Monday, 6 May 2013

Tour de Belle-Ile : Sunshine and Pétole... Spindrift weather!

The sixth edition of the Tour de Belle-Ile (won by Seb Josse and Gitana Team, seen in the background during this year's race, the two preceding years) has "13" on the flag in recognition of the year being 2013. Image copyright Anne Hinton - all rights reserved.

by Anne Hinton

The idyllic Brittany setting of La Trinité-sur-Mer was the base for the sixth edition of the Tour de Belle-Ile race in the Bay of Quiberon, Saturday, 4th May. Sunshine and pleasant spring temperatures suggested that this was going to be an excellent event; the issue proved to be the wind. While a thermal breeze was forecast, a frontal sequence, with cirrus and alto-cumulus cloud led to a battle which lasted for most of the day, depriving contestants of the fuel for their sails, namely wind.

A postponement for one and a half hours commenced proceedings, during which there was considerable vociferous advice given to the race committee (who maintained a steadfast silence) by radio. One comment was that this was not the Olympic Games and to get the race started. However, the boats would not have moved under sail power had the competitors been let loose on the course any earlier, as there wasn't any wind. Another call to the race committee concerned opening a bar while waiting for wind - which brought a lot of orders from many competitors!

The JP54, registered in New Zealand, she finished second on corrected time in the monohull class. Image coypright Anne Hinton - all rights reserved.

The start was something of an anti-climax, after all the waiting, at the monohull end of the line, where there was some urgent motoring to get back behind the line before the start in a few cases! The one New Zealand registered boat (the JP54 - so-registered as she was not only built in New Zealand, but also sailed there initially) started on port tack - heading for the mainland coast closest to the anti-clockwise round of Belle-Ile (seen as a low-lying island in the distance when viewed from the starting line). This meant that she sailed behind many of the other competitors who were starting on starboard.

France racing in the Tour de Belle-Ile. Image copyright Christophe Le Poitier/Tour de Belle-Ile

The monohulls included Bruno Troublé at the helm of France, the beautiful 12 metre that was the first French entry in the America's Cup, based out of La Trinité-sur-mer, by Baron Biche, in 1970. At the other end of the size scale, the French Youth Team, for the Red Bull Youth America's Cup, entered on Energy Incidences, an Open 7.50, that they had also sailed in Spi Ouest. This was their first Tour de Belle-Ile race.

The 12 metre, France, waits for wind before the start of the Tour de Belle-Ile 2013. Image copyright Anne Hinton - all rights reserved

The Lorient-based Team Jolokia in a Volvo Open 60; a team that emphasizes diversity, in combining people from a range of backgrounds and sailing experience, as well as a mixture of those who are both able-bodied and handicapped, on the boat, also entered Tour de Belle-Ile as their first race in a build-up to a campaign that will see them take part in the Rolex Fastnet Race later this year.

The large multihulls, which had the considerable advantage of starting nearer the mainland coast close to Belle-Ile, drew the inevitable attention of most spectators and media (although the 1 minute and 45 second transmission by TF1 on the main evening news bulletin concentrated on those competing as a one-off family and friends experience). Incidentally, there was also heavy coverage from France 3 who sent both a national team and a regional France 3 Bretagne TV crew to cover the Tour de Belle-Ile for the day.

Match racing between Spindrift MOD70 and Gitana 11, the race record holder, and winner of the large multihull class. Image copyright Anne Hinton - all rights reserved.

Yann Guichard on the MOD70 Spindrift Racing got the best of the starts, and immediately kept the race winner from 2011 and 2012, Seb Josse on Gitana 11, under cover. Gitana 11 started right behind Spindrift and, when they tacked towards the mainland shore after crossing the line, Guichard was keen to keep the cover on Josse very tight. (These two had spent the previous week training against each other in MOD70s.) Josse was forced into a position of having to pinch up to get out of the dirty air, while Guichard was able to sail free. It was a very good and tight match race!

Spindrift MOD70. Image copyright Anne Hinton - all rights reserved

The difference in sail plan was obvious between Spindrift and Gitana 11. The masts on the two boats are much the same height, but Gitana 11 was able to have the mast upright, as suited the conditions, whereas Spindrift was able to carry a much larger foresail, with the squatter appearance of the MOD70 rig.

Slightly further back there was also an initial match race between Lionel Lemonchois' brand new Prince de Bretagne 80 and Thomas Coville's Sodebo, as Prince de Bretagne tacked on top of Sodebo, when the latter headed towards the mainland coast, which was a while later than Guichard and Josse who did this straight off the line. These two boats did not have crew obviously so far forward, to get the long ends of the hulls in the water and benefit from waterline length, as, in particular Spindrift and Gitana 11 did... Spindrift had at least four crew in the forward trampoline, centrally on the boat.

Sodebo is now flying over the waves like a bird, about to catch a fish.... Image copyright Anne Hinton - all rights reserved.

There was some very interesting paintwork on Sodebo... Exact species of bird not identified at present! The location of the bird's beak appears to relate to the crash box (disposable bow) and we are wondering whether this is connected to the loss of the crash box on one of the hulls during the last solo around-the-world record attempt by skipper Thomas Coville...

