Duffers Guide to the Royal Escape Race

If you only rarely, or perhaps have never crossed the English Channel before, The Royal Escape Race is the perfect excuse. You can head for the southern horizon in comforting company, knowing that you are going to arrive into a party atmosphere where you can talk for hours about your adventure with no fear of boring anybody. If this is your first time past the Greenwich Light Vessel, then there is no doubt that you can end up in a blue funk of worry about navigation, safety, food, crew, paperwork... the list of things to keep you awake at night seems endless, so here’s a duffers guide to the essentials, written by somebody who has been in your shoes.

royal-escape-race-crewCrew

Try and get commitment from your crew as early as you can - just because you mentioned it at the bar one evening doesn't mean anybody will remember the next day. Finding you are without your regulars with just a few weeks to go can be a nightmare, though if you are struggling to fill spots aboard then try the SYC forum.

It’s also worth compiling a check list for your team reminding them to bring passports etc. and enough Euros for a few well earned drinks when you arrive (you may not want to tramp around looking for a cashpoint before you can relax).

If you are inviting friends who perhaps have limited or no sailing expereince then you need to make sure they fully understand what the race may entail. We publish lots of information on this website about the race which you should share with all your crew. All participants are also welcome to the race briefing held on the day before the race. When you sign on as skipper for the race you agree to the RRS Fundamental Rule 4 “Decision to Race” which says “The responsibility for a boat’s decision to participate in a race or to continue racing is hers alone.” However you do need to make sure that everybody on your boat understands this rule and has access to all the relevant information they need to make an individual decision to participate. 

Damp

It has been known to rain in Fécamp, which can make life aboard pretty miserable, especially if you’ve had a testing crossing and the saloon is already sodden. Remember waterproof kit bags only work if they are zipped up, and even then double wrapping essentials within bin bags can help.

Driving rain penetrates everywhere when the hatch is open in port, so think about getting a cockpit cover. From a simple canvas boom-tent to one of the latest inflatable contraptions, these make a huge difference to life aboard in Fécamp, especially if you are racing with a full crew who are all intent on living aboard for the weekend.

Gulls

Don’t leave gash bags in your cockpit or on the quayside - take them straight to a bin. The local gulls are always on the lookout for plump rubbish bags and have no problems staging dawn raids into your cockpit, making huge whooppee on your decks whilst you slumber below.

Delegate

Split the pre-race workload amongst your crew or you’ll end up so rushed that you’ll forget your smile. Get somebody else to do the boat shopping for instance.

Safety

Safety is the sole responsibility of the skipper and the decision to set sail is entirely yours alone, so understand that safety is not just about getting prepared for race scrutineering. Think about the abilities of your crew and how you would cope if you lost half of them to sea-sickness (if they have been partying hard over the weekend they may not be in the best shape when it comes to head for home). On a more serious note, consider things such as the efficacy of your radar reflector - the Ouzo tragedy highlighted how useless traditional radar reflector designs can be and how the performance of navigation lights can deteriorate with age. How bright are yours?

The cost of AIS (Automatic Identification System) has fallen dramatically over recent years and it seems likely that the future will bring moves to make Class B Transponders mandatory for offshore racing. You certainly don't need AIS to take part in the race, but if you have a penchant for gadgets then this may be worth considering. If you do decide to go for it, then take care when setting up your proximity alarm as they do tend to go a bit haywire when you are in close company with dozens of other AIS transponder equipped yachts!

Do you or any of your crew have any recent first aid training? RYA first aid courses with a syllabus designed for sailors are cheap and available from the Sussex Yacht Club. There's no point in having a first aid kit aboard if nobody knows how to use it.

It is also worth considering joining the CG66 voluntary safety identification scheme that provides the emergency services with all they need to know about you and your boat. Have a look at www.mcga.gov.uk

Scrutineering

Get a copy of the RORC check list and read it as early as you can (visit www.rorc.org and look for Special Regulations Monohull Category 3 with Liferaft). Guidance on things such as thigh straps on life jackets are potential lifesavers and auditing your own safety equipment against the mandatory items always seems to reveal failings. In Fécamp all the class winning boats along with a number of others picked by the Race Committe will be scrutineered and it would be a real shame to find you have just lost your hard earned placing due to carrying expired flares or even life rafts too small to carry the crew (or without a copy of the life raft test certificate).

