Baptism of fire on Lake Geneva
This weekend, the racing stable fitted out by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild participated in its first Bol d’Or. It was at the helm of the GC32 Edmond de Rothschild, that Sébastien Josse and his five crew opted to compete in the most famous of Lake Geneva’s competitions. With some 500 boats on the start line and a breathtaking backdrop throughout a course spanning 71 nautical miles, this race is the largest event of its kind in the world on an inland waterway. Whilst the team with five arrows was hoping for a medium to strong wind to really show off the potential of its flying catamaran, light airs were the actual fare which dominated the first part of menu before storms and violent squalls really spiced things up on their return to the little lake’ and the Société Nautique de Genève.
Lake Geneva true to form

On Saturday 13 June, with the precision of a Swiss watch, the Race Committee released the 500 competitors at 10:00am on the dot. Although the wind wasn’t playing ball as the starting gun sounded, it was a truly grandiose spectacle on the start line despite the light conditions. With the sun directly above them, Mont Blanc was revealed in all her glory to salute the start of the 77th Bol d’Or. However, though the decorum was just as the crew of the GC32 Edmond de Rothschild expected, the same cannot be said of the weather conditions, as Sébastien Josse explains: “In terms of a result, competing on a GC32 in this race was a gamble. We knew that according to the weather conditions, we wouldn’t really be the masters of our own destiny. It was evident that we’d be fairly at ease in downwind conditions and over 7-8 knots. Below that, the boat wouldn’t be suited to the race zone. And that’s exactly how things played out. In the light airs, added to which we were sailing upwind, the appendages drag and inevitably slow progress. The first part of the race – the 35 miles or so to Le Bouveret, the bulk of which was close-hauled in light airs, didn’t favour us of course. However, despite all that, it was very interesting and it involved a steep learning curve trying to get the GC32 Edmond de Rothschild making headway in these conditions. In the second part of the race, when the wind had picked up a tad, we might have been in a position to be play a good hand and get back with the leaders,” admitted the skipper of Gitana, before adding: “However, the scenario for this first participation was written somewhat differently…”

Dismasting offshore of Evian

A few miles after passing Le Bouveret, where Sébastien Josse’s men had to demonstrate huge patience and a great deal of concentration in order to extract themselves from the calms at the end of the Upper Lake, the crew thought they’d paid their dues and were delighted to have the opportunity to really make the most of their steed’s potential. Indeed, thanks to the storms developing right around the Lake, the wind was finally filling the sails of the catamaran fitted out by Baron Benjamin de Rothschild. The return to Geneva looked set to be sporty, but it was also a great opportunity to catch up with the head of the fleet.

However, a few miles into an incredible flight, powered up at over 30 knots, the GC32’s mast snapped off, putting paid to the crew’s great comeback and naturally forcing their retirement: “The first half of the race as far as Le Bouveret wasn’t easy, but we dug deep and after nearly 9hrs of racing, we were pointing our bows back towards Geneva. At that point, we saw storms slowly starting to form and with that came rain and, most importantly, the ‘storm warning lights’. After the day’s calms, it felt like deliverance! The wind kicked back in to around 20 knots, which was quite manageable, and the crew perfectly negotiated the first passage of squalls by reducing the sail area. However, whilst we were nicely balanced in flight, at a speed of 30-33 knots, the mast broke without warning some two metres above the mast foot. Everything happened very quickly but fortunately nobody was hurt when the mast fell. A similar incident occurred on another GC32 last year, but we’d tested this new spar well in advance in Brittany to avoid this type of inconvenience. Seemingly, there is still an issue there. It is still too early to say exactly what could have happened, but we’ll be looking into the reasons for this breakage for sure,” confirmed Sébastien Josse.

Alongside Sébastien Josse to compete in this Bol d’Or, Baron Benjamin de Rothschild was philosophical about the damage: “Sailing is a mechanical sport and breakage, though we put everything in place so as not to encounter it, is simply an element we have to accept. The important thing is naturally that breakage is limited to material things and that none of us aboard were injured in the dismasting.”

Despite the unfortunate end of this first participation, which they naturally hoped would end differently, the men of Gitana have fallen for the charms of this unique race. Indeed, it is highly likely that it won’t be so many years before we get to see the team from the five-arrow racing stable back on the waters of Lake Geneva.

Crew of the GC32 Edmond de Rothschild

Baron Benjamin de Rothschild, Sébastien Josse, Cyril Dardashti, Olivier Douillard, Gurvan Bontemps, Benjamin Amiot

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