Monday, June 6, 2016
It feels years since I have been along this quay and through this gate in the big walls of Antibes into the old town. It all came back. We took the airport bus, through one of the ugliest bits of coastal Europe, stopped on an upper level and hauled ourselves across the funny bridge above the railway. Don’t take the taxi from the airport. The last time we did, the meter clicked into place at eighty euros. The South of France is not seedy. It’s just directly rapacious. It won’t have got cheaper over three years. That’s it. Three years it was. Then we stayed in some flowery place too far away. Now, we had a nice tower to live in, right by the traffic jam into the town. We owners headed up to the attic – was it to get as far way as possible from the crew? No, no. Surely not. It was six flights and a rickety ladder up to no curtains and an ersatz bathroom perched on a set of spiral stairs that went nowhere. We had a great view of the regatta and all the classics lined up, and we could hear every single note from the bands until after midnight.
Usual crowd. It was like when I used to regularly play poker at the Groucho. Years passed and I went back. Exactly the same blokes were at the bar. “Want a game of poker?” they said – but immediately they saw me. And only when they saw me. Yep. “Want a yacht race?” OK. So, it’s sailing races again then is it? Passing Inigo from Halloween. Jonno from Chinook, (latterly of Rowdy). Pelham, Chris. Same boats. Kelpie. White Wings. Comet. Manitou. And some new ones too, but seemingly sailed by the same people. We got aboard Serenade later in the week. Charming owner. Member of the Gstad Yacht Club. This was the boat that encouraged Humphrey Bogart to take up sailing and buy Santana. It was owned by a celebrity violinist. And then by Za Za Gabor. Meanwhile Enterprise has been refashioned after her metal main mast broke and has come back all polished up with her deck straightened and a new set of huge sails. She used only to be in Spain, but now with some Swedish chaps from the consortium that owned Manitou, apparently, all aboard and confusingly dressed in the same dark blue kit with different logos all over it, she has arrived to sail faster than ever. “She’s all very light inside” her skipper told me. Bah. We were tied up next to her. And sometimes next to Manitou, depending on who got the wrong anchor line. Seb was helming Manitou. We weren’t even in their class but he wouldn’t let us pass without forcing us up. Baffling. I think this was because we beat them convincingly three times – once across the line. Maybe twice. But five S and S yawls were present; Stormy, Skylark, Comet, Argyll, Enterprise and Manitou. Skylark, predictably like a rocket.
We actually didn’t have any kit except five white shirts, left behind from Antibes in 2014 when Will’s dad took her. So we bought some t-shirts. And have kept to black shorts. Black and white. No colour photography when this boat was commissioned. Alex has been working on the varnishing and the mastic and the rudder. All now tip top – excellent. The rudder is a huge improvement. She sits very neatly. And almost seems to be prepared to follow a course. We unfurled a new asymmetric too. I am not sure when this was made. I think it must be the one we ordered to replace the burst jobbies for the Fastnet, but weren’t allowed to use because we forgot to register it. But we are better in light airs. We lost the 160, which is so blown that it isn’t really doing any business for us, and went out training with the 150 instead. It’s a neat sail and still has its shape. Alex has taken some tucks in the main. We are getting measured for a new main and genoa.
There was hardly any wind promised all week. So a few knots the first day felt quite breezy. The époque Marconi (pre 1950) were divided into three according to rating, not size. Leonore went up to the big boats, despite being tiny. We were left to fight it out with some small, lighter, mast-head rigged barques like White Wings. We beat her on the first day but couldn’t catch Skylark or her thereafter. Nonetheless really good starts, helpful tactics from Pete Copsey, and in the first race we got the wind by staying close in to the shore. We came second. The second day was equally difficult and we followed the same pattern, just a little bit slow coming down with the wind behind us to the finish and though we finished ahead of a boat called Fjord III she beat us on corrected time and we were fourth, but by only twenty two seconds.
So obviously we had to pull something out of the bag in the third race and after some excellent tactics and a great start we were surprised to find ourselves lagging behind with Comet and Stormy Weather, two boats we had hardly seen in the first two races at all. On the first down-wind leg we did a snazzy, correct manoeuvre with the asymmetric – staying high and heating up in low pressure. We followed this with a gybe to the mark. It meant that we overtook both. However, (there is often one of these), we went right out instead of sticking to the shore and lost any lead. Intent on catching Skylark and White Wings on the last mark, we decided to go for another blisteringly clever approach – the opposite. We thought we could get into a good sea breeze near the shore. Naturally enough, when we tacked back to the buoy, we found ourselves behind again. But we made it up in the final down-wind leg and overtook Stormy. It wasn’t enough. We felt the wind dropping. We could see wind out to port. We gybed across to it and the wind where we had just been, picked up. We came in seventh. That was our discard. We hoped.
The final race was a joy. Alex helmed. A great start, along the line, towards the pin, in light wind, flat seas. He got us to the off-set mark first ahead of all rivals including Skylark. We smooched down on the down-wind leg, went wide again on the outside retaining speed and gybed in to reach the mark ahead of the down-winders and then tacked away immediately to stay close to the shore, but apparently, because there had been a shift, there was now more wind off-shore. So the rest of the fleet stood on a bit longer, our wonderful smooth execution was not as wonderful as it should have been. White Wings and Skylark were very close at the line. We crossed hard on their heels. But of course we give them time anyway. White Wings won.
But third. We were actually on the podium clutching a tin plate. Though we were nearly late for that.
We have decided to go for Imperia and Cannes too. Looks like we have left it too late to get into St Tropez this year.