It was obvious from the start that the ongoing wind battle was not going to provide enough puff for competitors to complete the Tour de Belle-Ile. Mid-afternoon, as the leader Spindrift approached the Poulains (famous from the photographs of them in storms by the Plissons and others) at the western end of Belle-Ile, the race committee decided to finish the Tour at this location.

Prince de Bretagne 80 gets the better of Sodebo in match racing soon after the start. Image copyright Anne Hinton - all rights reserved

Spindrift reached this new finish location just under 4 hours after the start of the race, at about 1530 (3.30pm) in the afternoon. Gitana 11 was close behind, while Prince de Bretagne 80 was third across the finishing line. The average speed of Spindrift for the race was a mere 3.9 knots - slower than the 2010 Bol d'Or on Lake Geneva (won by Dona Bertarelli in a D35, Ladycat), which Yann Guichard estimated (in 2010) that he had sailed at an average of about 5 knots on a Ventilo M2 multihull, finishing not long after his partner's D35.

A champagne reception awaits the victorious Spindrift crew. Image copyright Anne Hinton - all rights reserved.

With the light winds it appeared that this would be a small boat race. A port and starboard, with the leading, British-registered, Open 7.50, ducking Sodebo ("one hull and we would have tried to cross, but three made it too daunting a prospect", Cool Runnings' Danish owner, who lives in London, but used to be based in La Trinité, admitted), was evidence of the way in which the small, light, monohull sport boats had kept up with the maxi multihulls in the zephyrs.

The French Youth Team, for the Red Bull Youth America's Cup, Next World Energy, skippered by Charles Hainneville, also took part in their first Tour de Belle-Ile, in the Open 7.50 "Energy Incidences". They were 28th to finish the race, and third in class in the Open 7.50.

However, it was the TP52 Paprec Recyclage which took overall race honours. This French crew is not a professional team, but the boat is the 2007 MedCup-winning Artemis (ex-Tornqvist), and the sponsor covers the costs of running the boat, which will be competing further locally in Brittany before doing most of the TP52 Super Series in the Mediterranean this year. Other TPs, watch out!

Akena Verandas, IMOCA. Image copyright Anne Hinton - all rights reserved.

On handicap, the second boat was the JP54, the variation-on-an-IMOCA theme arranged by Jean-Pierre Dick, who was away sailing in the Grand Prix Guyader in his new love, the MOD70 Virbac Paprec, where he finished first, ahead of the latest Banque Populaire VII (ex-Groupama 3) maxi trimaran on the first day, and so missed this Tour de Belle-Ile.

Almost all the entrants finished the shortened race; only about 40 of the 476 competing decided to abandon. For them, the Mysteries of the Tour de Belle-Ile competition for an iPad, awaited ashore, followed by the very relaxed but lively party, which went on into the early hours of the morning.

The line honours-winning Spindrift MOD70 crew with Dona Bertarelli second from left, standing next to skipper Yann Guichard, third from left. Image copyright Anne Hinton - all rights reserved.

Ashore, the Spindrift crew, which included Dona Bertarelli, were greeted with champagne... and there was white wine for everyone after the official prizegiving the following day too.

The setting of La Trinité-sur-Mer is ideal, with the town and sailing-related shops immediately across the road from the large marina. The race village was set up by the marina, about 500 metres from the local yacht club, the Societe Nautique de la Trinité. The larger monohulls and multihulls were just the other side of the breakwater from the marina, close to the Capitainerie (Harbour Master's office), so everyone was together - something that most events do not manage to achieve.

Marina in the centre of La Trinité-sur-mer. Image copyright Anne Hinton - all rights reserved

Amidst a range of sponsors, Land Rover France came on board (before the Extreme Sailing Series announcement of Land Rover as a partner) - and we would like to recommend to Sodebo, by means of this article, that they extend their sponsorship from the participation of the maxi-trimaran in the event to providing food and sponsoring the event itself. Surely the national and regional TV coverage alone would make this worthwhile, quite apart from the range of people to be found in a fleet of 476+ boats!

The Tour de Belle-Ile is growing in popularity from year to year, and it is easy to see why. The event is smaller than the Bol d'Or on Lake Geneva and far smaller than Britain's JP Morgan Round the Island Race, but has a strong and building following. The race was put back by a weekend this year, into early May, to try to aid entries for another event along the coast a weekend earlier, but that had to be cancelled for lack of entries. However, the Tour de Belle-Ile took place comfortably alongside the Grand Prix Guyader further west, in Douarnenez, near Brest, where many amateur and professional teams are doing battle. Some crews continued from the Tour de Belle-Ile to compete in the Grand Prix, while others left their boats in La Trinité ready for the ArMen Race next weekend.

Tour de Belle-Ile 2013. Image copyright Anne Hinton - all rights reserved

Altogether, a fun time was had by all in an idyllic relaxed and friendly setting. Roll on next year's Tour de Belle-Ile - and let's see some more competition from abroad. This is another gem of a sailing event in France!

Tour de Belle-Ile