Declarations

The sailing instructions describe the declaration procedure and you do need to follow this to the letter, including the taking of your time as you pass the Meridian Light Vessel - we started requesting this in 2010 to encourage everybody to sail the right course and leave the light to port, and to make things more interesting we also try and publish results at this half way stage which can make for interesting reading.

royal-escape-race-courtesy-burgeeFlags

Make sure you have the appropriate class flag aboard (these are not supplied by the organisers), along with a French courtesy flag. Local chandleries often run out of both in the weeks leading up to the race so get yours early.

  • All IRC class boats fly International Code Numeral 1.
  • All SCCH (PY) boats fly International Code Numeral 2.

Please remember that when racing under such a pennant you must not also display an ensign. Flying an ensign is only appropriate if you have retired from the race and are cruising.

It’s also great to see club burgees being flown in France and it is customary to dress the boats up with war flags and sometimes what looks suspiciously like bunting. Alternatively, female underwear has also been known to get an airing. Oh and yes I do know the image shows the courtesy flag and burgee flying from the wrong spreader - a new starboard side halyard is on the 'to-do-list'.

Paperwork

Check your insurance policy covers you for the race and offers up to £2m third party cover and if in any doubt give your broker a call in plenty of time.

We have never heard a competing boat in Fécamp being asked for them, but you also need to carry your original Small Ships Registration (or Part 1) along with radio certificates and perhaps proof of VAT status for newer boats.

It might be a good idea as well to make sure you are not filled with red diesel.

Make sure you and your crew all remember to bring passports and if you have a non-UK resident aboard ask them to check their status with regards to arriving in France.

Boats racing under SCCH (Sussex Combined Clubs Handicap) will have been issued with a rating by the joint clubs committee, but if you are racing under IRC you need to have a copy of your current certificate aboard.

Functions

It is traditional to leap off the boat in Fécamp and reward yourselves with a drink at the SRF bar, however the first ‘official’ function this year will be a wine, cheese and chocolate tasting on the Saturday followed by a champagne reception prize giving - watch the website for latest news. Our French hosts and assorted local dignitaries are invited and are always interested in the squadron of Roastbifs that are livening up their town. Later, after perhaps a crew meal at one of the many excellent restaurants there’s a disco back at SRF that goes on until late and always proves popular.

royal-escape-race-hotel-feetHotels & Accommodation

If you have a non-sailing partner then why not get them to drive over and join in the fun? There’s always a crowd of supporters on the pier to cheer the boats in. Regular ferries run from Newhaven to Dieppe, which is a short drive from Fécamp and even the ferries and tunnel at Calais are around 3 hours drive. However with Fécamp being a seaside resort the main issue is in finding anywhere with space, so you’ll need to book early. The best place to start is the tourist office which can be found at www.fecamptourisme.com - yes this website is all in French (Doh!) but if you follow the ‘Hebergements’ link you should be able to work it out.

The course

Everything you need to know will be in the sailing instructions which will be published on this website a few weeks before the race. Read them and then read them again and don’t forget to take a copy with you on the race and you really ought to make sure you attend the skippers briefing on the evening before the race. Any late changes will be spelt out, you get the latest race news and can collect your official boat numbers as you sign on and if you can’t make it, how about delegating to one of your crew?

The start

Whether you leave for the start from Shoreham Port or Brighton Marina make sure you get away in plenty of time - you’ll need to sail through the pre-start registration gate off the pier and if you forget you won’t get a finish. If you are in any doubt whatsoever that you may not have crossed correctly, or haven’t been seen by the shore team, then do it again and make sure you keep a listening watch on VHF 72 at all times.

The start is always a busy place and if you have little experience of a line crowded with keen weekend warriors fighting for the favoured end, then there is no shame in hanging back - it is a long way to Fécamp. Having said that, make sure you have a racing rules book and have studied it. In fact having a copy in the bathroom at home may keep you out of the protest room. Don’t rely solely on radio for your start planning - the guns and visual signals from the committee boat are the only things you can truly trust in, so you’d better know what they all mean.

Communications

Make sure all your crew know how to use the radio and keep a listening watch. Be careful about your mike as in 2007 the fleet spent too long listening to a broadcast of somebody’s squeaky cabin door as they were trying to start. We use VHF Channel 72 rather than the usual racing chanels of M1 or M2 due to the M channels not being available on French VHF sets.  

royal-escape-race-mollyoBad weather

Plan for the worst, you can always strip off later if you are too warm. May is not a summer month and if you have guests aboard make sure they all have proper foul weather gear - ask around and see if you can borrow quality offshore clothing including proper boots. Dinghy sailing gear will leave the wearer wet and miserable as soon as you start punching waves.

