Tanguy picked me up from the airport and after a short pitstop in La Trinite-sur-Mer, to collect a new sail from the All Purpose loft, we headed south to La Rochelle where the boat had just gone back in the water after some work in a local yard. We made a few final checks before grabbing a couple of hours sleep and were ready for the lock opening at 0700. Before we could off on our 1000 mile qualification passage we had a brief photoshoot to keep the sponsors happy. With the photographer on the Ile de Re bridge, we managed to get some good aerial shots. Once she was happy we got on with the serious business of actually qualifying for the TJV.
Our route, as approved by Sylvie Viant from UNCL, who govern all such things over in France for the various event organisers, was one we’d both sailed many times before. From La Rochelle we were heading southwest towards Cape Finisterre on the north western Spanish coast. After just over 200 miles we would turn north towards the inhospitable island of Ushant just off the northwestern corner of France. Here we would have a choice of either heading to the Fastnet rock, or going east to the Needles, before heading back to Ushant and then down to Lorient in southern Brittany to finish.
The first part of the trip was very easy: a solid 10-15 knot easterly gave us beautiful downwind conditions under a full moon and we took the opportunity to test all of our ‘flying sails’. As we made the turn north, the wind stayed in the east and we had a fast two sail reach all the way to Ushant. Here we decided that the Needles were a much more appealing option than the Fastnet and with the wind veering to the southeast and building, we knew that we were looking at more fast two sail reaching both ways.
By the time we got the Needles, the wind was gusting 30 knots and we were down to two reefs in the mainsail and a reefed solent - a good test all round and still fast! We encountered similar weather on the return to Ushant and got lucky with the spring tides to round the island and our 800 mile mark in just over three days. We then had some slightly trickier light headwinds to negotiate before we could celebrate. This proved very useful training though and we shook out our genoa and code 5 for the first time. We finally arrived at the famous old submarine base marina in Lorient at 1800 on Tuesday evening, perfect timing for a small ‘fiesta’ and rightly so; 1000 miles in just over four days and no major problems.
Wednesday was then spent sorting through the video and pictures from the qualifier, before we embarked on a roadtrip to Paris for the official presentation of the skippers to the media. It was a swanky affair but still followed the traditional format of long speeches from the sponsors, a brief introduction of the skippers, pictures of everyone together and then a big party with a free bar and a live band!
Feeling slightly tired after the excitement of the previous few days, we slowly headed back to Lorient on Thursday to start cleaning up the boat and sorting out a few of the small issues we’d had. With another photo shoot booked for Friday, we went to bed early and prayed for wind and sun. After a murky start, things brightened up and we made the best of the 10 knots we had, to go through the entire sail wardrobe, keep the photographer happy, execute all the standard manoeuvres and even line up against another new Class 40.
Yesterday was all about the rugby but we managed to fit in some more boat preparation work in between celebrating England and France’s magnificent victories. It is perhaps a good thing we have no training planned for next weekend as I’m not sure how well Tanguy would cope watching out boys crush ‘les bleus’!!
Finally, Tanguy and I are very excited to announce that GILL have agreed to become our technical clothing partner. For me this a development of a long standing working relationship and it’s great to be working with old friends again. Their constant drive to develop their kit is bringing big rewards for all their customers, and we now have sleek, stylish kit both onshore and offshore. Best of all, it keeps us warm and dry too. Thank you for reading all this lot, and for the ongoing support. With just over three weeks to go till the start in Le Havre on Saturday 3 November, things are starting to get exciting.