Celtic Game

Aside from the Class40s Le Bleuet de France and Chinook, all the crews competing in this CIC Normandy Channel Race 2023 have now rounded Land’s End and are making for Tuskar Rock. Powering out of the starting blocks in Ouistreham and ticking off the course marks and a series of tricky sections at high speed, the protagonists in this 14th edition looked set for a sprint across the English Channel and the Irish Sea. Typically though, the great Norman classic has served up a heady cocktail of conditions to thwart our competitors. Early yesterday evening, we witnessed the fleet coming to a virtual standstill as they began to take on the ascent of the Celtic Sea. Indeed, the leaders ended up getting tangled in the wind shadow of the south-west tip of England and struggled to make headway, posting speeds of less than a knot at times… From then on, the name of the game has been to try to latch onto the most favourable gusts and try to be the first to benefit from the NE’ly breeze blowing out of the Bristol Channel. Not a very relaxing exercise for the skippers, who have been physically and psychologically put through their paces trying to constantly tweak their trim to best effect in the race for supremacy. It was only in the early hours of this Tuesday morning, at around 01:30 UTC, that the first competitors finally managed to shake off this windless zone and pick up the pace again.

A first peloton of 19 boats, led by the Italo-French duo of Ambrogio Beccaria / Kévin Bloch aboard Alla Grande Pirelli, are now belting along at between 14 and 17 knots, due north, on a reach. It’s the Class40 helmed by Guadeloupe skipper Keni Piperol accompanied by Thomas Jourdren on Cap Alternance, who is bringing up the rear of this group some 20 nautical miles shy of the leaders. Behind them, a sizeable gap of around 20 miles has opened up ahead of the chasing pack. Those boats heading the second group passed Land’s End with a favourable current but have since been hugging the coast to the north of the headland in a bid to protect themselves from punching into the current. Meantime, the rest of the pack, led by Unep / Univerre et Zeiss – Weeecycling, has spent much of the night stumbling up against the current, as evidenced by the American father and son duo, Greg and Hannes Leonard, aboard Kite: “Monday treated us to some great spinnaker conditions, though they required constant attention. This is the kind of champagne sailing that sailors dream about. At least that was the case until the wind died just before Land’s End. We’re now trying to keep pace with Cap Pour Elles in 2 knots of breeze and as much current at times. The Longships lighthouse was ghostly, lurking in the shadows as we passed close by trying to hide from the counter current. We’re really looking forward to a speedier climb up the Irish Sea.”

The first Class40s should reach the iconic Tuskar Rock mark in around 3hrs (about 08:30-09:00 UTC). In the meantime, the duos will have to watch out for the wind shadow created by St David’s Peninsula in Wales, which might well play tricks on our sailors and reshuffle the cards…

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