get your groove on

set up

get your groove on

The Tour De France a la Voile is about to kick off, and this one is to be the final in the beloved but venerable Farr 30, and the former Sailor Chick Of The Week behind the resurgent Farr 30 Class has made a huge effort to get a top result in this Francais-dominated event. Deneen Demourkas and Grooverderci are, we think, the only US team in the 20-boat field, and we’d tell you exactly when it begins, and whether or not you can watch it live, and where the competitor list is if we can find them, but the official website leaves, let’s say, a little to be desired.  Good thing Groovederci’s is a little better; the first leg begins on the 26th.  Here’s Deneen’s first report from France:

Six years have gone by since I last sailed the Tour de France a la Voile, and while many things with the event, boat and preparation seem the same, they seem completely different this time around. The only thing I’m certain of is that I am six years older!

Before I go any further, I have to introduce my team for this 2010 edition – many of them are familiar to your readers:

Jonathan Swain, Philippe Mourniac, Sean Couvreux, Paul Tingle, Jeremie Beyou, Scott Nixon, George Peet, Charlie Ogletree, Christopher Pratt, Ben Sternberg, Cameron Biehl, Rob Huntingford (boat captain), Lovro Vidmar (chef), Stephanie Laval (shore manager), Diego Gomez-Hall (video).

I arrived in Dunkerque, France on Tuesday afternoon to the strangest thing; sunshine! Not only that, it’s hot as hell, light wind (very light by the start of our first offshore on the 29th) and it’s absolutely beautiful here. The city somehow looks friendlier, brighter and more alive than it did in 2004. This is definitely “not normal”, which would be 35-40 knots blowing throw daily, the sun rarely shining, and the rain falling sideways, in heavy sheets. My good friend and TdF tactician Philippe Mourniac wrote in an email to the team before our arrival “remember, summertime in Dunkerque is only the 17th of July from 10am to 3pm, so be prepared!” Honestly, it makes me pretty damned apprehensive about what’s to come over the next four weeks. On the other hand, as of today and for the next thirty days, I am just another sailor, and all I have to do is sail. Heaven.

There is a lot of b.s. that goes on in preparing for an event like this: Hoops to jump through, seemingly unsurmountable obstacles, theft, rules made on the fly, rumors and lies. Take the rumor mill for example: The day before my departure, I was chatting on Skype with a friend and fellow Tour sailor in France. He politely informed me that “it has come to my attention that your boat captain was seen putting Ovington stanchions on your Carrol Marine boat. That is against the rules you know”. My immediate reply was “what’s up with your World Cup team”? I couldn’t help myself.. though I finally answered that “my boat is an Ovington boat”. Over the next few days I hear about who has replaced their keel fin with steel, filled them with lead, extended the bows, reshaped the appendages, and so on. Of course this usually surrounds a boat (or boats) that have been doing incredibly well during the last Tour and season, and this kind of talk is certainly not unknown in major one-design classes. But somehow, it’s just more so here on the Tour.

Most of this is horse shit, but some of it not. Somehow, weighing boats isn’t a part of "measurement" before the start of the event, something I made an appeal to the French Class to change. My request was promptly denied, and the letter stated that neither the Organization nor the FFV (French governing body) wanted it. Now why would the FFV care whether a class weighs its boats or not? Tour organizer William Borel was quick to tell me that he had written nothing of the sort, and it doesn’t matter one way or another to him. He put me in touch with Marc Bouvet of the FFV, and he patiently took the time to hear me out, to his great credit. At the end of the call, he instructed me to write a formal letter on behalf of the International Class Association requesting hull weighing, and the day I sent it, the President and VP of the French Association sent the same letter. Permission granted! (or so I thought).

On my arrival in Dunkerque, I learned that there’d be no weighing…sounds like perhaps someone has something to hide. Typical! But not so typical was the grueling at times four hour meeting between myself (as International Class President), the French President, VP Secretaryider. I did this the following day and on that same day, received a copy of a letter from the President and Vice President of the French Class Association, requesting the same.

Permission granted! Or so we thought. Upon my arrival in Dunkerque I was informed that there would be no weighing. Hummm… sounds like someone has something to hide. Typical… And not so typical was a four and a half hour (sometimes grueling) meeting between myself (current International Class President), the Int’l Class Secretary, the French Class President, and the French VP. Given the long and sometimes troubled history of the class, it was a historic group to sit at a table, and to make a long story short, the rebellious French have agreed that 2011 will see the French Farr 30s sail under the umbrella of the international class rules. After so many years, we are finally united as one…design! A huge thanks to Daniel Souben, Vincent Portugal, Sylvie Viant and Carole Abbott for your time and timely move.

In other news, the “Pikey Camp” is open for business. This veritable circus will be home for the next thirty days for a cast of hundreds if not thousands, moving shop about every third day to the next port of call. Camper vans, tents, cooks cooking, sailors bustling about, stereos blasting a variety of music in an equal variety of languages, and all the crazy things that happen during the biggest multi-stage offshore sailing rally on the planet. In the early stages, the teams tend to stay to themselves, not much socialization going on. Give it week and things will start to ease up a bit. Slowly but surely they’ll start breaking rank, off in search of better food, some variation, a beer, a date…

Stay tuned for more from what will undoubtedly be wet, windy France sometime soon.

-Deneen Demourkas