REPORT ON THE 2022 CLASSIC CHANNEL REGATTA
This year’s Classic Channel Regatta was another triumph and resounding success – proving once again that this is more than just a regatta – it’s a celebration and festival and regatta all rolled into one. And the weather all week was Mediterranean – sunny and hot with light winds filling just enough for all the week’s races to go ahead.
On arriving at Dartmouth one could straightaway tell this was again going to be a very well organised event. The harbour staff directed the boats to the dedicated regatta berths, on walk-ashore pontoons for the smaller boats and on mid-stream buoys for the larger ones, and water taxis and one of the ferries were free for competitors to get over to the regatta’s base at the Royal Dart Yacht Club on the Kingswear shore opposite Dartmouth. Registration at the yacht club was impressively efficient and calmly run, with separate desks for checking data, issuing Sailing Instructions, supper tickets and documentation, and a final desk checking all the information needed for clearing French customs was complete and correct.
Coping with French customs was a new challenge for the organisers who had worked hard to gather in all the required passport information online ahead of registration. Paimpol is not a port of entry, so they had made special arrangements with the local customs office at St Briuec to be able to clear everyone in electronically by sending over detailed crew lists 48 hours before arrival. This was all working well until just before the regatta the customs office announced that all crews not leaving France on a yacht directly from Paimpol would need to go to their office to have their passports stamped. This required a quick scramble by the organisers to hire a coach to take over 40 crews, who were either leaving by public transport or sailing on to other French ports, to the customs office on Bastille Day to have their passports stamped. Fortunately this all went smoothly without too much inconvenience, and there are hopeful signs that French customs are starting to find a more flexible entry process for British yachts, so things should be easier by the time of the next regatta in 2024.
Still at the Royal Dart Yacht Club, registration was followed by a welcome reception on the club’s terrace with rum punches and a jazz trio – sponsored by Premier Noss on Dart Marina – and brief welcome speeches from the Commodore, Harbourmaster and the regatta’s lead organiser and founder, Bruce Thorogood. This was followed by crew suppers, and it has to be said that on a sunny, balmy evening there can be few finer places to be than on the terrace of the Royal Dart Yacht Club looking out to the entrance to the River Dart between its two castles and across to Dartmouth with its picturesque jumble of houses climbing up the hillside above the river.
Day one of racing in Start Bay was preceded by a Parade of Sail past Dartmouth as the boats made their way out to sea. The hoped for two races that day had to be reduced to just one due to the light and uncertain winds, but at least we got one decent race in.
The evening saw the high point of the social scene ashore at Dartmouth – the crew supper party in the town’s ancient walled Old Market Square where around 350 crews were treated to Salcombe Gin aperitifs, a three course supper with free wine and beer, and a brilliant jazz band that got everyone dancing.
Day two of racing at Dartmouth again saw light winds with the race start postponed until mid-day when a reasonable breeze got up and held for the afternoon to allow a good race.
The two days of racing at Dartmouth – Dartmouth Classics – was again sponsored by Salcombe Gin and their CEO, Howard Davies, who was sailing on Lutine of Helford for the week, presented the prizes.
Day three of the regatta, the day of the start of the Classic Channel Race, dawned with no wind – not a good prospect for racing to France. The Channel Race this year was going direct to Paimpol and not stopping off in the Channel Islands as usual because this year’s regatta was part of a bigger event – la Grande Régate Classique Manche-Atlantique – racing onto Camaret and La Rochelle in the second week. With no wind filling in all day the decision was taken to get the fleet to motor to a start line just south of the traffic separation scheme for a start at 20.00h. We arrived there on time, but still no wind! We then all motored on to another line for a start scheduled at 22.00h. At first, a hint of a breeze, or were we imagining it? Then a light catspaw on the surface of the mirror calm sea and steadily a light breeze filled in, allowing this start to go ahead on time – and we were off. And after all that motoring what a magical sail it was, making surprisingly good speed in such light airs thanks to the calm sea under a starlit sky and full moon until a blazing sun rose out of the horizon at dawn (reminiscent of Kipling’s line in Mandalay “An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!”).
But such light winds and the strong tides off this part of the Brittany coast do not mix well. The faster boats made the Men Marc’h landfall buoy on the south-going tide, with the first boat there, the Swan 55 ‘Lulotte’ kedging in 34 metres for an hour before the tide had slackened enough to allow her to sail across the tide to the finish line off Paimpol. That allowed the boats behind her to catch up and make it to the finish without needing to kedge. Unfortunately, the tide turned against the slower boats and a good number of them had to retire, although some soldiered on, with one (the French yacht Fricco), taking 5 hours to cover the final four miles.
