Royal Escape 2009 as published in Wavelength
That so many Sussex sailors and others from as far away as New Zealand, raised proverbial paired fingers at the recession by racing the Royal Escape is to be lauded. As Chair of the RER committee the slow start to the entries had given me sleepless nights, although ever-cheerful Race Director Steve Thomas had always been supremely confident we’d get enough boats and so it proved, with 66 starters taking the gun on the morning of Friday 22 May.
I won’t bore you with the minutia of arranging the Royal Escape, but the scale of this endeavor is staggering and again I was blessed with unstinting support from a fabulous team on both sides of the channel and I think it’s worth showing the names of the RER team on these pages… If you raced then you owe them thanks, I know I do.
Royal Escape Team 2009
Ashore in the UK and France
Aboard FPV Watchful
So what happened this year that got us talking? Perhaps the biggest surprise was the astonishing donation from John Davis, holder the fastest crossing record with Barracuda of Tarrant in 1997. He’d heard that major sponsors had pulled out and emailed to say he’d pay not only for the Champagne Reception and Prize Giving in Fécamp, but that he’d also buy the drinks if anybody managed to beat his record. Gestures like these restore your faith in human nature!
I also need to say that not all our sponsors ran away, with local solicitors Fitzhugh Gates stumping up for the winners flags, so thanks to Pat and her partners for keeping the faith! The stalwart Ramus clan were behind the wine-cheese and chocolate tasting, so it was good to see John and Lavender tucking in. Barda stumped up for the free beers, and Southern Masts and Rigging worked hard to gather in prizes, so well done to them as well.
I tried to spread RER news on the SYC website and by using Twitter; if you don’t know what Twitter is then I’m not going to try and explain it here, but it has been terribly fashionable this year and the Royal Escape feed gained quite a following. However my plan to post updates from aboard Barda during the race didn’t work out as you can’t key messages AND helm a boat at the same time. Next year I’ll get lot’s of Twittering crew on lot’s of boats involved and we’ll see if we can get even more online interest.
Oh and talking of online interest, 2010 will bring a dedicated Royal Escape website; more on this will follow when I’ve got it presentable and I’ll try to include a feed for the hilarious radio interview that Neil Prescott gave from the end of the pier. Laura Raymond is a good friend of the race and she put her PR talents to great use arranging the aforementioned full interview with Neil on drive time radio. “What colour masts do the boats have Neil?” “Err…mostly grey…” Brilliant!
After bumbling my way through the race briefing and provisioning Barda with pot noodles, myself and son Rob along with Nigel, 'Big' Rob, Maggie, Jason and Daff set off for the start. After being prised from his slumbers at 04:30 it was no surprise when ‘little’ Rob retired to his bunk after breakfast to sleep soundly for the next six hours, completely missing our rather hot start, which had Robin Stevenson from Joe 90 (which gained line honours) later comment that we were amongst the few up at the comedy boat end and that we'd kept them out of the prime spot, which was nice.
Short tacking up the beat to the turning mark off Hove we had a close shave on port when the French J/92s Jam of Alain Lepreux hailed starboard and we had to crash tack; I’ve never seen a crew move so fast as Daff did to get off the rail and leap across the cockpit to keep the mast upright by winding on the new runner. We pressed on to round with fairly clear air, sailing initially with the #2 genoa and then trying our reaching kite, but it was apparent that it was time for the 'Green Meanie' to come out of its bag.
Barda on her way across the English Channel taking part in the annual Royal Escape Race from Brighton to Fécamp.
When I approached Quantum for Barda’s sails we had a lime green Code Zero made, which is a sort of cross between a flat spinnaker and a large headsail; it only really works in a tiny wind range up to around 20 knots of breeze at 40-50 degrees of apparent. That sail has sat almost unused waiting for the right race and on Friday morning we had perfect Code Zero conditions. With the SW force 3-4 we were able to carry this powerful cloth much closer than a reaching kite. Consequently we were able to sail high and fast. Passing some newer IRC One boats with a bargain basement ‘82 vintage Beneteau is a pleasure to be savoured!
