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RORC Île d'Ouessant Race – Preview

by Louay Habib on 12 Aug 2016
Lloyd Thornburg's MOD 70 Phaedo3 - RORC Île d'Ouessant Race Rachel Fallon-Langdon
The first edition of the RORC Île d'Ouessant Race will start from the Royal Squadron Line on Saturday and the fascinating course has attracted a wide variety of yachts racing under the IRC Rating system, as well as MOD 70 Trimarans and a clutch of Class40 ocean pocket-rockets. The 400-mile race has a simple course; Cowes – Wolf Rock - Ouessant - St Malo. However, the race has the potential for complex strategy.

The start will mirror the Rolex Fastnet Race and getting a good start in the Solent will be on the minds of every competitor. Playing the tide and wind along the South Coast of England offers many tactical options and once the fleet round Wolf Rock, the next leg is fully offshore to Ouessant, 120 miles away.

Also known as Ushant in English, Ouessant is the largest of a group of islands marking the most north-western point of France and the south-western point of the English Channel, as well as the southern point of the Celtic Sea. To the west there is no land mass until Nova Scotia, over 2000 miles away. From Ushant to Scilly 'tis thirty-five leagues, or so the British naval ditty 'Spanish Ladies' explains. The passage can be a rough one.

Ushant itself is a notorious maritime location. Guarded by five lighthouses, the area is prone to dense fog, frequent gales and Atlantic swell with up to nine knots of tide. Shipping lanes also form a man-made hazard and the RORC fleet must successfully round this infamous land mark. The Fromveur Passage, sometimes called St. Vincent's Channel, is a strait that lies between the island of Ushant and the Kéréon lighthouse and is an area prone to big tidal rips and huge seas.

Having rounded Ushant, the RORC fleet competing in the Île d'Ouessant Race still have about 120 nautical miles to go along the Normandy coast, and if the fleet are inshore cheating the tide there are many rocks and sandbanks to negotiate and the tidal height for St Malo, around the finish time for the race, will be close to 10 metres.

“Although the start is like the Fastnet, it looks like we will not have the same conditions.” commented Phaedo3 co-skipper Brian Thompson. “Uncharacteristically, we will have tide against and after a light start, the wind should go easterly. There should be wind later as we get down towards St.Albans and we should have a fast VMG run down to Wolf Rock. After that the wind should go more southerly, which will be a fetch on Phadeo and probably a tight reach for the monohulls, so it should be a fast leg.

Phaedo broke the Plymouth to La Rochelle record in October last year, and some of the guys on the boat, like Henry Bomby and Sam Goodchild will have raced in this area extensively with their Figaro campaigns. So the route to Ouessant from Wolf Rock is familiar to the team. Personally I have been around their a lot with the Route du Rhum and the Jacques Vabres and it is the start and finish of the Jules Verne, so it is a memorable place for me and not just for the big tidal overfalls and standing waves. It can be quite wild there, but with the wind direction we will have, I think it will be fairly sheltered, but the tide will still be running and it is always a bit of a worry going through there. Ouessant is about three quarters of the way around the course. You can go either way around Ouessant but I doubt anyone will leave it to starboard, because that means a lot more miles.

For us it will probably be a light airs beat to St Malo and that is a Figaro speciality. Sam and Henry will have a good play book through there. We have good charts and you need them, if we are against the tide, we could well be inshore and its very rocky. Possibly there maybe more wind in mid-Channel, so we might well tack out, but most of the monohulls will stay inshore if it is against the tide.”

Boat Books Australia FOOTERRS Sailing 2021 - FOOTER38 South - Sun Fast 3300 - FOOTER - Sept2021

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