Ian Roman Photography / www.ianroman.com

Three up at half time

Erle Williams-steered J extends at Les Voiles de St Tropez

Wednesday October 1st 2014, Author: Andi Robertson, Location: France

As the J-Class at Les Voiles de Saint Tropez contemplate Thursday’s mid-regatta day off from competition, Ranger enjoys a comfortable lead at the top of the Class leaderboard thanks to today’s win around the windward-leeward course, their third victory from three starts.

The long term members of the Ranger crew believe it might be some seven years since they last won three races back-to-back, but the net result is that they have breathing space, four clear points up on second placed Lionheart which finished a good, close second today, Velsheda finished third and Shamrock fourth. For sure the smiling motif which appears below Ranger’s waterline might be broader today. 

A delay to start time was rewarded by a light southeasterly breeze which faded at times but never really mustered much more than seven knots. An economy of manoeuvres, keeping tacks and gybes to the bare minimum was vital today, as was picking the strongest lanes of breeze. 

Ranger started best once more, rather contrasting with Lionheart, which was caught flat footed not taking account of how light the breeze had become in the minutes before the start. Tactician Murray Jones had Ranger out to the right where she developed a good lead over Velsheda and Lionheart. At the first windward mark after the 1.7 miles beat Ranger was already 1 minute and 45 seconds ahead of Velsheda, Lionheart looked starved of breeze on their approach to the mark. 

If there were any thoughts that Ranger’s lead might somehow already be enough around the two laps course, Lionheart quickly dispelled them when she slid sweetly down the left side of the run in good wind pressure and a nice shift, sliding neatly into the gap between leaders Ranger and Velsheda. Coming in to the mark with right of way her crew forced Velsheda on to their less favoured gate mark.

But Ranger kept it tight on the upwind and showed sufficient speed to defend against the black-hulled Lionheart which has been unbeaten overall so far this season, winning in Menorca, Palma and in Porto Cervo, Sardinia. In the end it was closer than might have been expected early on, but the honours were Ranger’s.

The relaxed smiles speak volumes on Ranger. Back in the sunshine at the dock in the old port of Saint Tropez where the 300 boat regatta is absolutely in its pomp, with late afternoon jazz the soundtrack for the hundreds who line the quaysides to see the J-Class, the Classics and the modern grand prix yachts return from racing.

Ranger’s satisfied skipper-helm Erle Williams commented: “It has been a long time since we won three in a row, probably back in Sardinia when we were racing just against Velsheda, so certainly nothing like this in this fleet. It is pretty pleasing. We have been going pretty well in all three regattas but not quite getting there. I think the combination we have now with Murray Jones on board as tactician and a few trimming changes, it takes a little bit of time to get everyone working together, but I feel we are sailing the boat well. It is coming together. We are sailing the boat well and these really were not our conditions today.”

On board 

Lionheart it has been a frustrating time for afterguard John Cutler and Ian Moore who have replaced Bouwe Bekking and Andrew Cape, now in the last stages of preparation for the volvo Ocean Race. Cutler believes they are getting better: 

“We are making our life pretty hard for ourselves out there, but we managed to get a shift which let us get back into the race. We almost made it back to the front, but we are making life hard for ourselves.

“At the start it was just bad judgement. We ended up gybing and that should have been okay, but we misjudged how light it had got and we ended up in the gas of the other two boats and we just could not get by them.

“I thought we were getting better before that start but with that maybe I have not learned anything. We are getting there, battling away. We will just keep chipping away. I think the Ranger guys are sailing well, and are looking good for this regatta, but we have three more races and I think if we can get in front then we will not have too much trouble staying there.”

The enjoyment of the magnificent regatta is in no way marred for the Shamrock crew which is inherently less competitive, racing with cruising sails, but pushing themselves hard and happy with how they are sailing the boat.

“Things couldn’t be going better on Shamrock,” commented tactician Mike Toppa. “We have been having such a good time, a good week. But the two rainy days, the first two days, are probably our best chance to do better when it was windier, these were best days of sailing. The boat got up and was going. We are not really competitive against the racing Js. We have cruising sails, slower winches and a limited number of crew. The guys do an awesome job on Shamrock. They get the sails up and down fast, they are sharp and crisp. It is a little frustrating but we can make our mark at the starting line. We race ourselves, and push ourselves to do better at the mark roundings and the start and so on. But we are all having such a good time. How can you possibly tire of being here. The scene is amazing, the range of boats. If you don’t like Saint Tropez you don’t like sailing. The boats are like celebrities here. It is phenomenal to see the boats here, so beautifully maintained. I love it.”

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