We were making a steady 9-10 knots past the Greenwich light vessel and kept this sort of pace up until around 3pm when the pressure eased and we dropped back to 8 knots. At this point we made a decision to stick with our 'west is best' plan, assuming the breeze would go even lighter as we approached the French coast across a rising tide.
There wasn't a huge amount of chatter on the VHF but we did hear Steve Thomas aboard Truant report to Derek on BoJangles that he was taking water and the cabin sole was flooded to above his boots. Truant's bilge pumps were coping OK and he pressed on; it later turned out that there was a siphon problem rather than a true leak.
Still flying the Code Zero, Barda went higher and higher, trying to bank as much west against the flooding tide as possible. We'd been pushing up against the SHYC boat Red Machine, but they couldn't go any higher with their kite so we dipped behind her transom and went further west. Red Machine went for speed and dropped down to the east and virtually out of sight.
The only other boat in sight on this side of the course was Devils Advocate carrying hordes of Rami; assuming the 'Squire' and Dave were being slippery going west I was very surprised when they popped their huge spinnaker and crossed ahead of us, tearing off to the east. That left just Barda on the right hand side of the course. We were on our own, which in a big fleet usually means your tactics are off the mark, however the more we discussed our options the more we were convinced Barda was in the right place.
Eventually with around 5 miles to run the wind coughed and with what wind there was being banged out of the sails by a nasty short chop, we were down to around 2 knots of boat speed. This was the low point of our race, carrying the running kite as the wind unexpectedly shifted round to the south east; we were now struggling on the port gybe to hold ourselves against the tide, however looking out to our port side we could see a lot of boats being dragged east by the tide to park along the cliffs. Our spirits may have been low, but we were a lot happier than those going backwards towards St.Valery.
Eventually after a cup of tea and working every hint of air drifting over the sails, Team Barda crabbed to within 2 miles of Fécamp with the boat pointing at Etretat all the way. Then with the tide easing a little from its full 2 knot flow, and with another 5 knots of wind speed, we all started to grin and were able to harden up on the new pressure, sailing into Fécamp bay and across the line in fine style.
Having been parked up for so long fighting the tide I didn't have any great expectations, so when we tied up and Karen and our glamorous shore crew of SWAGS (Shoreham Wives & Girlfriends) tottered down to meet us I was stunned to learn we had got line honours in IRC 2 with an elapsed time of 12:28:41, and later it was confirmed we'd won the class by a 32 minute margin.
Needless to say the first stop for 'Equipe Barda' was the SRF bar where our French hosts were making everyone very welcome and it was a very merry crew that finally retired for the night.
Having watched the dawn break many hours before the arrival of the last boat ‘Take Five’, with a time of 23 hours 59 minutes and 29 seconds, the finishing team tramped off for a well-deserved sleep as Tracey and Steve Thomas finalized the results using the new Sailwave software. Meanwhile scrutineers were rushing around checking boats and I’m pleased to report everybody got through without comment!
Whilst we were busy inside SRF race office, outside Max from Caves Berigny was setting up for his wine, cheese and chocolate tasting event, and the bar were setting up for the free beer party. By midday the clubhouse was buzzing and although the wine cheese and chocolate didn’t generate a lot of sales for these local businesses, the fleet certainly enjoyed a fine time.
This year was the first time all the trophies and prizes were presented in France and we had a huge turnout at the Terre Neuvas Restaurant where the speeches and general banter were washed down with champagne cocktails, and we even had a great speech from a rather swarthy ‘King Charlie’
Festivities carried on late into the evening with the Royal Escape disco, and there were some very jaded looking SHYC and BMYC souls who set off early on Sunday to race home, with the SYC fleet bumbling back to Shoreham at a far more leisurely pace.
Skipper of Barda and Chair of the 2009 Royal Escape Committee