First grand prix of this season is an interesting fully crewed challenge

Mixed weather of calms and rain squalls gave the gathering of Open 60s close racing today at their first series of the season. The Trophée de Larmor Plage is being held at Lorient in Brittany over three days and is the opening salvo of the circuit this season and the first of the races that count towards this year’s IMOCA World Championships. Skippers of this fully crewed series include Roland Jourdain on Sill, Mike Golding on Ecover, Bernard Stamm on Bobst Group Armor Lux and Thierry Dubois on Solidaires.

An interesting newcomer is Jean-Pierre Dick, a French vet who, with sponsorship from an animal pharmaceutical company, Virbac, has chartered Michel Desjoyeaux’s PRB for the season. Dick should be one to watch, as he won the highly competitive Tour de France a la Voile last year.

Britain’s Mike Golding arrived just in time today after a frustrating two-day delivery from Southampton, ghosting down to the start line minutes ahead of the 8-minute warning signal for the first race. Despite a good start the Ecover crew made a wrong sail call at the windward mark, let their arch rivals Sill take the inside route and then had the misfortune of a stripped spinnaker halyard.

Sill pulled away to finish 1st, while Ecover slipped back to 4th out of 5, just managing to squeeze ahead of Thierry Dubois’s Solidaires in the final few boatlengths of the race.

Fully crewed, with as many as ten people on board, the Open 60 skippers have been experimenting with different sails and sail handling techniques. Today’s racing illustrates that when sailed full-on, little separates the boats, but that the very unfamiliarity of operating with so many people can generate new sets of problems and mistakes.

On some of the boats, it is actually hard to see how it works at all. Bernard Stamm’s, for example, has a cockpit designed with one man in mind, not the several grinders and trimmers who have to work in a space the size of a telephone box.