Kevin Ludbrook sails with a regular crew on a Contessa 32, ‘Minstrel Boy’ normally racing round the cans in the Solent or down to Poole and so forth but as she was built in 1972 she is eligible for the Classic Channel Regatta. This is his report on the Classic Channel Regatta in July 2019..
This series of races is normally reserved for venerable wooden craft with a proper sense of history but in fact many of these are no more than ten years older than the Contessa. The regatta has always been a mixed French and British event albeit with a smattering of Dutch, Belgian and German boats too and that helps to create a great atmosphere. Around seventy-five boats took part which also helps to make it a very sociable event.
The regatta lasts a week, starting with races in Dartmouth, a race to St Helier, then finally a race over to Paimpol followed by a day of races there.
Our journey started from Southsea via Yarmouth with a cracking sail across Christchurch bay, past Portland Bill and on to Dartmouth with about 20 – 30 knots of wind right in the tail and the small spinnaker up. You see how the Contessa gets its reputation as a good sea boat, surfing at 10 knots down the swell it sits very comfortably in the water, just don’t look behind you. After about 13 hours we arrived in Dartmouth at 21:45 and in the pub with 5 mins to spare for last food orders.
In Dartmouth there are two races on each of Saturday and Sunday followed by prize giving hosted at the Royal Dart YC, we only needed to attend in a social capacity. My first time sailing into Dartmouth and what a pretty harbour it is. The Saturday was rounded off by an entrants dinner in the old market, jazz bands, sea shanties, wine, beer and cider hit the spot.
On the Monday we raced to St Helier, another spinnaker run all the way with a mix of wind holes and good sailing culminating with some spinnaker abuse, close hauled over the line in St Aubin’s bay. We only gybed once at 3am to round La Corbiere and had a spectacular visit from some common dolphins mid channel, lasting over an hour.
After a pleasant Tuesday in St Helier we raced to Paimpol on Wednesday and guess what? another spinnaker run all the way. Quite brisk winds and heavy sea needing a lot of concentration and we survived with just one proper broach. Unfortunately, this happened just when we were pulling a bit too hard heading into Paimpol entrance. The typically rocky Brittany coast was soon on our nose resulting in an exciting few seconds dumping sails and waiting an eternity for the boat to come around. Sadly, this lost us a place to another Contessa by a very short margin.
Paimpol is locked and with free flow for only a couple of hours we had a wacky, strict parking and line up arrangement to get into the basin but that was well worth the wait. The reception on the harbour wall was quite humbling with several hundred people clapping and waving all topped off with a Brittany bag-pipe salute. Quite an entrance.
Paimpol is very pretty, quite different from Dartmouth but plenty of lovely harbour side restaurants, good walks and sea water lido swimming complete with crabs, fish and weed making a very pleasant rest day.
Friday races from Paimpol involve going around the Ile-de-Brehat in two stages with supplied lunch of baggette, jambon et fromage and wine in between. A short race but the tide was something else, in the order of four knots in key areas so rounding the buoys was a challenge, very rewarding when you finally get round and shoot off at double the speed.
The finale on Saturday was an entrant’s dinner hosted in the salle des fetes by the port, complete with a Bretton singer and plenty of audience participation, again more shanties and the classic ‘Santiano’ . A fun if slightly unusual evening.
Overall a great regatta with fantastic weather, some good sailing and a fun spirit.
Our final sail was up to Guernsey where she will be for a couple of weeks until better wind and tide for a return.