I arrived in Paris on the 16th of August and caught a plane directly to La Grande Motte. After 26 hours of traveling from Australia I was exhausted, but the reception at Le Grande Motte Yacht Club was worth it. I found out that the boat had been measured and the safety checks had been carried out in my absence and the boat was almost ready to race.
Bret perry from Katabatic Sailing had done a fantastic job in my absence working on the boat and replacing a lot of the running rigging and changing around the cockpit layout. Many of the spares that I had ordered, and parts that I had in for service had also arrived to La Grande Motte so I found the time to fit them into the boat, including the fully reconditioned Efoy methanol fuel cell that will be providing the power required to run the boats electronics and hydraulic pilot.
It was a busy day on Saturday of final preparations, including lifting the boat for a hull inspection and cleaning the bottom. Five weeks of not being sailed resulted is some marine growth on the bottom, but it was easy to clean off, and as I had a few hours to spare while the boat sat in the cradle and the French yard workers had their afternoon break, I was able to wet sand the bottom, and make the hull as smooth as possible. We also took the opportunity to re-brand the boat with the some new Zhik stickers which complimented the RG650 branding that Bret had placed on the boat while it was in Valencia.
A new Mainsail and Jib had also arrived, thanks to Dad and Peter for the donation of the Jib. We lay the new sails out on the yacht club floor for close inspection, and decided that given the light forecast for the race we would use them for the first time this race.
By the end of Saturday I was exhausted, and after a quick BBQ at the yacht club I returned to the boat and fell asleep in no time at all. I awoke at 0700 on the morning of race start, and re-charged myself with a strong coffee before rigging the boat for the race prior to the breeding. The briefing was at 0930, and involved a detailed description of the course, and also a weather breeding. The weather had changed significantly over the past 24 hours, and the bureau were now forecasting stronger winds.
The course would be from Le Grande Motte around the following marks along the coast of South of France
1 – Parc conchylicole Narbonne Plage
2 – Iles Mèdes (Ile El Medallot)
3 – Bouée La Grande Motte
4 Marque Spéciale Carro (Cap Couronne) 5 – Ile du Grand Ribaud
6 – Ile de Porquerolles
7 Marque Spéciale Carro (Cap Couronne) 8 – Parc conchylicoles Narbonne Plage Arrivée La Grande Motte
As the Start gun sounded RG650 Min 816 was in pole position on the start line right next to the start boat, and I led the fleet away from the line. I was soon able to tack and make a windward course to the south east towards Narbonne and had fantastic speed, even managing to keep up with the two prototype mini’s to windward of me. In the evening the sea breeze dropped off and I was close racing against two other mini’s including the other RG650 sailed by Russian sailor Yuri as we rounded the Narbonne cardinal marks. Beam reaching gave perfect conditions to try out the brand new Code 0 design that I was trailing for Katabatic Sailing and our sail designer. I was extremely impressed wight he performance of the RG650 with this sail, and our speed was superior to the other boats around us. We reached the most southerly mark of the course by early morning, and turned north to the next mark in La Grande Motte.
Wind increased throughout the second day, and by late morning we had 15-20 kts and I was sailing with two reefs in the mainsail and my solent jib. The wind was very gusty, and while there were times I was tempted to re-hoist the Code 0 but the occasional gust of over 20kts prevented this move.
As I approached the windward mark at La grande Motte that evening there was a conversation on the VHF radio amongst other competitors and the organisation committee. The updated weather forecast had predicted the wind to increase to over 30kts that night, and it was considered that due to navigational hazards and shallow water for the next two legs of the race it would be a good idea to postpone the second half of the race. This was good news as I had a good lead over the other series boats, and this would give me a first place on the sore board.
