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News > Alumni News > Competing at Les voiles de Saint-Tropez

Competing at Les voiles de Saint-Tropez

Peter Nicholson (OS 1955-1959) writes:
Finishing first race beside K4 Cambria, Photo Sylvie Schneider
Finishing first race beside K4 Cambria, Photo Sylvie Schneider


Finishing first race beside K4 Cambria, Photo Sylvie Schneider

In brief, the trip down ran very smoothly, Cannes was extremely friendly, [No regatta centre because of Covid, but Dainty set up a popular wine bar off our stern mooring to the harbour wall], most exciting after Yacht Club de France cancelled the race to Saint-Tropez and warned us very late of a thunderstorm with 50 knot winds - which somehow we survived, Saint-Tropez sparkled as they imposed very few restrictions for Covid provided you were double vaccinated and gave all the familiar great parties after the long races, with Dainty winning the last race in her class. We even have a trophy. Surprised to find when we opened up the boat on arrival at Bosham that we had an African stowaway on board!

Sunday's YCF “Coupe D'Automne” 25-mile passage race to Saint-Tropez was, to say the least, interesting. All the forecasts were for light winds, mainly behind us from the East, perhaps with onshore breezes of 8 knots or so in the early afternoon. The competing yachts gathered at 11 am by a little starting boat just off the La Bocca beach and drifted around for an hour before the race officer decided to head offshore to find enough wind to start us. A kind Tofinou called Outsider took us under tow.

Soon after 1 pm we could all see storm clouds building to the West. The committee boat announced that racing was cancelled, the winds might be 45 knots and advised “prudence”. It was too late for us on Dainty to head the two-hour sail back for shelter in Cannes, so we continued under tow, put a first reef in, started to put in the second, but as the wind very quickly increased we released the tow, and dropped the mainsail – just leaving up the jib with which to steer. I have never before been in such strong winds – well over 30 knots, more than a gale, with thunder, lightning and hail. Charlie Reed on Comet had kindly sent a text message saying that they had just recorded 52 knots over their deck – but clearly we were in no position to pick up our phones and receive this further warning.

Dainty's brilliant design by Alfred Westmacott and calm crew of Christine Graves and Henry Dembinski rode the storm. The electric pump even kept the boat dry. As it abated after about fifteen minutes the only damage was a torn jib.

A fellow competitor, the relatively small H12 Esterel very kindly came back to look after us and even towed us the 18 miles, four hours, in a light headwind all the way to Saint-Tropez - so we could arrive safely at our normal berth just before 6pm.

Never mind that there was no race, the Remise de Prix party given afterwards by the Yacht Club de France was outstandingly generous and friendly.

Phoning home, from at sea off Cap Dramont, for a replacement jib is another story. But thanks to multiple phone calls and Roger Wickens' quick thinking, moving extremely fast to grab a sail from his store, drive to Bosham station and hand one to Dick Pratt as he was about to catch a train before flying out to take Henry's place as crew, we did actually have a jib in Saint-Tropez in time for our next race.

Saturday last race in Saint-Tropez. Just before the start tacked on starboard ahead of Josephine and sped down the line ahead of the mob at the Committee Boat, where Josephine got rolled over. Nervously crossed her on port and headed up along the cemetery and Graniers shore into the light winds but calm waters of what we call Bona Fide Bay – the name of the great classic yacht whose skipper Beppe invariably took this route. I told Christine and Dick that from this move we would either come first or last. When we sailed out of the bay, we were fortunate to find a wind on starboard tack that was just a bit stronger than for those either on our left or on our right. Eventually had to take a long late port tack across the top of the finishing tube. Took avoiding action as Anne Sophie got to the windward mark, still in light weather, just before us.

Race retrospectively finished there, giving us a one minute and twenty-five seconds corrected time win over Josephine and five minutes ahead of Jap, giving us the immense pleasure of winning our last race of the year and awarding Dainty 2nd in Invité Classe

Dainty is the only yacht permitted to sail through the port of Saint-Tropez to her mooring, in the upper reaches of the old harbour.

Photos taken by Sylvie Schneider

On the podium, Photo Anna Boulton

Peter Nicholson, October 2021                    


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