Like Christmas, the Royal Escape Race always seems to creep up on us, leaping from the calendar waving a safety checklist... Why can’t they make flares that last longer or invent a bucket lanyard that never goes missing? As ever the chandlers make hay from us all, but once the race day forecasts start firming up with a good smattering of breeze and sunshine, worries soon turn to excitement.
With the spring tides in play this year the vast majority of boats took up Premier’s generous offer of cheap overnight moorings at Brighton and the visitors pontoons were a busy hubbub as yachts peeled off to join the procession out to sea. Ian O’Dell and his team were ready with the cannons aboard F.P.V.Watchful and Neil Prescott was busy registering boats through the gate off the Palace Pier. Des was out with the SYC ribs setting marks whilst all around yachts of every size and style joined the melee of sails holding Brighton seafront entranced.
The PY fleet crossed the line in answer to the first start, with smoke from the gun whisked away on the chilly force 4 from the west at 08:00. Leaning into the breeze the large PY fleet started climbing towards the mark, with Serge Levarary and his crew from Fécamp working Mickey Mouse around in first place, just as the IRC fleets behind started their own preparatory dance.
Having not sailed since the everlasting refit had started back in November, équipe Barda were a bit rusty so we decided to hover around the committee boat and get away safely in the second tier. However with the minute gun gone, we spotted a gap and throwing caution to the wind slipped over the line on port, holding steady until we could see the whites of the starboard skippers eyes and then tacking... lifting just above Watchful’s anchor chain before wiggling upwind in the thick of the IRC leaders, now threading through the back of the PY fleet and turning for France.
Breathing a sigh of relief at being pointed at the Greenwich Light Vessel with no dramas, every boat in this the 34th Royal Escape Fleet settled down to tweaking for speed, or perhaps getting some bacon in the pan. The wind stayed steady from the west, with sunshine now warming the decks. Passing the light vessel to port there were boats scraping the anchor chain (Truant) and other miles out to the West (Moonlight Saunter). The big gamble was in what time the wind would cough on the French coast that evening, perfectly complemented as always with the flooding east set tide.
Far ahead the royal battle for the front of the fleet, led by Joe 90 must have been raging, spurred on with the amazing offer of a pair of Dubarry boots for every crew member on the winning boat. The shipping lanes were not too busy and although I am sure I heard the rumble of a ships horn in the distance, most passed through the traffic without a problem. As the miles slip by the fleet spreads out until it becomes hard to believe there are seventy four yachts all heading for the same place, but keen eyes pick off the lead boats on the horizon, trying to judge if the wind ahead is still blowing. The forecasts suggested that there would be a huge area of fickle breeze over Le Havre that would slowly drop down over Fécamp - who would beat it’s arrival?
Joe 90 was the first home with an elapsed time of 8:55:34 and an average speed of 7.5 knots, but crossed the line so close to the pier that they managed to ‘hit the mark’ with their keel. Not to be outdone, Mad Max then misjudged the line, dropped their sails, realised the error and re-hoisted to cross in 8:58:59. Team Joe 90 then got a fright as Donatello slipped over in 9:22:12 elapsed, which was a superb time and got them 2nd in IRC One, just 12 minutes away from the win on corrected, which over 67 miles of racing is close indeed.
The magnificent 100sqm classic sloop Overlord was the lead boat home in IRC 2, followed by Barda in 2nd and Jeneral Lee in 3rd, after which the wind went for a siesta with the rest of the IRC fleet unable to make the line and eventually retiring.
Brighton Belle took PY line honours with an elapsed time of 10:32:35, which got them the coveted Neville Russell trophy, whilst on corrected time the PY fleet was led by Artemis, Kereru and Chantelle. Special mention has to go to Mano Amico helmed by Giles Mayley who won Class 2 PY on his maiden race across the channel.
Retirements were coming in thick and fast as the tide built, but being made of stern stuff Chris Beazer on Thundachild stuck with it, keeping his family crew including grandson Harry amused until the wind filled in again allowing them to finish just after 2am, which won them the Editors Scroll.
BMYC did really well overall, taking both the IRC and PY team trophies and Kratos, from SHYC, took the IRC corporate challenge cup for Bates Wharf Southern.
With Gary Gathergood and his finishing team who had been up until the early hours enjoying a well deserved lie in, Tracey Thomas worked hard getting the results posted and Mike and George from race sponsor Southern Masts and Rigging helped with the safety scrutineering which thankfully showed every boat to be compliant. By now the wine, cheese and chocolate tasting was in full swing and the 200 free beers were also flowing across the SRF bar.
Time for a quick bite of lunch at the Big Ben before the prize giving, where we were joined by Roselyne Bachelot-Narquin, French Minister for Health and Sport to watch as Adele Boysons awarded the cups and retention trophies that she and Tony had kindly provided.
The usual boisterous banter was hurled around, with Mad Max awarding Joe 90 a large rock from the Fécamp beach, which apparently was the actual one they had hit whilst finishing. Our own Laurence Woodhams was so busy supping champagne cocktails out on the balcony that he nearly missed collecting the Bacon Family Trophy for good seamanship awarded after he charging back out with Ocean Dream to help Lara who was struggling to tow a disabled yacht against the tide. Aboard Lara, Marco Rummery was determined to keep on racing despite giving the tow, and after we’d adjust the times to reflect the time spent towing, it was marvellous to find that he’d won the motor sailing class....a fantastic effort all round!
Oh and speaking of fantastic efforts, well done to Barbara Runnels who with her Yarmouth 23 Moon River finished the race and took a special award for bringing the smallest RER boat across the channel. We suspect she’ll be flying her winners flag at every opportunity!
The Royal Escape is a treasured institution at SYC and I’m proud to be currently at it’s helm, but the truth is that without the incredible effort and dedication of our voluntary team the race just couldn’t happen. I get embarrassed when people say ‘well done’ to me... I’m just the figurehead. You all know who was hard at work on the race over the Bank Holiday weekend, so please, buy them a drink from Hocine and give them your thanks, which will hopefully help me recruit them again for 2011!
Chairman, Royal Escape Race Committee
(This is the report submitted to the Sussex Yacht Club magazine 'Wavelength').