Racing resumed the next morning, and the second start was also good and I led the rest of the fleet towards the windward mark. I was first around the windward mark and hoisted the my big medium weight spinnaker, fully powering up the boat to its limit. Sadly the sail proved too powerful for the new rigging and the cover of my guys stripped from the spectra allowing my pole to swing forward. I managed to quickly drop the spinnaker and replace the rope, but not before a number of other boats were able to overtake me. The boat was racing along under full sail, but the gusty conditions as we rounded the corner were too overpowering, and I replaced the medium sail with the Code 5. As I hoisted the code 5 it had only just set when we were hit by a 25-30kt gust. The RG650 took off, and I belted down wind at maximum speed, with the boat planing over 16kts. Unfortunatly the wind was too strong for me to make the desired course, so I did not hold the fast racing sail for long before returning to two sail reaching where I edged my way to the north of the rest of the fleet to put me in a good tactical position of the rest of the race.
By the time I reached Carro I was the first series boat, and second in proto’s. One proto had cut dangerously close to the coast and had collided with a reef while surfing at 14kts. Unfortunatly for the spanish sailor the collision proved disastrous for his boat and he damaged the boat to an extent that he would not be able to finish the race, and also putting him out of contention for the mini transit in October.
I rounded Carro in a good position and once again hoisted the medium weight spinnaker, and made good speed along the beautiful french coastline towards the Porquerolles. It was tempting to take a short cut through some islands, but with the darkness of night time, and not being familiar with the coastline I decided it was prudent to remain outside the islands. By morning the wind had dropped off, and after sleeping for a couple of hours I woke near the Porquerolles to find the wind had completely dropped off and two another series boat (in the double handed division) had overtaken me. It was a good fight around the Porquerolles islands between the three boats, with us all in sight of each other, and the winning boat not far ahead. It was defiantly a perfect day for sailing with 10kts of wind, and the French were making the most of their world favourite cruising grounds, with flotilla’s of cruising yachts sailing the bay.
I rounded the Porquerolles and hoisted the medium spinnaker again, for a very tight reach back towards La Grande Motte. Through the day the wind veered as expected and by the end of the day I was forced to drop the spinnaker to round the next headland. Some of the cruising boats in this area have no idea of racing, and one decided to have a good look at my funny little over-canvassed race boat and sat directly to windward of me as they took photo’s and discussed my boat. I attempted to ask them to move out of the way, but they did not understand my french or english. A number of internationally recognised hand signals gave them the idea, and after an half an hour of taking my wind, they moved to leeward of me.
Some good tactical sailing up the coastline enabled me to lift high along the cliffs and overtake one of the other boats before Riou islands. We fought our way along the coastline, and on dusk sailed through the Riou passage. If it had been any later it would have been too risky to take this passage, so one could say that we timed it perfect ally
A mixture of light winds from every direction plagued us most of the way for the next few marks. Wind was changing every hour, so it was impossible to get more than 40 minutes of sleep at a time without missing the shift or change in wind. On one occasion I was so exhausted from the constant tacking, gybing and sail changes I slept through my alarm, and I awoke two hours later to find that I had been overtaken by one of the mini’s while I slept, and as the morning went on I worked hard to regain my second position.
It was a close race between me and tow other boats back towards Narbonne, and by the time we reached the cardinals I was back in third place in the proto division.
The final leg towards the finish from Narbonne to La Grande Motte was an excellent sail. light winds were forecasted, so I hugged the coastline, hoping to get some good shifts and lifts from the land. My plan worked and I sailed a near perfect leg, laying the points and avoiding the numerous fish farms at an expert level. By midday the wind began to veer, and I was soon able to hoist my Code 0. As a result I was fully powered and sailing the optimal course for the RG650 for the final part of the race. The sun was shining and we were experiencing perfect winds. I took the time to enjoy being back on the mini, and with the autopilot on, the boat was doing an easy 6.5 kts and I was able to relax, play some music and enjoy the ride.
While I was unable to catch the two proto’s ahead of me I made up some valuable ground, and finished only twenty minutes behind the second boat. My final result for the race with the results of both races included put me in second position overall in series class, and first place in series solo (had the boat been rated as series). This was a fantastic way for the RG650 to make history as we had finally sailed enough miles in the boat to qualify the RG650 as a series boat.
As well as having a podium position for Le Grande 8, we received the good news that it was official , the RG650 816 would now be racing the Mini Transat 2013 as a series boat!