For the first time in the race history 2013 saw the Royal Escape being cancelled due to the weather; MET Office Shipping Forecasts indicated that the fleet could arrive on the French coast at low water, carried by NW F7 or above winds. Such conditions are recognised as being dangerous for craft attempting to enter Fécamp, so the decision to abandon was made.
This hugely disappointing move was in accordance with the risk assessment we lodge each year with the authorities, and although some boats questioned this unprecedented decision, the vast majority of skippers who made a comment seemed relieved that the decision as to go or not had been taken out of their hands.
With the full support of our race sponsors and the Sussex Yacht Club, we not only refunded every entry fee, but we also made a substantial donation from reserves to Sussex Sailability to assist them in their worthwhile work.
So could it happen again? Well the short answer is yes. If before the race starts we receive a MET Office forecast that exceeds the limits in our risk assessment, which recognises Pilot Book guidance for entry into Fécamp, then it is probable that the race would be cancelled again. However having said that, such north westerly conditions are very unusual, especially in May, and looking back through the records the race committee has never previously been faced with a similar situation.
In 2000 the race was started under a relatively benign forecast, with even the Royal Navy accompanying the fleet, yet by the time they had reached mid channel things had changed dramatically, with yachts scattered along the channel seeking shelter. Those shaken crews getting into Fécamp were talking of 80knot winds, whilst one unfortunate yacht failed to make the entrance and was lost on the rocks, providentially with no loss of life.
Thankfully forecasting and communications have improved beyond measure over the past decade, which means we should have the information to avoid a repeat of 2000, and I make no apologies for cancelling when things started to look questionable.
It was also suggested that we should just delay the race until Saturday, but the Royal Escape is just as much about the celebrations in France as the race itself and we just cannot move the socials, leaving us with a binary choice.
So is entering the race a gamble? Of course it is, but the odds are very much in your favour. Having said that, the cost to SYC of the 2013 cancellation and the full refund was significant, which is why there is now a new condition in the NOR making provision for a 60% refund of entry fees in the event of a future race cancellation.
You pays your money and you takes your chance...