Monday, May 16, 2011
(La Trinite sur Mer, France)- Aurelie and Romain Pilliard, organizers of the Tour de Belle-Ile, are amazed at success of the event, which this year attracted 486 boats on the same line, against 329 last year. It's seemingly a gathering of those who love the fun and challenge of "round island" events, the "tour" is like England's famous Round Island Race (Isle of Wight), Newport's Around Jamestown Island, San Francisco's version (the 3BF- Three Bridge Fiasco) and Brazil's Round Ilhabela. Friends and family from all over France gather together for a 41 nm jaunt around the spectacular scenery of Belle Ile, marked by its mountainous terrain and enormous cliffs with picturesque lighthouses perched atop verdant green rolling hills. It's always a challenging race and the massive fronts that come rolling off the Bay of Biscay often see the less prepared "running for the hills", so to speak, headed back to the cozy confines of La Trinite sur Mer's harbor.
The big French offshore tri's show up. So do top Volvo 70 teams like Franck Camas on GROUPAMA 70. It's certainly thrilling to watch these monsters roar through the fleet at obscene speeds (15-25 knots) with spray flying everywhere, disappearing in a cloud of salt mist over the horizon, certain to finish in under 3 hours. This year, one of these monsters set a new record- 2 hrs 42 minutes- Sebastien Josse on the 77 ft tri- GITANA 11. As one of them said, "I shall return. It was very nice! A very nice tour of Belle-Isle!"
There were a number of J's sailing the event. The top dog was Yves Lanier's J/120 LES 4 VENTS- BREST from Centre Nautique de Lorient, winning Group HNA with 21 boats. In the same division was Gaetan Bodmer's J/92s MAORO from CV de Morsang sur Seine in 8th overall. Incredibly, a J/24 was racing in a fleet of mostly 25-30 footers and finished in 7th, Antoine Vanek's SEA TADDLE in Group HNC.
In Group IRC3, the top J was Frederic Guillemot's J/105 MISS J just missing the top 3 by 5 minutes, ouch, and instead getting a 10th overall-- it was a very tightly fought race in this group, surely the last few shifts coming into the finish line causing many tacticians anxiety on which way to go.
Perhaps the big story was the large J/80 fleet of 14 boats, the largest one-design class in the Tour de Belle-Ile. And, it included several notable, famous French sailors- Mr. America's Cup/ Louis Vuitton- Bruno Trouble on-board his COYOTE (pictured right) and also Yannick Tabarly, the son of the very renowned offshore sailor Eric Tabarly of PEN DUICK fame. It was a tough fight for this group. Starting out fast downwind, the J/80s got down to the SW tip of the gorgeous Belle Ile knowing that after they past the eastern tip it was going to be a tough, uphill windward battle to the finish. As they demonstrated in the J/80 Worlds in Newport, Bruno's "Jurassic Park" team were as tough as Tyrannosaurus Rex! Bruno's COYOTE team won by nearly 9 minutes over Yannick Tabarly's ALARME DELERUE PROXEO sailing for Ecole de Voile Oceane. In third was Hubert Wargny sailing AXELLE J from Yacht Club d France, fourth was Eric Bastard sailing SENJI from Societe Nautique Trinite sur Mer and fifth was Patrice Mack sailing GIGA also from SN Trinite s/Mer.
We got a full report from friends Francois Thobie and crew on LE SALON- THE PLACE TO BE- BE J's: "It is these "races" that we remember! It is these events that we refuse to miss, for the atmosphere, for the journey, and for all those little things that make the "Tour of Belle Isle" different from what we used to live in the Coupe de France. There is also this wonderful picture that gives us the wild side, and this, whatever the weather, and also the now "famous" night crew who arrive late while their competitors have been spending many dance hours on rhythms in the discos.
The Tour of Belle Isle is a great feast, to which BE J's makes a point of honor to take part each year. The main difference this year was the weather. Uncertain until the final hours before departure, even to the point where it was discussed to run the fleet inside the protected Bay of Quiberon.
Once outside, the starts were delayed. It leaves us time to go play with the spi, that's when BE J's beat its record day surfing to just over 16 knots! That's good start…
However, what to do on the start (picture at right)? Especially, in the company of nearly 500 competitors! BE J's is among the smaller boats of the fleet, it will therefore have to find a hole among all these bows (some cruisers, proudly display their anchors on their bows- yikes!). Without doubt it's a tactic to scare the opponent who would dare to assert its priority over the line ... a bit like judo with a dagger in the pocket of the kimono!
After the start, everyone follows a brisk pace out to sea and the waves are becoming bigger and bigger, a surfing condition that J/80 loves flying fast, in total control, with hundreds of liters of water rolling across the deck--- we go very, very fast!
To go around the island is fine, but then you have to get back upwind! After the tip of the shoals off the east end, we find ourselves handicapped by our jib halyard, which prevents us from properly flattening the sail. Arriving on the southeast side of the island, along the wild coast, we also face an enormous 3 meter swell in which we seem very small. From that point, going upwind to return home to La Trinite is a long time!
We are not alone in the breakers off the wild south coast, we have many J/80s in view! The return from the tip of Taillefer will only be a continuation of the competition with one of our top J/80s GIGA. In fact, with one tack to the finish line in Trinidad, only 30 seconds separated us! So small a distance after only 40 nm of sailing! Amazing. One-design sailing is so fun.
BE J's finished the Tour in 7 hours, 30 minutes, the final ranking of 6th place (out of 14) ... but we have no time to lose, a rum tai punch is waiting for us at the regatta tent. Thank you to the SNT for this tour, you can count on BE J's to be there for the 5th edition! And, congratulations to Bruno and Team COYOTE!" For more Tour de Belle Ile Sailing Information. For more of BE-J's /80 sailing stories, please see their site.
Sailing photo credits- Christophe Launay- SeaLaunay