Normandy is looking forward to some binge-eventing on the water this year. Sailing events that occur in 1,2 & 5-year cycles are aligning like planets in 2023.
The region will host two major yacht races and one festival this year. In chronological order, they are…
1) The Armada, Rouen
From 8 to 18 June 2023,the city of Rouen will host the world’s largest gathering of tall ships.
This eighth edition of L’Armada de la Liberté, which only takes place every 5-6 years, is on a grand scale.
Around six million visitors will be drawn to the 45 sailing ships and warships gathered on the banks of the river Seine for ten days. It’s a chance to meet their 7,000 crewmembers from 30 countries, and enjoy the accompanying festivities, concerts, parades, fireworks, and activities.
What’s more, unless you care to open your purse/wallet or digital wallet at any of the hundreds of food, drink, and merchandise stalls in the 15 ‘villages’ on the 7kms of quaysides…it’s all free! So too are the ships; all of them can be visited free of charge from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day.
The highlight is the Grand Parade on Sunday 18 June. This is the biggest day of the Armada, attended by thousands of spectators along the Seine.
At 11am, all of the sailing ships and warships will bid farewell to Rouen and set off on the Grand Parade, a 120km-long trip along the River Seine from Rouen to Le Havre, passing towns and villages such as La Bouille, Duclair and Caudebec-en-Caux along the way. Many of the sailors of the tall ships will be ‘dressing’ their ships by standing on the masts and yards.
The official closing ceremony will take place along the quays of the River Seine in Rouen in the evening.
2) The Rolex Fastnet Race
In June this year, for the second time in a row, Cherbourg will be the finishing port for the Rolex Fastnet Race. The legendary 690 mile offshore race, from the Isle of Wight out around the Fastnet Rock off Ireland, was created in 1925 and celebrates its fiftieth edition in 2023.
That first edition of the race, which ran from Ryde to Plymouth via the Fastnet Rock, attracted seven boats. The last edition in 2021, had a record breaking-sized fleet of 337 boats from 24 nations taking part in the race. This 50th edition is expected break records again. When registration opened (11 Jan) 481 boats signed up immediately, so the organisers are expecting entries to top 500 boats easily. That’ll mean over 4,000 sailors from approximately 30 countries.
The race attracts a huge variety of boats and sailors ranging from sailing club entries, families and charter companies, to the bulk of the fleet; the IRC cruiser-racers and privately-owned grand prix race boats from around the world, including the maxi monohulls and highly competitive French fleets such as the 100ft Ultime trimarans, the IMOCA 60s of the Vendée Globe and Ocean Race and the Class40s.
The race is organised by the Royal Ocean Racing Club (RORC), which was set up after that first race with a mission to organise a non-stop ocean race of at least 600 nautical miles every year.
This year’s race will start as usual from just off the Royal Yacht Squadron’s building on the shore in Cowes, Isle of Wight, on Saturday 22nd July (I know it well. I’ve raced from their start line a few times!) It marks the start also, of the annual Cowes Week festivities.
The first arrivals are expected back in Cherbourg on the 23rd of July (the record stands at 1 day, 9 hrs, 15 mins, 54 secs), with the rest of the fleet finishing over the next 5 days, until the 28th July.
Needless to say, the festivities will be huge, with not just the thousands of crew members celebrating, but also the 100,000 family, friends, supporters and visitors who will come to see the French competitors head off to the start on the other side of the Channel, and to welcome the whole fleet safely back.
The race village is located on the open space next to the main marina. It is open to all and free of charge.
As well as being the finishing port, Cherbourg will be the host for the pre-start, to allow the sailors taking part in the race to prep themselves and their boats before setting sail for the start at the isle of Wight. Visitors will also be able to take advantage of these pre-race days to get up close and personal with the boats and skippers from 17 to 21 July 2023. A Launch party to present the crews will take place on Thursday 20 July, which is when the catering, bar & stage areas open. The adjacent exhibitors area opens on 22 July.
3) Transat Jacques Vabre – Normandie Le Havre 2023
This year the popular two-handed Transatlantic race is celebrating its 30th Anniversary in October.
The bi-annual Transat Jacques Vabre, which was created by the city of Le Havre and the Jacques Vabre coffee brand in 1993 to reflect the races between merchant ships competing on the Coffee Route (Route du Café) between Le Havre and Martinique in the Caribbean. This the second time in a row that Martinique has been the race finish for the longest of Transats, and already almost 100 boats have signed up.
There are three open classes -IMOCA, Ocean Fifty and Class40 – sailing three courses. The three courses of different, appropriate lengths for the classes mean that the finishes at Fort-de-France, Martinique are grouped together. The Class40s race only in the North Atlantic and will have some 4,500 miles to cover, which makes the Route du Café their longest transatlantic race. As for the Ocean Fifty and IMOCA, they will race a course into the South Atlantic with two passages through the Doldrums and a total of nearly 6,000 miles of racing.
The race village opens on 20 October 2023 in Le Havre, and the race itself starts on 29 October.