Champagne sailing along the Emerald Isle

Tuesday 6th June 2023

The bulk of the fleet in this 14th CIC Normandy Channel Race has now rounded the Tuskar Rock course mark. Alla Grande Pirelli (181) had the edge at the south-east tip of Ireland after being the first to leave the lighthouse in her wake at 08:32 UTC this morning. Hot on her heels were Café Joyeux (176) and Crédit Mutuel (158). The leaders are now making towards the next course mark at Fastnet, lengthening their stride on a downwind sprint.

A symbolic moment in the event, Tuskar Rock is the lighthouse that marks the south-east tip of Ireland and reaching it after a long climb is a high point in more ways than one for the skippers competing in the great Norman classic. For this edition, it is an Italian flag which has been planted on the summit. Indeed, Ambrogio Beccaria and French team-mate Kevin Bloch were the first to reach this northernmost course mark at 08h 32min 34s UTC this morning. Now they can stow their crampons and their ice axes and get out their toboggans for a long glide along the south coast of Ireland and make for what is perhaps one of the most iconic and renowned lighthouses in the world: Fastnet! Their pursuers clearly didn’t delay in following suit as the Class40 Alla Grande Pirelli is now just 1 hour and 30 minutes ahead of the team in 18th position. It’s all to play for then and lucky are those who believe they can already announce the victor.

Deciding where your loyalties lie…
Conditions are optimal for getting to the south-west tip of Ireland: 15 knots of NE’ly breeze, spinnaker deployed, downwind conditions in glorious sunshine and, to crown it all, the skippers can enjoy the marvellous backdrop of Ireland’s south coast. Once around Tuskar Rock, the skippers’ courses have diverged significantly in the group of leaders. Alla Grande Pirelli (1st at Tuskar) is heading a peloton of 7 boats, which includes the Italo-Spanish pairing of Alberto Bona and Pablo Santurde del Arco on IBSA (4th) and Britons Alister Richardson and Brian Thompson on Tquila (7th), who are favouring a shorter route to the north. Meantime, Café Joyeux (2nd into Tuskar) is heading a group of 8 boats that includes the dynamic young German pairing on Think Big – Think Social, Lennart Burke and Melwin Fink (13th), who have opted for a longer route to the south and are clearly hoping to benefit from stronger breeze.

Contacted at today’s radio link-up, Ambrogio Beccaria (Alla Grande Pirelli – 181) described the scene for those on the coastal option: “Conditions so far have been magnificent and though we’re bound to pay the price of that on the return leg, every section has involved some great sailing! We started with some powerful reaching and we’re very, very happy with how the boat’s performed as she wasn’t necessarily designed to be so quick on that point of sail. Afterwards we had a spectacular passage around the Isle of Wight and then managed to put pedal to the metal. Obviously, the toughest part so far has been Land’s End, but Kevin had the courage to put in a series of gybes to nicely reposition us. Since rounding Tuskar, we’ve had dreamy conditions, clear skies and fifteen knots of breeze!”

Hugo Picard, co-skipper of the Class40 Dekuple, perfectly sums up the situation for the ‘southerners’: “We’ve just passed Tuskar Rock. We’re making headway under spinnaker at a good lick, barrelling along towards Fastnet. We’ve taken the offshore option and some of our playmates have opted for the southerly course. We’re not giving up. We’re spending a lot of time on the helm in the knowledge that it ‘ain’t over till it’s over!’ We’ll see who was right at Fastnet.” We can expect the verdict in the early hours of tomorrow.

Also of note is an official course change late morning UTC. The strong wind conditions forecast for the Raz Blanchard, with a spring tide coefficient and the usual current in these waters, has prompted Race Management to remove the Guernsey course marker, leaving the skippers free to choose how they will reach the finish line after Fastnet.
The Class40 Label Emmaüs (147) has informed Race Management of its decision to retire from the CIC Normandy Channel Race 2023 for personal reasons. All is well on board, the skippers Jérôme Lesieur and Damien Jenner are heading for the port of Lorient, Brittany.

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