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Full Report on the Cross Channel Plate Race 2024

In my four years as the Racing Sec our annual jaunt across the channel to France has been about as regular and reliable as your average politician’s credibility. We have, in fact, once ended up in Poole (due to Covid) Cowes (due to the weather) and only actually made it across the channel once in 2022. With that fact playing heavily on my mind, my thumb found itself poking the Windy App so many times in the two week build up that I think I have RSI!

In the final week the weather seemed to settle with a couple of days of high winds from the north dropping to a steady F4 with occasional F5 gusts again from the North, North West. This is a highly unusual direction for a Cross Channel Cruise, as the weather can usually be relied upon to be from the South West serving up a close hauled crossing on the way out and a broad reach on the way home.

The Cross Channel race does not have an official start time, just a window between 05:00 and 09:00 where boats are free to start at their crew’s preference, taking their time when they pass Bembridge Ledge Buoy on the way down the East side of the IoW. I say crew’s preference as this year, again, proved that when it comes to getting out of bed time, strength in numbers beats any molecule of authority the Skipper thinks they might have over their crew. I witnessed just this ‘debate’ amongst the crew of Crayzee Feeling the evening before, when Steve wanted to get off the dock when the little hand was on the 5 and the crew flatly refused until the little hand had made its way past 6. Sadly, for my crew such a debate was moot as I had already published that we would be at the start buoy for 5:30, in case anyone wanted to sail over in company. Our alarms went off when the little hand was on the 3 so I was not Mr Popular that morning. Just to make things a little more tense on board, we motored past several of our racing colleagues all quietly sleeping on various buoys and anchorages in the harbour. Nothing was said, but I could feel dissension in the air and hear murmurings on the lower decks, so I hid below making coffee you could stand your spoon up in as a peace offering.

As we headed across the Solent we were joined by Hermit 2; up ahead Windreaver and Misty Blue also wanted to get cracking. As we passed the buoy we found Spray ahead of us but sailing in the opposite direction, having spent the night in White Cliff Bay. Unfortunately, they had been a touch confused on which buoy was the start buoy the following morning. There are a few options thereabouts and at least two of them sport a yellow and black paint job with a flashy white light, so that can be overlooked in the grey light of dawn.

As the front runners cleared the coast of the Isle of Wight, it became clear that a) the wind was a touch on the spicy side and b) the previous few days of wind blowing across the tidal flow had stacked the sea up into a bit of a washing machine. The waves were like a 50-year-old man on a dance floor at a wedding, lots of motion but no rhythm, and every now and then covers you in liquid. With the wind behind us the boats were surfing off one wave to be pushed sideways by another, resulting in a lurching, corkscrew motion. This led to quite a few members of crew going from pink to grey to green in quick succession, closely followed by some de-breakfasting over the side. It did, however, result in some fantastic speeds with the miles quickly ticking by on the log, much to the relief of greener members of the crews.

As Lyanna caught up with Windreaver, John executed an impressive crash gybe. Thinking at the time it was due to a wind shift, we braced ourselves for what was to come whilst John got Windreaver back under control and popped below to change his trousers. Later, in the Cave de Vin, he confessed it was not a wind shift at all, but he had the remote for his autohelm in his pocket and had accidentally sat on it, causing it to gybe the boat.

In today’s modern world a lot of the fleet now have AIS transponders which means we can all track each other whilst at sea. On board Lyanna we could see the fleet now all making their way out into the channel. There are still a few covert boats who have not adopted the technology yet so it was with some surprise that Hermit 2 suddenly found Flyer sneaking up behind them. Now, some of our boats have developed reputations in the fleet, they are not openly discussed but we all know what they are. Such as, never be facing the same way as Captain’s Lady at the start of a race; if you don’t know where the next mark on the course is don’t follow Lyanna or Windreaver, etc etc. With Flyer, you know if she is overtaking you, you are going to get a ribbing on the radio. It does not happen every day, being a crew slightly more focused on refreshments than sail trim, so a level of celebration is encouraged. Suitably chastised, Hermit 2 moved out of the way and allowed Flyer to live up to her name and fly past!

As Cool Runnings is so bored of always being on her own at the front of the fleet, she had recruited some of our other, more flighty, vessels to join her in a more relaxed departure to experience, if only briefly, life at the back. This seemed very jolly until moments after passing the start buoy these consorts witnessed the deployment of a large blue chute from Cool’s bow which was closely followed by her disappearing off into the middle distance throwing a wake like a jet ski. It won’t come as a surprise she was the only boat to venture from white sails that day, so keen were they to raise their handicap to new heights.

As the fleet crossed the shipping lanes there was some ‘negotiation’ on the radio between some boats and the 100,000 tonne moving obstacles they found in their paths. Some graciously changed course slightly to avoid our boats, others adopted the rule that might is right and held steadfast to their course and speed.

As the boats approached Cherbourg it was confirmed that this was going to be a fast passage with Lyanna, now leading the fleet, arriving 3.5 hours ahead of schedule. This put the marina into a bit of a tail spin as our reserved berths were still full of boats on lunch time stays. A bit of lurking with intent on our part and much shouting from the marina staff eventually cleared our pontoon and we could begin mooring up. Once the boats were all safely rafted up and some normal colour had returned to the cheeks of the crews, most headed into town on the hunt for some good French food and the odd bottle or two of the local elixir.

The next day, formal customs duties complete, the crews headed to a local Cave de Vin for a wine tasting accompanied by much-smoked cheeses, and we then guaranteed that the wine merchant would hit his sales target for that quarter. Later in the day we had a pontoon party with lots of wine and nibbles procured from the town on offer, before getting stuck into the serious business of the race results. After some blistering crossing times Lyanna took the silverware with a final time of 8hrs 18mins, 2nd was a fleet newbie, Waimanue, with 8hrs 27mins proving she will be one to beat in the future, 3rd Cool Runnings with 8hrs 40mins, 4th Windreaver with 8hrs 57 mins and 5th was Kerenza with 9hrs 3mins.

The following day the fleet started heading their separate ways, some West to join the RC cruise in Brixham, some staying on the French coast for a bit and others staying in Cherbourg for a few days to fill the bilges with plunder from the local shops.

Our next race is the CYC Round the Island on the 22nd and 23rd of June. If anyone would like to join this race, we still have some spaces left.

James Connell