Brits take French Nationals, the opening pre-Worlds event 2019

John Pollard’s team “Xcellent” won the French National Championship after 3 days and 9 races with one discard. Tasmanian “Aeolus” of Brett Cooper from SB20 Australia took second and “Give me Five” of 2018 French champion Robin Follin closed the podium

John Pollard, Jack Wetherell and Steve Procter had an impressive regatta and maintained their form from Cowes, where they were recently crowned the 2019 SB20 UK National Champions. After a harsh lesson in Race Three (BFD/26), Pollard sailed a disciplined regatta and showed plenty of class on the race course with a top three finish in each race bar the last, finishing on 20 points, and taking the French National title from French youth sailor, Robin Follin. Follin (Give Me Five FFV Youth) finished in third place on 35 points, an impressive performance after an 18-month break from the SB20 Class.

The French Nationals is one of two lead-up events sailed prior to the World Championship in October. While it was a good opportunity for training, the 25-boat fleet will have a lot more action on the start line when they face off in the Worlds with a fleet of close to 80 boats from six nations expected.

“The purpose of these warm-up regattas is not only to get to know Hyeres better but to get a few extra days together with each team to work on areas where they need improvement, and with the dependability of the Hyeres winds, this regatta has been an excellent training run for all” 

Ed Russo, President of the SB20 Class World Council

The first day saw a few teams racing with handicaps. Vasco Serpa – SailCascais was waiting for the delivery of his new boat to start racing.  A shipping delay meant that Vasco would sit out the first day. Gabriel Scoczek FRA Team FFVoile and the 2018 SB20 World Champion had an agenda conflict and would only start racing on Saturday. Noe Delpech was sitting in for Jean-Baptiste Bernaz on Major FRA (Laurent Bernaz) and a few teams were missing their 4th crew.

Four brand new boats from SportsBoatWorld were delivered to Hyères last week and were chartered by SailCascais to Aeolus AUS (Brett Cooper) and #GameChanger UKR (Julia Freespirit). Vasco was using a brand new boat and the fourth will be chartered to another team arriving for the Worlds in October. 

The first start at 2pm was 400 meters off the jetty and the race started on time with Rhapsodie (Hugo Feydit) jumping the gun and having to go back. 

A steady 100 degree wind meant that boat speed was king and at the top mark it was Aeolus AUS (Brett Cooper) who rounded first following closely by Xcellent GBR (John Pollard), #GameChanger UKR (Julia Freespirit), Skin in the Game FRA (Ed Russo) and Vetus Forward FRA (Matthieu di Russo). A slow set by Vetus gave the first 4 boats a nice lead which they held till the end without the positions changing and Aeolus AUS recorded their first bullet of the day

Conditions changed little for the second race except that the fleet was getting more anxious to race. After a General Recall, the Black Flag was hoisted for the second attempt, but there was clear start given and the fleet was off for their second race of the day.  

Boat speed again was key and Aeolus (AUS) demonstrated good boat speed and clean sailing as they rounded the top mark in first place again.  But Xcellent (GBR) was closer behind this time followed by  #GameChanger (UKR), Vetus Forward, Rhapsodie (FRA), Reach Around (GBR) – hull 3017(!) and Acti Time (RUS) of Arsen Chubarkov.

Xcellent’s downwind speed allowed them to catch Aeolus while #GameChanger got caught on the outside of the last leeward mark and dropped to 7th place opening third place to Vetus Forward.

The wind began to soften for the third race that started with a general recall followed by a Black Flag.  Both Xcellent and #GameChanger got caught over early and took a BFD for the 3rd race dropping them down in the standings after 3 races.  There was a shift to the right at the start as the wind dropped to the 8 to 10 knot range and Aeolus and Skin in Game were on the right side at that point. Vetus Forward rounded the mark third. The race was shortened to 2.5 legs and the positions did not change after the first weather mark. 

On Day 2 the fleet endured a two-hour delay to the start of racing while waiting for the breeze to come in, but the breeze kept the fleet guessing for the entire day, with shifty conditions of between 8 and 15 knots causing ‘hard little waves’ on the course. Cooper also had to contend with kite damage on the course, but is feeling pretty good overall. “We had a mixed day and a couple of issues with the kite caught at the top mark and a torn kite, but we recovered well in the shifty conditions that we are working with. Overall we had a pretty consistent day,” said Cooper, who late the night before was on the hunt for a sail-maker to repair the kite.

Jones, the Aeolus tactician, felt the team had a solid day but sailing was very tricky peaking at 16tws but dropping to 8tws at times. “[We] had some issues tearing a spinnaker and then trawling at another time, but either way, it was a good day and pleasant sailing,” – said Jones. – “It’s certainly challenging sailing here but I think we have been able to stay consistent and that shows with our scores.”

Into Day 3 the defending champion Robin Follin FRA (Give Me Five FFV Youth) on 23 points, who is enjoying being back on an SB20 after an 18-month break since the 2018 Worlds in Hobart, Tasmania, had a better second day although he too described the conditions as tricky.

“It was not an easy day today with a lot of shift during races, but it was much better for us than the first day because we weren’t the same team as usual. Gaulthier was on the last exam of his study and our little Gaby was unavailable, which was complicated as we had 45 less kilos, but we do the best we can”

Robin Follin FRA (Give Me Five FFV Youth)

Day Two didn’t quite go the way the Portuguese star Vasco Serpa (Animal/SailCascais) had hoped, describing their racing as ‘all over the place’ with poor concentration affecting their sailing, but the enthusiastic sailor was very pleased to see such a great and competitive fleet on the water providing good training before the Worlds in October, especially the teams that have chartered the new Sportsboatworld SB20 boats that SailCascais have purchased and are on the water in Hyeres.

The final day of sailing proved frustrating for the Australians who were sitting in second place, five points behind GBR’s John Pollard (Xcellent) going into the last day of racing. PRO Jean Diaz held the fleet ashore until 1300 when the breeze finally started to fill in, but the delay dashed Cooper’s hopes of three races and a chance to regain the lead. Cooper finished the regatta with silver on 25 points after a third in Race 8 and a fifth in Race 9. 

“I’m very excited to see Brett [Cooper} and his crew do so well in the French Nationals. Brett, along with our other Australian entries Porco Rosso (Elliott Noye), The Imp (Andrew Smith) and Essence of Athena (Anna Reid), will be a formidable presence in the Worlds. Noye has already showed his class in Portugal and Ireland and definitely has his eye on the prize in Hyeres”

Stephen Catchpool, SB20 Australian President

The next big pre-Worlds event, the French Grand Slam, will be held 4-6 October. Overall French Nationals results – click here.

Text: Ed Russo, SB20 AUS Media/Jane Austin, Anna Zykova

Photos courtesy of COYCH, for more photos please click here

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