Windy Wednesday … à pleine vitesse!

1st downwind run Day 2 of Les Voiles

There are a handful of days over a decade of racing that will be etched in our memories – and Day 2 of Voiles 2021 was one of those days. Warm sunshine, flat blue turquoise water, an offshore breeze and a long downwind run against a big fleet of competitive boats … it doesn’t get much better. The startline was positioned off the tower on the wall of the Port de Saint-Tropez and required a downwind approach which was not easy due to the bias of the line and the short runway near the harbour wall. Skylark was only a few seconds late on the line but well positioned for an optimum angle run all the way to the mark. It was certainly neither a day to gybe or to sail dead downwind, with a death roll and the mizzen effecting the set of the bigger sails.

Temple on Guy (not the captain!) Tommy Tom Tom multitasking winding things. Booms kiss the water

The loading in the mizzen sheets was extreme and there was a visible bend in the wooden mizzen mast. As each gust came thru Rich on the mizzen would ease the sheets to try and depower the backend of the boat to reduce weather helm and drag underwater. It was a difficult task with a fine line between the sails set pulling 110% power and collapsing and refilling, punching 150% shock load into the rig.

Hoisting the headsail to reduce weather helm and depower the spinnaker – as Blitzen broaches to port

The Milky Bar Kid (Mogensie) took on the enviable task of trimming the kite in the gusty shifty conditions. Only once did the spinnaker collapse. On another occasion we launched into a slow broach with the wheel on full lock. It was a graceful round up and the long-keeled Skylark carried speed right through the incident, both booms in the water in the same gust that wiped out the larger faster professionally sailed Blitzen.

Tommy Tom Tom on mainsheet calling the gusts and inspiring MBK to greater things …

After the first downwind where Skylark held her own against both Blitzen and Stormy Weather, a long upwind followed where Skylark seemed unbalanced, with too small a headsail and too large a main. Consequently she was unable to hold her lead over Stormy who sailed past faster and higher to windward. Gusts over 30 knots rolled over the course and Stormy continued to lead the way onto what was, eventually, a race winning performance.

Towards the top mark and tacking onto the lay line, it soon because apparent that Skylark’s nemesis Comet had retired having split her boom in two. Another large yacht Iduna also retired with a dramatic split in her main mast around the first spreader.

Skylark made good gains on the 2nd downwind by not flying her spinnaker – the 2nd upwind got even more windy. Milky Bar gets a soaking
Ease! Ease! Ease! Depowering the overtimed main

Top gusts were over 35 knots as Skylark headed towards the finish. With a soaked and tired crew Skylark continued her pursuit of Stormy Weather.

On a normal day these over canvassed gaff riggers keep up with us … but not today. Offshore design – Offshore conditions – Offshore performance

It is days like this that make Skylark’s crew appreciate and value a strong, well prepared boat. At no time were any of the crew worried about the boat’s design or integrity – a testament to her original design back in 1937 but also credit to the professional crew (Martin, Mark, Sarah & Tony) who love and look after her. And a passionate owner who treasures restoring and preserving beautiful things … for ever more.

Photos by ©James Robinson Taylor here