Sunday, 22 July 2012

La Tour des Ports De La Manche

Each year the French organise a staged yacht race between the French Ports on the English Channel coast (La Manche (the Sleeve) to them)). St Helier (Jersey) is not a French Port but its close by and so it acts as host to one of the stages. Approximately 100 yachts in five different classes take part and although I have no interest in racing yachts (or any other kind of race) I have to admit it is quite a spectacular event.

This year because I am boatless a few guys took pity on me and offered me a place on the official States of Jersey observation boat, scheduled to go out into the bay to witness the start and then follow the fleet for a few miles. I accepted without hesitation.

So Thursday morning, I was on the quayside camera in hand. By ten thirty I was riding significant waves in a force five easterly chasing the ocean greyhounds and firing off snaps by the dozen, as part of the official Jersey Government spectator contingent.

Some of the smaller Frech vessels were very interesting in particular a type called 'First 21', must investigate!

Now, there are several cultural differences between French and Anglo Saxon approaches to many things - some are subtle, some are not. When it comes to yacht racing, unlike the English they start the smaller slower boats first. This can be frustrating for the fastest yachts who are held back for a later start because they have to weave their way through the various fleets of slower small craft to find open water. From a spectator's point of view however, it keeps all the vessels bunched up for much longer and therefore the spectacle is much more dramatic.

Another, less subtle difference was highlighted just before the start of the race. Right in front of the Official boat a competitor dropped his wallet into the harbour and jumped in after it hoping to grab it before it sank. Fortunately he managed to get hold and was helped back into the cockpit by his crewmates none the worse for his experience - except of course he was soaked to the skin. He did the obvious thing (to him) and stripped off the wet garments as quickly as he could - in the cockpit in full view of the Jersey dignitaries - and then, perhaps encouraged by the cold water, feeling the call of nature he stood naked on the transom facing our vessel and took a long slow pee. Reaction from the French yachtcrews? Nothing. Reaction from the Jersey officials? - Giggles, blushes, and a general acceptance that this was probably the 'French' way of doing things!