No Transgascogne

Unhappily the big race I had planned for this year – the Transgascogne – is going to happen without me.

Too much work and too many commitments make it hard to squeeze in the race itself, let alone preparation or even the delivery.
So even though I’ve wanted to do this race for years I’d rather do it another time with time for proper preparation.

This also means that my racing for this year is over.
Hopefully in return I will have some more time this autumn for some extensive training.

MAP 2013

In june it was time for the Trophée Marie Agnès Péron – a 220nm solo race which I very much enjoyed last year already.
The race course leads from Douarnenez around Point du Raz southwards, passing the Îles de Glenan and Île de Groix to the lighthouse Birvideaux as the southern turning mark from where it goes up north again up to Chaussee de Sein, then to a marker close to the entrance of Brest and then finally back to Douarnenez.

I returned from a business trip in the US on june 6th, took off to Lorient on friday evening after washing some clothes and drove almost the entire 13hour drive at once to arrive in Lorient on saturday at around 11am. After craning the boat the day was spent with cleaning the boat and some repairs.
On Sunday morning me and Frank (772 – Mojo) took off together at around 9am.
After tacking our way out of the bay of Lorient we hoisted the Spinnaker and only had to take it down in the bay of Audierne to switch to the Gennaker until Point du Raz.
Unhappily the weak winds had ruined our timing big time and we arrived at Point du Raz 2 hours after slackwater.
Rounding this most western tip of France with its massive currents is always a special experience and this time we should not be disappointed.

Track of rounding Pt du Raz

Track of rounding Pt du Raz

In the Track (see picture – we came from the southeast) you can see how the currents coming from NNE quickly influences our tracks. Only sailing upwind on port-tack with the engine running on full throttle did we manager our way around making 0.1-0.3kn over ground.
After a long upwind leg we finally arrived in Douarnenez on Monday morning at about 2am where the jettys were already swamped with minis.

The week quickly passed with further repairs, the security checks and the general race preparation. I was excited to have my boat in race-ready condition on tuesday evening already and felt very well prepared.

Even the todo-list was nice and empty and only some “nice-to-have”-items such as replacing the spinnaker and fractional halyard were up there. I had replaced the main halyard before the Pornichet Select already but brushed these tasks aside to be done at some later time.

The marine short before the tow-out © Gildas Hémon

The weather briefing on thursday morning looked interesting: 15-20kn at the start tacking our way out of the bay then the wind would drop and we would run under spinnaker down to Ile de Groix in even more decreasing wind. For the way back up we would get 25-30kn in a Code5 reach then a downwind run back to the finish line.

I was very (too?) relaxed when the tow-out started and I managed to get some speed tests done and make sure my trim was ok.
For the start I found a gap in the middle of the line but started very badly and got stuck in the bad wind of the boats windward of mine – painful minutes until I managed to tack and duck the fleet to get some clean air. After that my upwind speed was ok and I managed to overtake a couple of boats until a fatal mistake occured.
When I initially created my roadbook for the race I had initially assumed a start time of 1pm (it was 3pm though) and had forgotten to update it properly afterwards. Because of that I tried to avoid the tide by sailing deep into the baie de trespasse although it was already pushing us significantly. This easily cost me 4-5 positions right there.

Right after rounding the Point du Raz I hoisted the big spinnaker but soon had to switch back to the medium kite.
Once the reefed medium kite was up the boat was behaving a lot better but I was surprised to see that Lionel (Tanxagliss) was only slightly slower with the Gennaker up.
The sun disappeared behind the horizon as we passed Point de Penmarc’h and we had some interesting moments with some fishing vessels disappearing behind the spinnaker.

At 1am on friday morning we rounded the Îles de Glenan southern cardinal buoy and bore away even further while the wind had dropped to about 8kn TWS.
A competitor whom I had just overtaken was about 0.2nm leeward of mine with the Code5 up and I wanted to keep the lead so I quickly had to switch to the big kite.

I attached the big spinnaker with the top halyard and a second set of sheets attached so that I would only have to take down the medium spinnaker and change the tackline to the big one.
But while taking down the medium kite disaster struck – after a couple of meters the sail would not move an inch further down.
I checked the clutch, whether it was stuck in the mast or the backstays but everything looks good. I tear and drag the sail and every now and then it would move another foot or so until about 4 meters above deck nothing moves any more.
I’ve lost way too much time and speed already and tie the half-way hoisted medium spi as well as possible and hoist the big spi.
A glance at the AIS tells me that the competitor now has a lead of 1.2nm – F***!

Ever since the upwind leg after the start the autopilot had been troubling me which made analyzing the issue with the halyard even more.
So I stay at the tiller the entire night and try to make the best speed in the low wind to catch up a little at least. During the night Frank passes about 0.5nm in front of me and hugs the coast.

At dawn I start analyzing the issue with the fractional halyard again (remember, medium kite still hanging from the mast) and see the issue: the cover of the halyard has broken and jammed up at the halyard exit up in the mast. The sail itself is only connected with core. I can “milk” the cover back at the clutch and finally take the whole sail down.

Once the sun is up I try to replace the broken halyard with my replacement that I carry on board but the line is totally jammed up and with the pilot not working I only have slots of a minute before I have to run back to the tiller to stay on course. During that operation Frank comes back up and gets back in line about 0.2nm in front of me.

I start weighing my options: for the way back up north we expect reaching conditions either with Gennaker or code5, either way I will need the fractional halyard.
But in the condition the halyard is in right now (core slipping through the cover) it is not a safe option to use it in force 6-7 winds. But without the halyard I can only reach with the solent – a huge speed penalty.

As we pass the northern tip of Île de Groix I finally make the decision to retire from the race and inform the security boat via vhf then I turn towards Lorient. Briefly after me Julien Barnet decides to retire as well (he’s too tired he tells me later) and we sail together back to Lorient into BSM.
We organize Robert Jacobsen’s car and return to Douarnenez to officially retire from the race and return our trackers then I return very frustrated by car to Lorient to get the boat in shape.

In Lorient I finally figure out the root cause for my pilot issues: the fluxgate compass was loose.
The yard had initially just screwed it into a rather thin bulkhead and I assume that during the security check the compass was hit and then wiggled itself loose during the upwind leg after the start.

Kaya Ropes on the beach (c)

Not finishing the race was frustrating indeed but unhappily Pamir (Kaya Ropes) showed us that things can go a lot worse when running into problems while racing and beached his boat only miles from the finish line.