September sojourn in Cherbourg

The fleet gathers before the Coupe du Prefet maritime on SaturdayAn early start at Saint-Vaast because of the tideVery cool shop in Bayeux named after a WSC boatInside Bayeux cathedralA fine view of Cherbourg painted in around 1780, in the musée Thomas-HenryRORC's view of the Fastnet finish lineYoung sailors take a break ashore at Fort Chavagnac during trainingThe winners of the Coupe du Prefet celebrate their victory

A murky September morning with little wind augured a long crossing of the Channel, but I had already waited a day, and I wanted to race in Cherbourg in the evening, so off I went for my annual September stay in Cherbourg, which this year included visits to Saint-Vaast and Bayeux (on the train!)

The murk got murkier, and by the time I was getting to the shipping I could see very little. A brief exchange with a ship’s captain, about who was going to pass ahead of whom, reminded me of the problems of trying to do things on the VHF, as he immediately confirmed the opposite of what I had said to him, and the clock was ticking as he got nearer…

The murk cleared further south, so that the shipping coming the other way was not an issue, and I arrived in Cherbourg in good time to park the boat and, without taking off my waterproofs, head straight up to the yacht club to find a boat to race on. Within an hour I was back out on a J92, which I used to race on before Covid, and so was well placed to enjoy a Cherbourg sunset in the grande rade, and a convivial beer with YCC members in the bar afterwards.

The first weekend I spent at Saint-Vaast, racing with Georges on Crazy Goose, a short (11 mile) race which we won by 50 seconds after 3 hours of racing around the cardinals south of the port, between the Iles Saint-Marcouf and the beach. A good race to win, sponsored by Axesail, with a first prize of 150 euros to spend with them!

Since then it’s been racing both with YCC and CNC on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with various events related to my research work - I gave a talk for YCC members and others on my project, and visited Bayeux to discuss publication of the book next year. A highlight was the BBQ at Fort Chavagnac last Sunday, where we were entertained by the youth match racing training sessions held in front of the fort, in 25 knots of southerly wind coming straight off the beach. This made for a bracing sail back in the afternoon, when we had a brief 35 knot gust on the instruments!

The development plan visibly in operation at YCC focuses on skills training in J80s, and every weekend there are sessions on the water of various kinds. This Saturday was the Coupe du Prefet Maritime, which is the final showdown of the Tuesday series of 18 races across the season, and the rade was filled with boats contesting their final overall places for 2023. Kept short in order to avoid the worst of the huge tide, the race still involved legs across the rade in all directions and a complete circuit of the central breakwater, slightly under 8 miles in total!

The prizegiving is organised by the Navy, and always worth attending for the buffet, but it was especially good to see a young J80 team, who have already achieved a great deal both nationally and internationally in match racing, taking the cup in a series which regularly demonstrates the high bar set at YCC. Also racing on a Melges was Pierrick Letouze, back in Cherbourg preparing his boat for the Transat Jacques Vabre; Pierrick is a graduate of the YCC ethos, one of a group of young people who, ten years ago, were already demonstrating the fierce commitment to excellence encouraged at YCC, and now competing on the world stage as well.

An uneventful but rewarding trip back involved leaving under the full moon, watching the sunrise at sea, and feeling the wind slowly fill in to give a splendid sail up from the traffic, heading due north as it veered SW, in order to sail up into the bay well to the east of the Shambles, where I didn't want to be mid-ebb with a 112% coefficient! An excellent end to a great trip, especially as I was early enough to meet up with good company for a celebratory beer at WSC...

Submitted on 2nd October 2023