Two Dragons sink as 30kt squall hits fleet in Cannes 28/9/07

Although there were clouds in the sky on Thursday morning, there was enough bright sunshine in evidence, along with a nice breeze, to lure the sailors and Race Committee on to Cannes Bay for the scheduled racing at the Régates Royales – Trophée Panerai.

Unfortunately, the benign conditions didn’t last long. Soon after racing started for the Dragons, Classic, Tradition and 12 Metre Classes, an intense squall came through, bringing heavy rain showers, hail, thunder and lightning.

The tempest attacked the fleet with a fury. Visibility was reduced to metres at times, and the gusting conditions caused several boats to broach, colliding one into the other. France was dismasted, and Nagaïna suffered significant damage to its hull.

The Dragon fleet also suffered, as sadly, two boats sank in the storm, after taking on immense amounts of water. One appeared to be pinned on its side in gusts that exceeded 30 knots, filling it with water. The other was sailing downwind when it broached on its side with the spinnaker flailing from the top of the mast. The boat never recovered. In both cases, the crew were quickly plucked from the water, shaken up, but uninjured.

There were reports of lightning striking near several boats, and indeed, crew on board some boats told of instances of being ‘shocked’. Initially, it appears the more than one thousand sailors taking part in the regatta have escaped serious injury, although a handful were taken to the hospital for observation and minor treatment.

Jean-Claude Montesinos, the President of the Yacht Club de Cannes commented: “I think that the only time I have seen conditions like these was in 1980; it is really very unusual for this place, at this time of year.”

Denis Horeau, the Waterborne Operations Director of the Régates Royales – Trophée Panerai, added: “The storm we saw was much, much more intense than anything on the four weather forecasts we checked this morning.”

12 Metre World Championship
Despite the conditions, one race was completed on Thursday at the centennial world championships of the 12 Metre Class and in the Grand Prix division, James Spithill steered Kookabura II to victory, moving his team up to second place with three races completed. Roger Wright’s Wright on White earned a third place in today’s difficult race to remain at the head of the table.

In the Modern Division, Courageous had a day worthy of its name – its race win puts it on top of the division with Challenge 12 and Freedom just one point in arrears.

In the Classic Division – Vintage, Trivia won for the second time to increase its lead after three races over Vanity V. While in the two-boat Traditional division, Ikra won for the second consecutive time to take the series lead over Sovereign.

One race was completed on Thursday, but at the terrible cost of two boats sinking. Jean-Sébastien Ponce was on board one of the boats, which was sailing under spinnaker when it gybed and broached. With the boat on its side, water poured in and the hull quickly began to submerge.

“My lifejacket was pulling me to the surface, but a line was wrapped around my foot, so I started to go down with the boat,” Ponce said, relieved to be safe on dry land. “The tension on the line around my foot was strong, but eventually I was able to free it?The way back up to the surface seemed to be pretty long!”

The crew and owners of both boats are hoping they can be brought to the surface and salvaged. Just 49 of the 81 starters completed the race, with Don O’Donoghue on Seabird claiming the win over Markus Wieser’s BB Queen.

Classic Yachts and Spirit of Tradition
In the Classic Yachts and Spirit of Tradition classes at the Régates Royales – Trophée Panerai, one race was started but all the talk was about the dramatic day, with many stories of close – at times too close – encounters with the elements. Lightning struck or hit near several boats, including Mariquita, the old William Fife III design, one of the last remaining ’19 Metre’ boats.

Similarly, the crew on Dennis Conner’s beautiful Cotton Blossom II was among those reporting to have had a close call with lightning. In the end, Cotton Blossom II was among the first boats to return to port, the grizzled veteran Conner displaying the sense and seamanship that comes from experience in getting his boat and crew ashore early.