became clear that even if a wind did fill in, it would do so too slowly to make the race viable in the time limit, so the decision was made to abandon it and let the boats make their own way to St Peter Port. In fact the wind did get up in the afternoon and after a few hours motoring most boats had a good sail for the rest of the way.

winchSaturday was the last day of the regatta and the day of the Classic Round Sark Race sponsored by Heritage Group of Guernsey. The wind was blowing SSW 3-4 for much of the race which gave a good wind to make over the strong tides that are always a feature of racing around Sark. With a good variety of points of sailing, from hard on the wind to the first mark followed by a series of close and broad reaches and a run before another beat to the last mark, there was plenty of sail trimming to be done as the boats made there way around the island.

The final prizegiving and closing party were held at Castle Cornet which dominates the entrance to St Peter Port harbour. A reception was given by the States of Guernsey and the prizes for the Classic Sark Race and the overall regatta results were presented by the Minister for Culture and Leisure. This was followed by a party with fish & chips and music by Guernsey’s shanty band, GU10. This should have all taken place out-of-doors in the castle grounds, but unfortunately the rain set in for the evening so it was held in the delightful maritime museum at the castle, although the fish & chips had to be eaten in true British style – standing outside in the rain – for fear of getting ketchup and chips over the museum exhibits! Those with enough stamina ended their evening partying and singing in the yacht club.

The Classic Channel Regatta has it’s own unique atmosphere, with its blend of British and French culture and ports, its mix of round the buoys, round the islands, and passage racing, and it’s social scene – a truly Anglo-Breton regatta with biere, croissants and fish & chips.

The organisers are greatly indebted to all the sponsors of the regatta for their support, and to the authorities and the host clubs in each of the ports for their help and support. Without them the regatta would not be possible.

Bruce Thorogood.
July 25th 2009.

All photos taken at previous Classic Channel Regattas and reproduced by kind permission of Mike Wynne-Powell, Karine Gilles de Pelichy and waterlinemedia.com