22 boats out of the original line-up of 23 made it across the finish line in this 12th CIC Normandy Channel Race, a figure which is pretty exceptional on several levels. Indeed, in addition to a scenario with multiple twists and turns and the race’s now trademark unbearable suspense, this year the varied yet predominantly downwind conditions across the whole course and an overall timing that tended to be favourable at the tricky sections, were a fairly radical departure from the ‘norm’ in this great classic. With all these conditions combined, two stand-out features coloured this year’s event: the course was completed in its entirety, which is only the 2nd time in 12 editions, and the new sub-5-day event record will really take some beating.
It was in bracing conditions that this 2021 edition set sail, forcing the Race Committee to forego the initially scheduled coastal course off the mouth of the River Orne and send the 23 competing duos off on a mission to round a windward mark some 2.5 nautical miles off the start line set in the Baie de Seine before setting a course for the first course mark of Saint Marcouf. At this precise moment in time, nobody could have imagined that they were witnessing the only upwind stretch of this edition. However, very early on, it became evident that the skippers were posting exceptional speeds and one by one setting new records to the various course marks. The passage across the English Channel was devoured in just a matter of hours. From there, the fleet powered along the south coast of England, timing a series of tricky sections like the Solent and Land’s End to perfection in a lot of cases. The crew then continued their blistering progress in the Celtic Sea, with the leaders reaching Tuskar Rock in under 48 hours… 45 hours 22 minutes and 13 seconds to be precise for the front runner Crédit Mutuel (158) to round the event’s iconic lighthouse. A record time! After rounding the fabulous Fastnet, the return passage in the English Channel was equally quick as far as the Channel Islands, where suddenly things got really tricky and treated spectators to a torrid sprint for the finish.
Once again, the CIC Normandy Channel Race gave rise to an incredible scenario where it was impossible to predict a winner until the final few miles of this course spanning a theoretical 1,000 miles. Ultimately, winner Project Rescue Ocean (162) crossed the finish line one hour before the second placed boat, but it wasn’t until the Barfleur headland had been rounded in the early hours of Friday 4 June that her skippers could make a clean break after a night spent battling with the current synonymous with Le Raz Blanchard. Astern of the champions, the four closest pursuers were firing on all cylinders as they became embroiled in a final sprint reminiscent of match racing across the Baie de Seine, which culminated in just 6 minutes separating the boats from Lamotte Module Création (153) in 2nd place to Banque du Léman (159) in 5th. Redman (161), 3rd, completed the podium. Behind them, there was constant jockeying for position throughout the bunched fleet and the skippers had to demonstrate utter commitment at every stage of the race, as evidenced by Avanade (98), Équipe Voile Parkinson (104) and Prisme (131), all of them crossing the finish line within just 20 minutes. The same was true at the tail end of the fleet between Gustave Roussy (133) and Eärwen (88), who finished the race within just a minute of one another. As ever in this Norman event, there’s everything to play for right to the wire, which is what drives the skippers to come back year after year to try their luck.
This 2021 edition will certainly go down as an event to remember. A new record has been set for the entire CIC Normandy Channel Race course. Axel Trehin and Frédéric Denis are the proud holders of this new title thanks to a time of 4 days 17 hours 49 minutes and 50 seconds. And it’s certainly going to be a very tough time to beat given all the elements that needed to be on their side to secure it. Indeed, the exceptionally favourable conditions also enabled another record to be set: that of the fewest retirements. Just a single crew were unable to make it all the way around, which is a first. A direct result of this was the finest and fullest race village at the end of the race, which meant that the basin in Caen was packed with Class40s and their skippers to celebrate the prize-giving and crown the champions.
The skippers all agree that strategically the ‘Normandy’ is a very demanding race and the rhythm incredibly intense, making it one of France’s major offshore racing events. Achille Nebout, 2nd on Lamotte Module Création (153), was full of praise on his arrival in Ouistreham: “I’d heard a lot about this race. Everyone said it was just crazy and that’s exactly what it is, just like the Solitaire du Figaro”. This sentiment was echoed by Maxime Cauwe, skipper of Avanade (98), who describes the event as intense. “I think that together with the transatlantic races, it’s the toughest championship there is”. Nils Boyer (Le Choix Funéraire – 139) is equally inspired. “There’s always a fantastic welcome at the start and finish. It really is one of the only races I know where that is the case.”
For American sailors Greg and Hannes Leonard, back for the second crack at the CIC Normandy Channel Race this year, the event has become a must for all these reasons and more, and its increasing global appeal comes as no surprise. Indeed, it is a truly unique event in the Class40 race schedule, with an international level, incredibly competitive racing and the Class40 spirit… a heady mix for sports specialists in the English Channel and the Celtic Sea. Roll on 2022!
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