The 40th edition of Spi Ouest-France ended this past Monday afternoon in the Bay of Trinité-sur-Mer, in Morbihan.
While it may not have been the sunniest regatta in years, it did fulfill the desire to have good breeze all four days for the 374 boats and 2,500+ sailors that were in attendance in the lovely, quaint seaside town of La Trinite. As usual, the host club- Societe Nautique La Trinite sur Mer- and the city and its numerous restaurants rolled out the red carpet, made everyone feel at home, and provided excellent race committee work on the water for the passionate sailors.
The largest keelboat regatta in France has enjoyed tremendous support from J/enthusiasts over the past two decades. Again, the J/80 class was the large one-design fleet by far with seventy-four boats in attendance. Growing quickly has been its smaller sistership, the highly popular J/70 class with seventeen teams from across France, Spain and Russia. Then, in the IRC and OSH handicap fleets, there were several notable performances.
On Friday, the fleet was faced with a moderate west to northwest breeze of 10 to 12 kts. That meant it was going to be a challenge for the Race Committee and PRO on the J/80 course. Sure enough, with tremendous pent-up energy from a long winter ashore, the huge J/80 fleet took three general recalls to get the first race going. That scenario repeated itself repeatedly for the ensuing races all weekend long.
Nevertheless, at the end of two races, there was an unprecedented three-way tie for first place. Sylvain Pellisier’s Intuitive Sail had a 1-5 for 6 pts, Luc Nadal’s Gan’Ja had a 2-4, and Patrick Bot’s Ecole Navale CG 29 had a 4-2!
Over on the J/70 course, three races were run in the “displacement mode” for the teams, as there was not enough wind to hop up on a plane. Starting off with two bullets and closing with a 4th on the day to lead the fleet was Herve Leduc’s Pierre Oceane. Just one point back was Sergey Alexei’s Russian/ Spanish crew on New Territories with a 2-2-3. Then, Luc Sambron’s French crew on Hemon-Camus sailed steadily to a 4-3-2 to hold on for third.
Then, in the competitive IRC 2 Class, Didier Le Moal’s team on the newly launched J/112E J-Lance 12 posted a solid 2-2 to end the day in second place.
The second day saw the forecast strengthen over the earlier versions. The wind started at about 10 knots from the northwest, then it would back and build into the 20-25 kts range, gusting even higher. For the one-design fleets, three races were scheduled, but it did not happen that way. And, for the IRC 1-2-3 fleets and OSH 1 fleet, they were all sent off on a 60nm coastal race- their race #3.
A combination of more general recalls and general carnage on the race track (broaches, torn spinnakers, etc) meant that the enormous J/80 fleet could only manage two more races. Pellisier’s team continued to lead by adding a 2-4 to their tally. Bot’s 4-5 kept them in the hunt for second. However, third saw past J/80 champion Simon Moriceau’s Arment Habitat revel in the breeze and posted a 6-1 to leap onto the provisional podium.
Over in the IRC 2 coastal race, the PRO set a course that was essentially 25nm downwind, 25nm upwind, and 10nm reaching, sailing all over the Bay of Quiberon. While leading IRC 2 Class and sitting around 2nd overall IRC, the J/112E J-Lance 12 suffered an equipment breakdown on the long beat home, resulting in a torn jib and a 10 minute “bald-headed” change to a smaller jib. Unfortunately, that dropped them from a sure 2nd to an 11th place on corrected time (in a race that could not be discarded from overall points totals).
Easter Sunday was not what the masses had hoped for- sunny, warm, gentle breeze, perfect for hunting for chocolate Easter bunnies and hundreds of eggs hidden around the town of La Trinite.
Instead, the fleet was greeted by leaden-grey skies, with dark clouds and squalls dumping rain on the fleet all day long. However, again the breeze held strong and all classes sailed in 13 to 20 kt winds.
On the IRC handicap class course area, the fleet was treated to three windward-leeward races. Winning the day and keeping themselves in contention for the IRC 2 class lead was Le Moal’s J-Lance 12, posting a convincing 3-1-1 to put the fear of God in all their competitors.
