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Express ride back to Normandy - Normandy Channel Race
Thursday 28 May 2015

Day 4 - Late afternoon GMT

The Normandy Channel Race always has a few surprises up its sleeve. At 10:05GMT this morning, 12 miles to the south-east of Fastnet, BRETAGNE- CRÉDIT MUTUEL and CARAC - ADVANCED ENERGIES crossed paths. For a moment one might be forgiven for thinking the second boat had managed to catch up with the leader. But no! After rounding the famous rock at 08:43GMT and setting a course for the Channel Islands, the leader came face to face with its closest rival as the latter were making headway upwind in big seas, yet to round the elusive Fastnet…

Indeed, after a hellish afternoon yesterday and a tough night upwind in difficult seas, the fleet of Class40s found themselves off Fastnet this morning. By 1400GMT, 8 crews had rounded this latest course mark, immediately and delightedly launching onto a downwind sprint, which saw the majority of the boats suddenly making 14 knots of boat speed.

The witty eloquence of Halvard Mabire on CAMPAGNE 2 FRANCE sums up last night to a T: "Misfortune lies in beating to windward, in any case beyond a certain wind strength and above all beyond a certain sea state. This is how it’s been since Tuskar Rock and we’re all reflecting on the strange idea, the incongruousness even, of laboriously tacking our way along the Irish coast, against the winds and the tides, the whole scenario involving terrible seas, the likes of which you only find along the coast. With our machines capable of knocking mackerel senseless, close-hauled sailing is certainly not fun. We’re slamming and bumping into liquid slopes, but by some strange law of dynamics, they become solid the minute our hull hits them. The upshot of this is some very violent impact. Aside from the unpleasant feeling that the hull is going to open up from the shock and that the mast is going to clobber us over the heads with every wave, life aboard, or rather survival, is rendered nigh on impossible. The simple things of everyday life become chores, challenges even.”

With regards today’s ranking, leaders Nicolas Troussel and Felix Pruvot boasted a rather cheeky lead of nearly 40 miles at 14:00GMT and their race seems to be turning into a demonstration! Caution is the order of the day nevertheless with what promises to be a very fast return trip to Caen / Ouistreham, downwind, which is set to remain tactical as the competitors can’t quite make a direct course for now. The weather forecast is also indicating another front rolling through, with strong winds of 30 knots or more early tomorrow morning around the Channel Islands and the Cotentin: another tricky phase to negotiate then before the sailors make it back to Caen and the finish.

CARAC - ADVANCED ENERGIES is managing to hold onto a very fine second place, now tailed by SOLIDAIRES EN PELOTON - ARSEP, the team on LE CONSERVATEUR and ZETRA, which is managing to keep pace with the front runners. Contacted at the lunchtime link-up, the Brazilian crew showed great optimism as the newcomers to the circuit.

As for the Italian crew on COLOMBRE XL, who valiantly set sail again from Rosslare at 0500GMT this morning after stopping off there all night, it has since sadly had to announce its retirement following repeated energy problems aboard.

Quotes from the boats:

Ned Collier Wakefield – Concise 8

“Everything’s fine, we’re good. We’re in a tight tacking duel to see who can get to Fastnet Rock first. We came up with a good strategy with everyone coming back together and it’s quite fun. Tactically it’s a race for second place again with everyone in it. Last night wasn’t so bad. It was yesterday afternoon when we went round Tuskar Rock that it was fairly lumpy and fairly windy, but it was okay. There was no problem. We had a couple of issues on the boat. A couple of things broke but nothing major. We’re looking forward to going downwind now. It’ll be pretty good fun after Fastnet I think. It’s all to play for. Everyone will be sailing together. We’re going to try and make the most of using the Irish coast initially. It should be about 24hrs from the rock back down to the finish so it’ll be a fairly quick 24 hours I think.”

Philippa Hutton-Squire – Concise 2

“Bumpy night. Lumpy morning. Crisp sunrise. Fresh breeze. Looking forward to the homeward leg!”

Miranda Merron – Campagne 2 France

“From no wind to too much wind in a matter of hours. Mayhem at Tuskar as the wind increased, gusting over 30 knots, driving rain and little visibility as the front approached, boats piling in at pace, getting spinnakers down and staysails up. And the start of an extremely long and tedious beat to the Fastnet Rock, short-tacking along the first part of the coast. It wasn't so much the wind strength as the appalling sea state, so yesterday we were in survival mode rather than race mode. Even now that the wind has dropped, the sea state is pretty unpleasant. There are still many hours of upwind hell between us and the Fastnet. It is at least sunny, if rather wet on deck.”

Manu Cousin - Groupe Setin

"Hi all! ‘I’ve slept in wet sheets,’ sings the French singer Renaud; well we haven’t even got the sheets…! Joking aside, we’re giving all we’ve got to stay in the race and our leap up the leaderboard yesterday made us crazily happy as we rounded Tuskar Rock with all these boats rounding the beautiful lighthouse behind us!!! Our delight was short-lived alas as we suddenly heard a big Crack as we changed tack… It was very scary as our first thought was the mast or a piece of structural floor, but in the end it turned out to be the forward ballast tank to port, which has cracked throughout. It was with some relief then that we realised the 450l of water hadn’t gushed out into the boat. We had time to empty it before it exploded. We’ll just have to do without it till the end. A few minutes later, in a very choppy, big sea, in 25kts of established breeze gusting to 30, it was the mast wand that took a hit and it’s dangling by its cable now. As such we no longer have any indication of the wind strength and direction and no autopilot either for our descent to France. We’ll have to helm under spinnaker in the final squall that awaits us between the Fastnet and Guernsey, with 25 to 30kts according to the grib file. Otherwise all’s well aboard and we’ll be doing our utmost to get back in the chasing pack again. Manu and Kéké off Kinsale, Ireland.”

Massimo Juris (Colombre XL)

“We were able to repair some instruments but not all so this morning we made the decision to come back. We don’t have enough information to continue. It’s a beautiful race though. It’s very technical of course, but there’s enough time to have light winds and very strong winds too so it’s a very interesting race in that respect. To win the race you need to be very complete. It’s an open race I think with the combination of the current and the variety of tacks. People who make a mistake have time to recover so it’s open till the very end.”

Follow the race on www.normandy-race.com. The cartography with the position of the boats will be updated every 15 minutes. Find the skippers’ accounts on the race’s social networks (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) and come along to the live link-ups at the Pavillon de Normandie in Caen between 12:00 and 13:00pm local time.

Provisional ranking on Day 4 of the race, at 1400 GMT:

- 1 Bretagne - Crédit Mutuel
- 2 Carac - Advanced Energies 38.49 miles behind
- 3 Solidaires En Peloton - ARSEP 39.52 miles behind
- 4 Le Conservateur 40.92 miles behind
- 5 Serenis Consulting 41.81 miles behind

Photo : Jean-Marie Liot/NCR2015
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