Why we keep doing it
The very name is exciting and historic, the Royal connection with Charles II being chased across southern England and after a few near misses around our local towns and villages he meets a man (in a pub?) who will take him from Shoreham in Sussex to Fécamp in Normandy and safety!
Our boat, Marabu, is also historic. Built by Abeking and Rasmussen in 1935 for the Third Reich Armed Forces she was captured by the British Army in 1944 and taken home to Blighty as part of the “Windfall Fleet”. She then started her Royal Navy days as a sail training and recreation sailing vessel where her racing pedigree as a 100m2 Baltic racing yacht proved a match in long distance races including many Fastnets and also a Bermuda Series.
Since Marabu Sailing Club took over ownership, Marabu intersperses her cruising itinerary with events such as the Royal Escape, Tall Ships and Round the Island race. The Escape however is our favourite, not just because we won it in 1982 but because the race embodies our approach to sailing. Organised by Sussex Yacht Club, this year’s race on 28th May was the twentieth time Marabu has participated.
Getting the old girl to pick up her skirts and dash across the Channel over the Spring Bank Holiday marks the real beginning of the sailing season for us most years. But, like most old girls, we do so with a sensible amount of decorum. Good seamanship, safety, crew comfort and above all enjoyment temper the competitive urges and although we may no longer expect to win we do expect to complete the race in style.
Not as overwhelming as the RTI, the entry numbers are sufficient to avoid being lonely in the central Channel when the wind drops and an expected evening meal in our favourite Fécamp restaurant turns into a hoped for croissant and coffee at our favourite bar the next morning.
One of the delights of the race is how quickly the headlong rush to the starting line and the first buoy can turn into a match race with the nearest fellow competitor and which can last for the remainder of the crossing. This can be tempered by the sadness of the sounds of engines starting when skippers (or is it crews?) decide the bright lights and hot showers of Fécamp are more attractive than beating your friends this year. However, this option to decide that the Motor Sailing class would fit in best with a particular boat and weather pattern is one of the attractions of the event.
So why do we do it? In the end I think it is because the “Escape” is for everyone. Races and cruisers, modern and classic, big and small, we all enjoy pitting our skills against other sailors and boats, over a proper passage and of a duration that can be achieved by crews of any size. The Royal Escape allows us all to be part of a Big Event in our own small way.
And how did we do this year? Well second across the line and 4th on corrected time for the Portsmouth Yardstick Medium fleet isn’t bad for an old lady. Crossing the finish line at 9 1/2 knots is quite respectable, as was our elapsed time of 10 hours 36 minutes and 20 seconds.