Normandy Channel Race photo finish

As the first two boats home reach the Caen finish line

Sunday May 23rd 2010, Author: Denis van den Brink, Location: France

At 0752 this morning Thomas Ruyant and Tanguy Leglatin claim victory in the first Normandy Channel Race, aboard their Verdier designed Class 40 Destination Dunkerque after 6 days, 18 hours and 52 minutes at sea.

Having looked comfortably ahead for the majority of the race, Destination Dunkerque's victory appeared to be less and less of a certainty over the final 24 hours of the race as the Franco-English duo of Halvard Mabire and Peter Harding on 40 Degrees closed in, but in the end finished 20 minutes astern.

Winner of the Grand Prix de Douarnenez a couple of weeks ago aboard his new Destination Dunkerque, the young, triumphant Thomas Ruyant, winner of last year's Transat 6.50 Charente Maritime-Bahia race seems to be a fast learner in the Class 40 fleet and for this race was sailing with one of France's top ranked singlehanded offshore racing coaches - Tanguy Leglatin. Ruyant must now be one of the favourites for a Class 40 win in the Route du Rhum.

"The Normandy Channel Race is a fantastic race," said Ruyant. "It’s a very intense event, which is physically very hard and not dissimilar to a (very) long leg of the Figaro. Tanguy and I sailed like two solo sailors, splitting all the tasks right down the middle, whether it was helming, manœuvres up forward or in the cockpit, the weather or the strategy..."

Virtually in the lead from the very first night, Ruyant and Leglatin initially sailed their race without putting pressure on themselves. The first period of downwind sailing across the Channel to the Isle of Wight gave them the chance to edge ahead of the fleet. Through the Solent and on towards the Lizard saw their competitors regain ground on them. 40 Degrees were already at the front of the chasing pack by that stage, accompanied by Yvan Noblet and David Taboré on Appart City and the Dutch-Belgian duo Roeland Franssens and Michel Kleinjans.

Heading across the Celtic Sea towards the Tuskar Rock lighthouse, to the SE of Ireland, downwind in a freshening southwesterly breeze, once again enabled Destination Dunkerque to demonstrate her great reaching ability. Ruyant and Leglatin extended their lead again and at one point were 30 miles ahead of 40 Degrees.

The return towards the Scillies and back into the Channel saw the battle for the top spot being fired up again when, after an excellent upwind period through the fog, the Owen Clarke-designed 40 Degrees caught up, Jobourg and the Raz Blanchard proving to be the determining factor, en route back to Caen. "It took us two attempts to get round" recounted Thomas Ruyant of this period. "We zigzagged our way along the second time, right up close to the rocks. We were sure Halvard, who knows this area like the back of his hand, had got past us..."

Crossing the Baie de Seine last night was filled with anxiety for the lead duo. "Tanguy was up forward peering into the fog," continued Ruyant. "We shouted out to each other to find out if there was another sail in sight...."

Ruyant summed up: "We finished this race feeling very tired. It’s been great because it was hard. A difficult race is one which has a whole range of technical difficulties. That has been the case throughout the week, so we’ve constantly had to be on the alert due to the complexity of the course, the strong performance by the fleet that was always very compact, and because the weather conditions proved to be hard to predict. Tanguy helped me a great deal in familiarising myself with my new boat more and more. I know that I still have progress to make in my work at the chart table, especially as regards modern computer tooling. The boat fully lives up to my aspirations and we’ve filled out a whole book of observations with a view to optimising her for the Route du Rhum"

Tanguy Leglatin added: "We’re delighted with this victory. It was a stressful final, because in the fog, we were worried that we didn’t know whether or not 40 Degrees had got past us. The course is great and the reduction, which eliminated the Sept îles section didn’t change much. Vying with the Anglo-Norman duo was exciting. It was a fantastic experience to race in this event… but it’s good that it’s come to an end as we had our last supper last night and after that there was no more food..."

Naturally the 40 Degrees crew would have prefered the course to be just a little longer and so it was a disappointed Halvard Mabire that crossed the finish line, after coming so close to victory.

"It’s a good result for us," said Mabire, who is sponsor hunting at present for the Route du Rhum. "We sailed well without any major mistakes. Our boat isn’t the most optimised of the fleet, but she clearly demonstrated how well she performs on every point of sail, and that’s what enabled us to rank so highly. Peter is a charming and very willing travel companion.

"For the next time, a few modifications will need to be made:
- put Ireland back where it should be (we didn’t get a glimpse of it)
- remove a bit of the fog (not too much, we’d miss it – you get used to everything eventually)
- look a bit closer into the cycles of the moon, because this time around it feels like we’re finishing when we should have started.
- this time you’ve managed to organise things so that we’ve gone virtually full circle tacking upwind, so next time we could try the same thing but sailing downwind the whole way.”

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