Over on the congested J/80 course, the drama continued to build between the top three protagonists. Moriceau’s Armen Habitat posted a 3-1 to jump into 2nd place, while Pellisier’s Intuitive Sails scored a 2-2 to hold on to first place. Meanwhile, Nadal’s Gan’Ja had a 3-7 tally to drop to third position.
The J/70 fleet did not see any change in the overall standings after three more races, with Leduc’s Pierre Oceane still holding a commanding position on their competitors.
On the final day, it was still more good breeze and for most fleets, just two more races. The lone exception was the J/70 fleet; after three more races for a total of 12(!), Leduc’s crew proved unstoppable, posting a 2-1-3 to close with 23 pts total. Hanging on to their position since the first day was Alexei’s Russian/ Spanish crew on New Territories, closing with a 4-2-1 to finish with 27 pts. Then, while trading the top three spots in just about every race all weekend long with the first two teams, Sambron’s Hamon-Camus could not quite match the other’s consistency, completing his series with a 1-5-2 for 31 pts and the bronze.
The drama and anxiety continued on the J/80 racetrack. Closing strongly with two bullets was Moriceau’s Armen Habitat to take the overall win with 16 pts net (including a throw-out race). Pellisier’s crew on Intuitive Sails must have blinked in race 7, scoring a 15th, and having to use that as their toss race; they dropped down one notch to take the silver. Then, the big surprise was the ascent of the Spanish team Ad Grupo Garatu with Almandoz Ortigala skippering. After tossing their first race black flag and closing fast with a 1-2-5 and winning two other races, the Spanish crew were happy to grab the bronze, much to the disappointment of Nadal’s team.
In IRC 2 Class, Le Moal’s J/112E J-Lance 12 won their fourth race in a row, simply decimating their highly competitive fleet. Le Moal and his crew from Societe Regate Rochelaises ended up finishing 1 pt out of first place to take the bronze in IRC 2 Class, by far the most competitive IRC fleet on the water. Perhaps most notably, the J/112E took 2nd IRC Overall and was first production keelboat by a comfortable margin behind a custom, professionally-sailed TP52. A slow start in the first four races was a result of having launched their new boat just days before the start of the regatta. Getting their crew work refined, tactics ironed out, overcoming an equipment failure on the 60nm coastal race (costing them a solid 2nd place), tuning the rig better for the conditions, and simply trimming the sails faster all added up to a solid third place position after the first two days of competition.
Interestingly, the last two days of sailing had both IRC 1 and IRC 2 Classes on the same racetrack and with the same PRO running them on equal length courses. There was nowhere to hide; you had to sail clean, smart and fast. And, that is exactly what Le Moal and his J-Lance 12 crew did for four races. Those two days produced four bullets and there was no question in everyone’s mind in the entire IRC fleet of 24 boats who was in charge – J-Lance 12! The domination was so overwhelming; the competition could be seen crying in their glasses of expensive French wine on Monday afternoon.
In the final analysis of the leading IRC boats, some fascinating facts emerge. For those four races, the J/112E beat the winning First 40.7 (with pro’s and sailmakers driving) by an average of 1:56 elapsed and by 1:36 on corrected. And, versus the JPK 10.80 Dream Pearls (a famous Fastnet Race winner), the J/112E beat them by an average 1:29 elapsed and 1:14 corrected. Perhaps even more fascinating, the brand new JPK 11.80 sailed in IRC 1 Class by owner Gery Trentesaux (“Mr JPK” and Fastnet Race/ RORC winner) and professional skipper Jimmy Pahun and a fully pro’d up crew, got beaten by the J/112E “sport cruiser” by an average 2:04 corrected on the same race track! In fact, the 11.80 (a bare-bones, semi-custom, IRC-optimized racing boat) could barely muster a 2:30 elapsed time over the J/112E family sport cruiser. Amazing.
In the twenty-one boat IRC 3 Class, B. Fagart’s Mispickel V from SR Rochelaises sailed quite well after the first three days, finally getting their act together and closing with a bullet in the final race to secure 4th place.
In the OSH handicap class, it was the smallest and oldest J/Boat in the fleet that took top honours in her class! S. Gras’ J/24 FRA 1404 JIBUS from YC Crouesty-Arzon won the first race and never looked back, scoring five more bullets and two seconds to win her class by 11 pts!