One of Skylark’s favourite classic events is on the island of Porquerolles located just west of Saint-Tropez and to the south of Marseilles in France. With Covid-restrictions partially eased along the Riviera, the regatta was able to take place under strict guidelines and once each competitor had had PCR tests. There were no social functions or prizegivings and competitors were asked not to congregate.
During the practice day for the Skylark crew, it was observed that there was a huge wind shadow by the lighthouse at the northern end of the island – something that was noted as being a potential factor if a Round the Island race was run.
Race 1 start line was heavily biased towards the committee boat in light winds. Skylark chose the favoured end of the line but the lighter, smaller boats were able to accelerate quicker and Skylark did not have the best of starts. The windward mark was only 0.4 miles away so the poor start meant Skylark was on the back foot from the very beginning. Two long reaches ensued to the finish line which were a procession. At the end Skylark placed 5th out of 18 in her class. With no discard for this event it meant that Skylark would have to sail incredibly well in the remaining two races with at least podium finishes in each.
Following racing the crew took an eMTB tour of the island – on such a beautiful isle one of the highlights of the day.
Race 2 brought about a more aggressive start – Skylark pushed three boats over the start line and began in clear air right on the gun. However, a gradual right shift went against her – she tacked early of the layline to be out of phase with the dense fleet above her and tacked two more times than the opposition, remaining out of phase and in clear air, to reach the windward mark on the opposing layline and rounded in a lead position.
Two long reaches ensued, the latter turning into a run on the forecasted shifting breeze. Skylark lost a little of her lead but was still winning the race. She rounded the leeward mark 8 miles from home alongside the faster Jour de Fete however, in the light wind she was no match for Jour de Fete who extended to an 8 minute lead by the finish. It was enough to give JDF the race win, with Skylark a respectable 2nd, enough to keep her in contention for the overall regatta victory.
After two races and with the final race to go, Skylark was 4th overall and required a race win ahead of Andale and Windhammer with Jour de Fete placing 5th or lower.
A little more breeze on the startline of Race 3 – a race Round the Island – gave Skylark more power on the startline relative to the smaller boats and she hit the line perfectly in clear air. It was just the start she needed, successfully stealing the wind from Jour de Fete as she crossed the line directly behind her. Jour de Fete tacked inshore as soon as she could and Skylark tacked to cover both her and Andale. It was all on …
As the boats approached the first headland, Skylark held Jour de Fete offshore and tacked first onto the layline for the long port biased beat to the 2nd headland 4 miles away. However, Andale was lifted inshore and crossed just ahead of Skylark on starboard. Skylark saw the manoeuvre coming and built speed from a minute before so that when Andale tacked on Skylark’s wind she miscalculated Skylark’s high speed and Skylark was able to push through her wind shadow to leeward.
By switching modes between power and point, Skylark edged her way into a lee bow position on Andale whilst simultaneously putting dirty air onto Jour de Fete who fell further and further behind despite the wind being quite light at times. In fact, so detrimental was the effect that JDF did not make the next headland and had to make an additional tack offshore.
Skylark led the whole fleet all the way round the island. She peaked her performance just at the right moment and was in a strong first place with JDF way down the fleet – exactly what she needed to secure the regatta win. And then we arrived at the lighthouse … a mere stones-throw from the finish.
As we noted on the first practice day, the wind completely disappeared here and Skylark slowly drifted to a halt. She parked up. There was nothing she could do as all the smaller lighter boats glided up to her. The race restarted in mirror calm right before the finish. It was a painful way to lose the regatta win and, dare we say it, it felt a little unfair that the organisers did not finish the race at the lighthouse knowing there was zero wind afterwards and that this would make the race a lottery.
Andale managed to find calmer water inshore and nearly an hour and a half later slipped across the finish to win the regatta. Skylark finished 11th meaning she remained 5th overall. It was a disappointing end to a fabulous regatta.