Although one or two boats put back into Dartmouth and a couple split off to St Peter Port, most of the fleet did make it to Paimpol. One of the Twisters developed engine trouble quite early on and was towed all the way across the Channel by another Twister, Viveza. Some feat for a 28ft boat with a small engine and for this selfless act of fellowship, Viveza was awarded the “Spirit of the Regatta” Trophy.
After finishing the race and anchoring in the Rade de Paimpol for the afternoon, all the boats entered Paimpol harbour at high water in a parade welcomed by a band of pipers at the lock and the quays lined with hundreds of applauding locals. What a welcome! A welcome fit for crews returning from racing around the world, but we had just motored over halfway across the Channel! Having moored up, there were free drinks on the quayside before getting a late night supper in one of the many restaurants around the habour.
The following day was juillet 14, France’s Fête Nationale or Bastille Day. This is when the regatta becomes as much a festival as a regatta, with the town en fête for the day with the regatta at the heart of the celebrations. The prizegiving for the Classic Channel Race was held on the quayside in late afternoon and the day ended with a fireworks display over the outer harbour.
After this day in port (to recover from the hardships of our rugged Channel crossing!) the following day saw the fleet leave port on the morning tide for the Tour de Île de Bréhat race around the island off Paimpol. Yet another hot and sunny day started with little or no wind, but a useful breeze picked up in time to start on schedule and give us a really good race and lovely sail around the island in more stunning weather before anchoring off the south of the island for a free picnic provided by the organisers – another thoughtful and very welcome part of the wonderful organisation of this regatta.
After the picnic and a short passage back to the bay of Paimpol it was time for the ‘Danse des Classiques’. This is something unique to this regatta and involves each boat sailing or motoring around a sausage course with both the boat and crew in fancy dress (if they want to). Flags galore, music blaring, cannons firing, every sail in the locker set, you name it, they were all there! A number of local gaffers joined in and the Bréhat island ferry was there packed with spectators while the judges decided the best dressed boat, best dressed crew and the best ‘animation’. All great fun and very enjoyable.
Then back into port on the tide just time for another quayside drink and supper in one of the restaurants that stayed open late again for us all.
The final day of the regatta was spent in port. In the morning there was, first, the General Meeting of the CRAB Association – this regatta is very democratic with everyone taking part becoming a member with a vote on how the regatta is run. That was followed by the blindfold dinghy racing in the harbour which was once again utterly hilarious and has to count as the funniest event of the regatta.
The final prizegiving for the overall results, sponsored by Dubarry of Ireland, the Bréhat race, the Danse des Classiques and dinghy racing, was in the early evening on the quayside with the mayor of Paimpol in attendance and exchanging gifts with a Dartmouth Town Councillor crewing on one of the boats. More free drinks followed, then off to the harbourside Salle des Fêtes for the final crew supper party with the usual excellent food and free wine (what else – we are in France!). The planned musician had to cry off due to Covid and the last minute replacement wasn’t quite up to the job, but the musicians and voices amongst the crews more than made up for it and another very convivial evening of eating and drinking, singing and dancing ensued.
A really good aspect of the regatta was the encouraging number of young people taking part, with many young family members crewing on the family boats and the young crew of the Bristol Channel Pilot Cutter replica ‘Pegasus’ who were sponsored by the regatta’s sister charity, The Classic Young Sailors Foundation.
Wow – what a regatta! It was so much more than just a regatta – it was a uniquely life enhancing experience. Roll on the next one in 2024 – we can’t wait!
- The Dalmard prize for overall winner of the regatta – Kraken II
- The Dubarry Boot ‘Spirit of the Regatta’ Trophy – Viveza
- The Dead Eye Trophy for the best restoration – Rinamara
- The Doug Briscoe Trophy for the most challenging passage to the regatta – Kraken II
- First overall in Group A – Zaleda
- First Overall in Group B – Kraken II
- First Overall in Group C – China Girl
- First Overall in Group D – Shebeen
The organisers wish to thank all the sponsors of the regatta and all the volunteers in both Britain and France who give up so much of their time to running the regatta – the regatta simply could not run without the support of its sponsors and volunteers.