Black Seal takes French Open

Crewman Nigel Young reports on a success foray to St Quay Portrieux

Thursday June 13th 2002, Author: Nigel Young, Location: France
47 boats arrived in the small fishing town of St Quay Portrieux to fight for the title of French National and Open Champion in the Melges 24 class. Six countries were represented at the event with seven boats making the trip from the UK and two boats the long haul from Italy, the stage was set for a great event.

Having recently taken part in the Grand Prix De Crouesty two weeks earlier we in the Black Seal Team had a good measure of the French competition. What was un known was exactly how well 2001 French National Champion Laurent Pages and his crew would fair. Having not sailed in the class since Key West 2002 Laurent was bound to be a little rusty in the M-24. But as some of you well know Laurent and his crew have more hours in the M-24 than any other European Team - they would not let his title go to easily!

Ten races were planned for the series with two discards after nine races, what this means is that consistency pays dividends, race wins are nice but a low average score will always win the day in this type of competition. Sailing now in our second year Team Black Seal, helmed by North Sails own Jamie Lea, have carved out a consistent position in the fleet for ourselves. Fortunate to have the backing of Richard Thompson and the never ending enthusiasm of 'Melges Jim' Schwerdt team moral on the boat gets better with every regatta. Opening with a 1,2 on day one was just the start we needed to get over the disappointment of fifth overall in Le Crouesty. This really sparked us into life to take the overall prize by eight points, nice sailing Jamie, Jim and Rob.

The organisation of the French regatta's gets better every time and the class really benefits from the efforts of Henri Samuel and the fantastically efficient class secretary, Magali Jousselin. Affectionately known as 'Margarine' to the Black Seal team she has been very kind to us since the first time we parked our car in the way! Translating the French race instructions and amendments as the regatta progressed was a great help.

One of the highlights for me at this regatta was the strong showing of the British entrants. Team Gill helmed by Stuart Rix and owned by Quentin Strauss put in a superb effort to finish second overall. The rumour was that these guys were going to retire from the class after Key West this year, but 7th place there, 4th in Le Crouesty and now fighting for the regatta win on the last day of the French Nationals these guys have a good grip on the boat. Fast in all conditions, 'Pin end Rixy' is a dangerous guy and with consistently better results as the season goes on these guys are going to win a major regatta before the season is over. Nice going guys!

Another pleasant surprise at the front of the fleet was Nigel Grogan. Having only taken delivery of his new boat the night before the regatta started Nigel and his Team put in a strong performance. Finishing with two seconds on day two was the highlight for these guys, but consistently fast Nigel finished in 11th place at the end of the regatta. A great result for a brand new boat out of the box! Well done.

The nine races were held in a mixture of conditions but in general the breeze was good if not a little shifty. Day three was the only disappointment with only one race in very light and unstable conditions. The race officer and his team did a great job and kept us out hoping for a second race, fortunately they did not rush their decision as the wind went through 360 degrees in just under two hours! This coupled with the fact we were sailing in an area with one of the largest tidal rise and falls in Europe meant we really needed at least 8 knots of wind for a sensible race.

The overall prize for the French National title can only be won by a French boat so we and the other visitors were fighting for the Open Championships. However the French Teams got a nasty shock with the final top three placings overall going to non-French boats! Laurent Pages proved that he needs little practice in the class and retained his National title from Olivier Ponthieu by the smallest of margins. Early in the regatta Jean François Cruette sailing Scutum looked strong, but a nasty blow to the head in race six put paid to his chances. However going into the last day he was still in with a shout, but in the very strong winds a man overboard down one of the fast planning runs proved to be the final nail in his coffin.

The Italian Team of Altea also put in a great performance to take third overall. Having just finished second in Torbole Week these guys were fast, but not quite as fast as if they had used their full suit of North Sails! The guys were saving their North Jib for the Worlds having proven so successful in Torbole! I am sure the older jib they were flying did not help their overall position, even so a great result and it was really nice to see the ITA sail numbers so far North!

All in all a great regatta, on Black Seal we were delighted to take the Open French title after a great battle with the Gill boys. North sails were once again the common factor at the front of the fleet, 1st and 2nd, 4th and 5th were 100% North and Altea in 3rd used their new North mains saving the jib for Germany. We are already looking forward to the UK Nationals next week when we get to have another scrap with team Gill and the rest of the very strong UK fleet.

The final icing on the cake for the Black Seal Team was winning the Michel Herbelin Challenge. Taking the best three results from four of the top French regatta's we were comfortable winners placing 1,5,1 as our results. Thank you to the sponsor's for the really nice watches and also for the hangover the next day!


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