Nearly all the Décision 35s had the lead at one point or another during the Bol d’Or. However, after two races in the Challenge Ferrier Lullin series there is a split beginning to emerge between the top four boats and the remaining four. Those in the top group are both Team Reds, Ferrier Lullin and Alinghi, on 16, 15, 15 and 12 points, respectively, with Zen Too, on 7, bridging the gap to some extent to the last three boats which each have 4 points.
There are seven events in total in the 2004 Challenge Ferrier Lullin series for the Décision 35s and only two have been held so far. The last race is scheduled for 26 September.
Last year’s Bol d’Or was won by Ernesto Bertarelli with his previous catamaran Alinghi. He still has this boat - it is “still available” (for sale), as he puts it – “for the time being it’s stored” - but Bertarelli is fully committed to the Décision 35 class now. “It’s a really great formula. Eight boats - quite a difference from last year. I won the Bol d’Or five times overall. We won it four times in a row. I think it was about time we moved to a different formula. It’s a bit unfortunate that I had to retire my Formula 40 who is by far still today probably the fastest boat on the Lake and possibly the fastest Formula 40 in the world, but in terms of competition and fun I think eight one design is much more interesting.”
Compared his previous Alinghi cat the new Décision 35s are not much slower, he claims. “The compromise is marginal in speed, but in terms of sensations and it’s an extreme boat. It’s almost more extreme than the Formula 40. We might lose a couple of knots but yesterday, for example, downwind we were doing 21 knots and there was 15-17 knots of wind [at the time]. So they are very extreme. They are very fast. They are almost more nervous and responsive than the previous Formula 40, so it’s actually
quite exciting, and you just sail it one man short - so instead of six it’s five, which is also an advantage - fewer people on board which is good.” [The class rule states that a minimum of five people must be on board and there is a maximum weight limit which permits six “smaller” people to race the boat.]
“It’s quite technical and you see some differences in the trim. Obviously it’s going to be very much more interesting once we do up and downs. Here, with the Bol d’Or it’s very much a race of knowing the area and particularly yesterday there was a lot of luck involved on where you were and where to catch the wind first, so it was kind of a drop your dice, but that’s what makes it interesting. You’ve got to be there and pull the right number. We weren’t lucky this time, but hopefully next.
In terms of comparing the similarity of the Décision 35s (since ‘one designs’ can vary a lot in practice), “it’s really only the sails and the crew and the trim [that can differ between the boats]”, said Bertarelli. “There’s been a lot of work gone in that.”
Asked about his feeling with regard to the sail development at present, Bertarelli kept fairly quiet: “We’ve done a few things”, he said. The boats have sails from different lofts. Three, including the two winning ‘Team Red’ boats, have local ‘Europ’ sails, made by Jean-Marc Monnad, tactician on the winning boat yesterday. Alinghi, Ferrier Lullin and
Cadence have sails from the North Sails Suisse loft, Bédat & Co has Gautier sails, and those on Gonet are from the Isaac loft.
On board the Décision 35 Alinghi they change battens for those of different stiffness depending on the conditions. Also “we probably have as much roach as is allowed”, said Bertarelli. “That’s something that we developed with ‘Alinghi’ during the Cup - how to hold the roach - and so we’re applying it here.”
“We’re having a lot of fun [with the new Décision 35]”, said Bertarelli, in summary. The other skippers to whom I spoke shared this sentiment.
Emmanuel Schaub, helmsman of the Décision 35 Gonet, was also a Formula 40 owner. “It’s quite different…. comparing to ‘Club 58’ [which overturned and was badly damaged during the 2003 Bol d’Or]”, he said. “It’s tactical racing because every boat are similar except for the sails. The shape of the sails are very similar [but the degree of fullness can differ].” There is a strict limit, in the class rules, to the number of new sails that can be used during a season. Mainsails must have six full length battens, but three shorter battens can be used in different places. “It’s a new class and we have lots to learn about the boats to develop the sails”, commented sailmaker Jean-Marc Monnad.
“I think it’s safer than the older boats”, said Schaub. “It’s easier [than the Formula 40] in strong wind, but it’s a little bit slower, with very light wind. I think that’s why we were closer to the monohull this year [referring to the finishing time of the first monohull compared with that of the first multihull – a Décision 35]. In light wind we are not as fast as we were with the other boats.” Schaub confirmed that it is, nonetheless, possible to go two or three times as fast as the wind speed in under 4 knots of breeze in the new Décision 35 boats.
The lower speed in light winds is partly due to the reduction in sail area from the Formula 40. “We had a bit less than 400 square metres [with the Formula 40]”, said Schaub. “It was 380 square metres with the gennaker and the mainsail. Now we have 200 and something, so it’s smaller.”
Schaub prefers the new Décision 35 to his old Formula 40. “It’s fun because we can compare tactical options, crew members, it’s very different. What was fun last year – it was that we knew every boat. Every boat was specific and it was easy to recognise every boat on the water. Now it’s more difficult to recognise because they are all similar - just the colour may change a little bit, but it’s more difficult to recognise
The crews are very serious in their racing. “We train two – three times a week”, said Cardis. These are late afternoon/evening five hour sessions.
Owner of both the Team Red boats, Frédéric Amar, who was sailing on the winning boat in the Bol d’Or, is set on coming home first. Asked about his choice of boats (as the Décision 35s are not his first multihulls), Amar replied “It was the only choice. There is no other boat on the Lake which is able to go fast and to win.”
Returning to the Bol d’Or race, which was effectively a series of longer or shorter puffs of wind which then ran out and allowed those behind to catch up, and leading to a lot of frustration for the front runners, until the last steady wind set in, between Bouveret and Lausanne on the return journey for the Décision 35s. As Philippe Cardis, who finished second, put it “The best was to be first at the finishing line – not before!”
Earlier leader in the monohulls, French Connection fell back on the return journey. The Psaros 40 ‘Tilt’ (of Alex Schneiter and Patrick Firmenich, the latter being the nephew of Commodore Pierre-Yves Firmenich - read more about this boat tomorrow on thedailysail) took first place, with sister design Sys & Co second and last year’s winner, Taillevent 2 in third. Nicolas Engels of Taillevent 2 commented that their problem yesterday had been that the boat is better upwind and downwind than reaching, which is what most of the Bol d’Or race consisted of this year.
The wind kept up, and built further to force 5-6 on Sunday morning, bringing home the smaller boats very quickly. In consequence the last finisher came through the line before 10am on Sunday morning and no boats were near the 4pm time limit this afternoon. In all, just over 500 boats started the race and there were about 15 withdrawals during the Bol d’Or.
The bright sun with some cloud, reasonable winds, comfortable temperatures in the low to mid 20s C and no rain lead to an enjoyable experience for almost all. The crew of Relance were still puzzling over the broken mast, not having found the cause of their race ending 1km before the finish. However, even they were able to enjoy the champagne reception, laid on courtesy of sponsors Tattinger, after the prizegiving.
Besides the title sponsor, Rolex, HSBC bank had provided support and San Pellegrino gave 12 bottles of mineral water to each boat entered in the race. Without such support it would be impossible for clubs to lay on major events like the Bol d’Or, so the final toast went to the sponsors for enabling an event, that was so enjoyable for thousands of people, to take place.