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The Bol d’Or from the inside

by Jean Philippe Jobé on 19 Jun 2012
Coloured spinnakers behind us as we hit the west wind in the afternoon. - Bol d’Or Mirabeaud 2012 Jean Philippe Jobé
The Bol d’Or is one of the most popular inland races in the world, some 500 boats, close to 100 miles depending on the chosen options, the course is easy.

You start in Geneva, go to the end of the lake at Le Bouveret and come back. In fact it’s much more than that as the shortest way along the French coast is often the slowest depending on wind conditions.

For us, as our boat is kept closer to the midway point, we first have to convey the boat to Geneva. We start on the Friday and sail, motor and sail again until we reach the portion of the lake close to Geneva where we see some of the competitors training in a good west wind that we hope shows up for the start. Safely moored in the SNG harbor we then attend the opening of the event with some experts discussing the new prototype boats, such as the Mirabeau LX foiler with wings or the Pi 28 with its double-sided main sail which is one of the first solutions of a wing-like sail that will be reef able.

It is Saturday morning, we leave the harbor early so we avoid the crowd on the first starting line of the monohulls. Multihulls have a 400 meter head start but have to leave a mark to starboard somewhat compensating as far as the total length of the race is concerned.

It’s a slow start at 10.00 am as the promised west wind is due around midday. We plod along trying to get the best angle with a light breeze coming from behind. We seem to stay together with the fastest boats for a while but they will soon leave us behind. The breeze increases, our speed with it, and we pass the lovely villages on the French coast near Nernier.

Spinnakers are flying and some become harder to tame than others. We are able to sail a bit faster than the wind and soon reach the no wind zone ahead of the west wind that has finally arrived.The boats behind catch up with us and once again we start that little game trying to avoid piling up and being too close for comfort with a bunch of the other competitors. I wonder if following the breeze on the French side is the good option and see on our port side that well over a hundred boats have chosen the Swiss coast instead, though they do not seem faster. At this point Realstone, the winning D35 crewed by the young members of the Sailing Training Club of Geneva, comes screaming down already on the way back. We also observe the Mirabeau LX fighting with the changing conditions. It looks like a lot of work as they are only able to fly on their foils when the conditions are ideal, good steady breeze and flat water.



Closer to the rounding mark, the west wind is replaced by some evening breeze coming from the mountain. We surf the now well-formed waves that the previous prevailing west wind has built up and realize that the way back will be taxing to both boat and crew. We round the turning point safely just before 10:00 pm having taken nearly 12 hours for half the course. Beating against the waves is tiring and we soon take naps in turn during the night. When we hit the west wind again it pipes up to some gusts close to 30 knots, so we scale down to a solent jib in place of our genoa and think about reefing the main. We leave it up as the wind is easing a bit and we continue slamming into the chop.

Before the sun comes up on Sunday morning the wind and the waves die and we find ourselves becalmed in the middle of the lake, boats all around us, some quitting and motoring to their home ports. We wait for some light breeze to show up and move slowly towards Geneva. We somehow lost a pulley up the mast and can’t use our spinnaker anymore that will prove quite annoying as the whole way back towards Geneva will be with some following wind. At each jibe trying to keep some speed we tend to lose one position to another boat. It’s now past 10:00 am again, 24 hours into the race and the finish line is getting closer. We pass one boat just before finishing, we learn later that we did better than the previous year so the contract is fulfilled.


We are safely in port again and are welcomed at the club for a well-deserved lunch, the traditional lasagna that we seem to gobble down with a cold beer. At the award ceremony we take the opportunity to discuss the merit and difficulty of the new prototype boats and Hughes de Turckheim explains how they had to quit after hitting some floating wood just after turning the midway mark.

The crowd from the Libera monohull winner, Raffica, are all smiles, 14 of them on that boat with most of them on trapeze lines. Their boat is an old Italian boat that won the race three times in the late 90’s. Now this boat is owned by a group of enthusiastic Hungarians and they drove some 16 hours to get here. It was rough during the night they say but winning blows away the tiredness and the bruises. They promise to come back next year for the 75th edition, and we will also be there and aim to get better again.


I just need to say thank you to my crew and to the organizers for a great event.

See you all in 2013.





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