History of the Regatta

By Bruce Thorogood – Founder & Lead Organiser

It all began in 2003 when I sailed my previous yacht, the 35ft Strider class ‘Cariacou’, to the first Perros Classic. She was the only British boat there and the organisers asked if I could encourage more Brits to come next time in 2005.

I thought a good way to achieve this would be to organise a feeder race to Perros from a West Country port. So when I got home I spoke to a couple of friends in Dartmouth, one a past commodore and race officer of the Royal Dart Yacht Club, and the other a club member with an ex-RNLI lifeboat. They were both keen to help, so we had a race officer and an excellent committee boat for the race. We then spoke to the commodore of the RDYC who was keen for the club to host the start, so we were in business.

We then decided that if we were going to get a gathering of boats to Dartmouth we might as well put on a prelude race at Dartmouth – or why not two races and make a weekend of it? So the plan was cast – a weekend in Dartmouth and a feeder race to link into Perros Classic – and so the Classic Channel Regatta was born.

That first regatta in 2005 was a great success despite having some inevitable teething troubles, the worst being a big cock-up with the handicapping in Dartmouth. We had decided to use the Portsmouth Yardstick system, but the person who said he knew how to rate the boats didn’t know, so the handicaps were all over the place. When the boats arrived in Perros the organisers had to very quickly re-handicap them all using the French HN system. But despite this, everyone had a great time. There were 57 boats in that first Channel Race to Perros and the yacht club and town pulled out all the stops to provide excellent facilities and hospitality. We all looked forward to repeating the event there in 2007.

However, the driving force behind the Perros Classic was a delightful fellow who owned an S&S sloop which had once belonged to the mayor of Marseilles. He was truly passionate about classics, the only trouble being he was too passionate to be able to make the compromises necessary to work with the others running Perros Classic. Consequently there was a bust up in Perros and he took his (and our!) bat and ball away.

He soon contacted me to say, not to worry, he had made good contact with the yacht club in St Malo (the SNBSM) and they would welcome the regatta in 2007. Plans were going well for a while, but it wasn’t long before he crossed swords with the president of the club over what he saw as yet another matter of principle. It was clear that if we had any chance of continuing with the SNBSM we would have to part company with our passionate French friend and deal directly with the SNBSM from England. A group of us went over to St Malo from Dartmouth and kept the plans on track.

Soon after that our passionate friend contacted me to say “not to worry Bruce, I have made contact with the port captain at Treguier and we can go there”. That’s when I had to say it was time for us to step off his ‘chariot de guerre’ as we wanted to continue with the plan to go to St Malo. The 2007 regatta did indeed go to St Malo where it was hosted by the SNBSM and was another great success. But the relationship with the club had been soured and as a result their dealings with us had become somewhat luke warm.

In 2009 SNBSM said they couldn’t host the regatta as it was too close to the Cowes-Dinard Race the week before. What to do next? St Malo was a good place to go and there are very few ports in North Brittany that can take a regatta fleet of our size. We contacted the Dinard Yacht Club across the river from St Malo and they were very keen to take over hosting it. A team of us from Dartmouth went over to Dinard and had constructive talks with the commodore and other committee members and all seemed well, although they did say that they were in difficult negotiations with the Mairie about renewing the lease on their clubhouse. In the following weeks it transpired that the club was in deep trouble over the issue as they had been renting the clubhouse on a peppercorn rent from the year dot and the Mairie now wanted a market rent which the club couldn’t afford. When they changed presidents three times in as many weeks we knew they must be in deep trouble, and it was the third of these presidents who finally wrote to us to say ‘sorry chaps, but we can’t do this’. That was in October 2008, only nine months before the 2009 regatta – and we had no Brittany port to go to! What could we do?

My wife and I took the ferry to Roscoff and drove to every potential port in North Brittany seeing where we could possibly take the Regatta, a trip that confirmed what I already thought – there are precious few with enough space. The only port where we had a pre-arranged meeting was Paimpol, so we left going there to last. Having found no other suitable port, we went into the meeting thinking we would have to pull out all the stops to persuade them the accept the Regatta. As it turned out, the mayor and harbourmaster were both at the meeting and straightaway, without any persuasion from us, said they would be delighted to host the Regatta and that they would make the harbour and Salle des Fetes available free of charge and give us all the support we wanted. Oh, so there is a God after all I thought! And so the 2009 Regatta went to Paimpol, which proved to be the ideal port, and it has returned there ever since.

Paimpol is indeed the ideal Brittany port for the regatta and, having now found out how good it is, we should never have considered anywhere else. Although there are a lot of off-lying rocks and the channel dries at low water, the approach is well marked and well sheltered from the prevailing westerlies – making it much easier than it looks on the chart. The harbour has plenty of space, excellent facilities and is right in the centre of town, and even the Salle des Fêtes where we hold the regatta crew supper is on the quayside. The town authorities and harbourmaster could not be more helpful and the hospitality just gets better at each time the regatta goes there. Tout parfait!

During all this time the starting port for the regatta in Britain has remained delightful Dartmouth and the Royal Dart Yacht Club have been the excellent host club there. And St Peter Port in Guernsey has always been a port of call where the Guernsey Yacht Club are our hosts. The Regatta used to finish in Guernsey, but in 2017 we sailed to Guernsey en route to Paimpol, a change that was well received and is being repeated in 2019.