The Royal Escape, organised by the Sussex Yacht Club, is the largest cross channel race outside of the Solent and attracted a healthy entry of 64 yachts comprising both PY and IRC fleets to the start line between Brighton's Piers on Friday 22 May. With press and radio coverage and a glorious sunny morning, the race had set drive-time Brighton buzzing and all the fleets got away cleanly over two starts from 08:00 expertly managed by Race Officer (UK) Ian O'Dell aboard the Fisheries Protection Vessel 'Watchful' under the command of Charlie Hubbard.
Despite the sunshine the 15-20knt breeze was a little cold but crews were soon sweating as boats were worked up the busy beat towards the windward turning mark off Hove, which was left to port. Bows then turned towards the Greenwich Light Vessel which was to be left to port before heading to Fécamp, Normandy, a course of around 67 miles. In both fleets the committee boat end was favoured and noticeably Joe 90, Barda and BoJangles had a battle over the prime spot on the IRC start, with Barda getting pole. Following a request at the race briefing to remember that this is a corinthian event for all standards, the majority of the fleets spread along the line, recognising that there was a long way to go and nobody wanted to spend their Saturday in France inside a protest room.
The wind had a little too much south in it for all but the flattest cut reaching kites to work well, though there were a handful of code zeros showing the way. Soon the fleet spread out and with a fast fetch cleared the English coast. Perhaps it was the credit crunch but the shipping lanes were amazingly quiet and the fleet worked closer and closer to France without any problems. It soon became apparent that there were three games in play. The first belonged to the fastest boats, who working on the assumption that they could beat the forecast light airs developing on the French coast, simply went for it, allowing little for the incoming tide. Then there were those that expected the breeze to hold and allowed a little for the tide and bore away east to capitalise on the best pressure. And then there were a few who followed the old 'West is best' plan, expecting the wind to cough... which is what it did, and when it returned as a light 5 knot breeze it had flicked around to the SE.
Boats were parked up fighting the tide all along the French coast, some close under the cliffs trying to dodge the stream. However by now the leaders were over the Fécamp finishing line with the J90 'Joe 90' taking line honours and the IRC ONE win with a corrected time of 10:26:29. IRC TWO line honours and the class win went to the First Class 10 Barda, whilst the PY fleets were won by Selene, Artemis and Pean II.
The final boat to arrive with an elapsed time of 23:59:29 was Take Five who managed to stay awake for the Champagne Cocktail reception sponsored by the current unbeaten record holder John Davis. The social events were as busy as ever and Steve Vyse, Race Chairman, said "If you thought this year was good, just wait until 2010 when we'll make it even bigger and better".
IRC ONE with 1st place and line honours - Joe 90, Duncan McDonald; 2nd Sleeper, Jonty Layfield; 3rd BoJangles, Derek Copeman. IRC TWO 1st place - Barda, Steve Vyse; 2nd Jam, Alain Lepreux; 3rd Sigress, David Crawforth. PY ONE with 1st place and line honours Selene, Mark Jephcott; 2nd Kalandia, Bill Peach; 3rd Asterix, Colin Hinchliffe. PY TWO 1st place Artemis, Tim Jermyn; 2nd Bluejay, Margaret Hickmott-Stapley; 3rd Pingu, Fred Rayment. PY THREE 1st Pean II, Peter Vaughan, 2nd Crazee-B, Chris Beazer; 3rd Take Five, Julian Brownlow Davies. Full results at www.sussexyachtclub.org.uk
NOTE: This is the race report press release submitted to Yachts & Yachting and other yachting publications.