Organised by the Royal Ocean Racing Club in association with l’UNCL Pôle Course du YCF, La Société Nautique de la Trinité sur mer, and Société Nautique de la baie de St Malo.
A second decisive race win in the inaugural IRC Two-Handed European Championship cemented Didier Gaudoux and Gildas Morvan’s Lann Ael 3 as overall victor. As in the first race of the event, 350 miles from La Trinité to Cowes, they were in the right place at the right time for the complex weather and navigational transitions in the 150-mile Cowes Dinard St Malo race.
This event started in fine conditions ahead of a complex area of low pressure with active fronts, plus associated wind shifts that moved across the leaders mid race. From then onwards, much of the course was in lighter headwinds and at times boat speed, even for the leaders, was little more than one knot.
Before that they enjoyed a brisk reach under Code Zero across the English Channel to the Casquets in an easterly airstream. This favoured the newly launched one off Sam Manuard/ Bernard Nivelt designed Lann Ael 3, just as similar conditions, though with stronger breezes, had in the opening race.
“These two races were a very interesting combination for the championship, and of course the target is to win, so we are very happy,” says Gaudoux, who explains there were two key elements to his success. “Initially we made a conscious decision to sail as low as possible to avoid the fleet because we started with IRC Class 1, so there were a lot of bigger boats around us.
“The other key point was that the forecast was quite uncertain when we arrived at the Casquets.” He says they therefore tried to make the best possible progress with the wind they had at any given time, rather than put faith in GRIB files and routing software.
Then the wind shut off a few miles before the finish. “It was very difficult at the end – the wind was absent,” he explains. “We lost a lot of time just before the finish line. It was not comfortable because we knew the boats further back were catching us quite fast and we were really just stopped with no wind.”
How did Gaudoux get a new custom built boat up to speed so quickly? “We have done a few races already, including the Armen Race and Spi Ouest,” he says. “But we’re still learning the boat and, frankly speaking, we still have a lot of questions about which is the right sail and so on.” Even though the choice of sail plan was relatively easy for this race, they still got it wrong once. “Fortunately, it was quite obvious and we could change it very quickly.
“Of course we’re still in the learning curve,” he adds. “There are many, many things we need to learn. We still have to fine tune the electronics and things like that, but we have a good basis.”
The Cowes Dinard St Malo Race was nowhere near as French dominated as the opening race in the Two-Handed IRC European Championship. Nick Martin’s Sun Fast 3600 Diablo, with Cal Finlayson as co-skipper, was next across the line behind Lann Ael 3 and took third place after IRC time correction. Olympic gold medallist Jonathan McKee and Alyosha Strum-Palerm’s Sun Fast 3300 Red Ruby was the third boat to cross the finish.
“It was a challenging race, but we had a lot of fun,” says McKee. “It was pretty fast and straightforward out the Solent and across the Channel. But once we got to the Channel Islands, it was lightish airs upwind, with a lot of tide and pretty tactical. That was the most difficult part of the race, especially later that morning, when the wind got quite light and pretty shifty.”
Despite what might have been a course that appeared to favour faster boats in its earlier stages, one of the lower rated boats in the fleet, Jean-André Hebel’s JPK 1010 Les P’tits Doudous en Duo, was next to finish, less than 200 seconds behind Red Ruby and took second place after IRC time correction. Two other 1010s also posted good results: Jean-François Chériaux Ad Hoc and Ludovic Menahes’ Raphael, finishing fourth and fifth after time correction respectively.
A consistent performance near the front of the fleet saw Ad Hoc take second place overall in the Championship, just four points behind Lann Ael 3, with Les P’tits Doudous en Duo third two points further back and just ahead of fourth-placed Raphael. Diablo was top non-French boat in sixth places, two points ahead of Red Ruby in seventh overall.
“The championship was a really challenging combination of the two races, in a really interesting part of the world to sail,” adds McKee. “There’s a lot of tide and shifting winds, plus the first race was quite long, so that definitely tests your endurance as a double hander.
“It’s pretty clear the French have been doing this for a lot longer and are at a bit higher level than the rest of us,” he continues. “Their top boats are really well sailed, very, very well prepared, and they know those waters very well, so their success is not surprising. One of the reasons we did these races was to put ourselves against what we consider to be the toughest double-handed sailors in the world. The fleet was fantastic. We had nearly 60 boats, almost all of them in a very small rating range, so they are almost all the same speed and it’s a real sailors’ race.”
Both Lann Ael 3 and Red Ruby are entered in the Rolex Fastnet Race, which this year will see the biggest ever double-handed fleet, with more than 100 boats. As overall winner of the 2017 race in his last boat, sailing with a team of six, Gaudoux must be one of the favourite two-handed entries. However, he is pragmatic about his chances. “I am doing the Fastnet this year with no specific target,” he says. “This is the first time I’m competing double handed, so my target is just to sail a clean and safe race, while doing the best we can.”