Photos © Daniel Forster / Rolex
Team France Blanc's Codiam during the Rolex Commodores' Cup offshore race
The winning Rolex Commodores' Cup Team France Bleu on the lawn of the Royal Yacht Squadron
A REVERSAL OF FORTUNE FAVOURS FRANCE
Ireland thwarted at the last for a second time
Against all odds, Géry Trentesaux's France Bleu came from behind to win the Rolex Commodores' Cup 2006, beating twelve other nation teams in the process, including three powerful ones from Ireland. The Irish, led by Ireland Green, had been on top since the beginning of the week and come the start of the final offshore race appeared to have the event all but sewn up. But ultimately, and despite on this occasion fielding three teams, Ireland was pipped at the post for the second consecutive time.
Ironically, France Bleu had been out of the running for the Rolex Commodores' Cup after Wednesday's coastal race when all three of their boats were disqualified for sailing the wrong course. Following a request for redress hearing the boats were reinstated and a strong showing in Friday's inshore race had moved them up to fourth place within 17.5 points of Ireland Green, leader since the start of the event.
With the offshore race counting for double points, between them the three boats in France Bleu had to finish a total of nine places ahead of Ireland Green if they were to win. In the event they far exceeded this - Cyrille Legloahec's Batistyl won Class 3. Ireland Green's No Naked Flames had been leading the class earlier in the day, but ended 11th, by some distance her worst result of the series. In Class 2 the story was the same where Stephane Névé's Paprec Recyclage finished second behind France Blanc's Guyader L'Esprit de la Mer, while Blondie in Ireland Green was also 11th of 13 boats - another surprise result following a solid week otherwise. The only redeeming performance for Ireland Green was Tim Costello's Mills 40 Tiamat which ended up third in class one. However, even her performance was not enough to beat Géry Trentesaux's Beneteau First 44.7 Courrier du Coeur, second behind France Blanc's Codiam ENSP.
At the final points tally, France Bleu finished the Rolex Commodores' Cup, scoring an emphatic victory on 76 points to second placed Ireland Green's 98.5, France Blanc pulled up to third on 115, following their two class wins in the offshore race, and the top British team was GBR Red on 117.25.
"It is a surprise because we were fourth before this (offshore) race," said Géry Trentesaux, part of the winning French team in 2002 and who masterminded this year's campaign. "I think we haven't sailed so badly. Effectively, the three France Bleu boats included two top boats their class. But we were also quite lucky. The three Irish teams are incredible - they have very beautiful boats, nice crew and sail superbly. They were very organised on the sea and on the shore. But today perhaps - God is French!"
Traditionally French boats have always done well in the offshore element of the Rolex Commodores' Cup. Trentesaux believes this is due to their experience with this genre of racing. "It is not a secret - we have the Tour de France à la Voile, the Figaro and many guys on our boats have done those races, so we like to sail at night and look at the wind and the tides. We observe very well the Channel - it is part of our garden." Importantly for the overall victory, France Bleu was top team over the inshore series emphasising a quiet consistency throughout the week of competition.
Starting on Friday evening from the Royal Yacht Squadron line off Cowes, the offshore race saw the wind die as the boats were leaving the eastern Solent. It then returned over night making for a good race to marks east of the Isle of Wight and then back west along the south side of the island. Only once the boats were into Poole Bay on Saturday morning did the wind start to misbehave. In the end, the race was decided on the final leg as the boats attempted to make their way back to the finish line off Poole from the final Rolex turning mark to the south of the Needles Fairway buoy. On this last leg boats that went inshore to get out of the tide found themselves becalmed while those who went offshore kept the breeze and were among the first home.
"We saw that there was more wind out in the Channel and we thought we weren't able to arrive with the tide," continued Trentesaux. "So we decided to go to the west and it was a good thing to do." This was an occasion when having a slower boat than your competition meant that you could see where they were becalmed and simply sail around them.
On board Paprec Recyclage in Class 2, skipper Stephane Névé said they were aware going into this last offshore race that anything could happen - and it did. Over the course of the race they went from first to last and back again on more than one occasion as the wind came and went leaving them at the mercy of the tide. "But we still concentrated and we were always hoping to do well. We were very lucky on the last downwind leg and the other boats in the teams were very good, so it was fantastic," he said. Racing with Névé was an amateur crew including a schoolteacher, a builder and also Jean-Luc Petithuguenin, head of Paprec, the French company sponsoring the boat.
On board the France Bleu small boat Batistyl, skipper Cyrille Legloahec agreed conditions had been variable. "The first time in the race when the wind was regular we were in second place behind No Naked Flames [in Ireland Green]. After when there was no wind one time we were first and then next time we were last but we kept on going in between. We were lucky it finished at a good time!" His boat is a new design by Bernard Nivelt.
While the crew in France Bleu were ecstatic about their win, this was also the case on the Russian boat, Juga, which finished third in Class 2 their best result of the week. Co-owner Sergey Bryuzga confirmed that they too had seen both ends of the fleet during the offshore race. At one point he said he had decided he hated sailing - his competition was 15 miles ahead and due to the length of the course they wouldn't finish until the early hours of the morning. Then the race committee shortened the course, and they found themselves back with the front-runners somehow - and they decided they liked it again! "It is interesting with these tides," said Bryuzga. "In St Petersburg we don't have tide like this."
The offshore race was as pleasing to the French and Russian crews as it was disappointing for the three Irish teams. During the course of the week there were exceptional performances from almost all the nine Irish boats who once again, in the end, could do little but watch victory slip through their fingers thanks to the vagaries of Poole Bay.
At the final prize giving, held this afternoon at the Royal Yacht Squadron, France Bleu were awarded the Commodores' Cup - a trophy originally donated to the Royal Ocean Racing Club by a group of commodores' from the Island Sailing Club in Cowes. The skippers of the winning team also received the much-coveted Rolex Submariner chronometers in steel and gold.
1st France Bleu 76pts
2nd Ireland Green 98.5pts
3rd France Blanc 115pts
4th GBR Red 117.25pts
5th Ireland White 117.25pts
6th Ireland Orange 117.5pts
7th GBR White 131pts
8th Belgium 158.5pts
9th France Rouge 159pts
10th Russia 164.25pts
11th GBR Black 164.75pts
12th The Netherlands 165pts
13th GBR Scotland 186.5pts