Keep listening for weather updates and if you think it is looking too much then either don’t start or run for shelter; you do have your alternative ports worked out don't you?.

On that note, make sure everybody knows how to reef and make sure your reefing system is working before you leave (and if you have storm sails does everybody know how to rig them?) Make sure you have done your MOB drills etc. with the crew you are taking to France. This is all basic Day Skipper stuff, but if you spend most of the time racing around the cans inshore it is all too easy to forget that the channel can be a big bad place when the breeze fills in.

Shipping

The shipping lanes are probably the most dangerous part of the crossing and big ships do charge over the horizon at an astonishing rate. Keep calm, watch the angles and never take a chance going in front, always pass behind. If it gets rough with reduced visibility then rig your radar reflector and make sure you keep a very keen watch - when your jacket hood is up in driving rain it is all too easy to end up with tunnel vision and miss the tanker bearing down on your quarter. Keep an eye on your position relating to the control zones with chartwork backing up your electronics. Once again this is all basic stuff, but you really do need to be able to do it all for real in a lively seaway.

The benefits of AIS transponders are well known so if you have a set on baord make sure it is on during the race.

The finish

The tide is always stronger than you think on the French side and you need to remember this in the final miles so you don’t get swept off the line - the shortest distance to the finish is to the imaginary ODM three cables out from the transit. Every year, right under the grinning noses of the finishing team, boats pinch like crazy and still fail to make the line without tacking. A mid point waypoint is usually published in the Sailing Instructions so make sure you plumb this into your GPS.

From the helm it can also look like you are about to run up the beach when you cross the line, but in reality there is plenty of room to drop your headsail, check your prop is clear and fire up the donkey. Get clear of the line as as soon as you can and keep away from other boats finishing. If you are arriving after dark don’t forget to shine a torch on your race numbers for the finishing team to record and take your time for your declaration. The finishing team are under no obligation to respond to any VHF calls from boats approaching the line – they have a sighting device set up on the pier end as as long as they have identified you they will call and welcome you to Fécamp once you have finished. Remember, just as in any other race, the finishing team are the one’s who decide if you have crossed the line, and no matter how many times you radio them that you think you have finished, they are the final arbiter! If you are convinced you have crossed the line but don't seem to have ben given a finish, are you certain you are not further than three cables from the pier head - the team there have a sighting device that gives them a very good idea of who is too far out.

Respect

Having a great time in Fécamp is an essential part of the event, however our French hosts have discreetly suggested that the more unusual Anglo Saxon partying traditions they have seen in the past are not as funny as some might imagine (bar sliding, rafter climbing - need we say more?) We couldn’t run this event without the wholehearted support of our friends in France, so with this in mind, please try and keep a handle on how high you let your crews’ spirits fly. As a rule of thumb, we are hoping that everybody will treat the SRF and other establishments in Fécamp with the same respect they would pay their home club. If the Race Committee are faced with a complaint, they are certain to come looking for a scalp.

royal-escape-race-fecamp-entranceArriving in Fécamp

Check your almanac or Piolot book for the harbour guide and you’ll see a fairly straightforward entry to Fécamp. If it is rough and there are a number of finishers getting ready to enter the channel, then keep things orderly and look around - having boats come together in the entrance can really spoil the day. Once into the outer harbour it is generally the rule to go for the first available mooring you see. Keep an eye out for the Marina staff who often guide boats onto moorings. There can be a bit of a surge in this basin so you’ll need to set effective springs to prevent the boat snatching.

Weather

In the months before the race you will find yourself becoming fixated by long range forecasts. Try to resist investing in the premium rate long range forecasting services to be found online, as outside of 2 weeks they are astonishingly vague and to be frank a waste of money. A week before the start the weather picture starts to become clear, and only now can you start to really plan your tactics.

Getting home

Don’t forget Fécamp is only half way. You still have to get home so remember your passage plans for the homeward leg and watch the weather whilst you are in France (there’s a great weather display beneath the SRF club house). It’s also a good idea to let the folks at home know your ETA. For those boats coming from Brighton Marina Yacht Club or Sovereign Harbour Yacht Club there are races to make getting home more interesting.

Bonne chance!