As a child, I grew up around a lot of racing boats in the Toronto harbour racing with my dad on his 9 metre home-built wooden Thunderbird. However, I was always drawn to the very sleek lines of the classic 5.5 CAN 22 that raced out of our club, Queen City Yacht Club. The owners were family friends but I never had the opportunity to sail on her. Fast forward 40 plus years after racing and restoring many wooden boats, in 2009 I got a phone call from the son of the original owner explaining that CAN 22 was on its last legs, needed major restauration and I could have her for a dollar. So began my love affair with 5.5s .
While restoring the boat, Kaspar contacted me and helped me to begin to understand that although there were only a handful of 5.5s in Canada, the fleet was alive and well in Europe and that it would be great to get a fleet going in Canada again. Since then, I have worked with Dan Rossi (USA 51) and Kaspar at growing the North American racing fleet starting with three boats on the line in 2013 in Midland, Ontario for the first 5.5 regatta in North America since the Eighties. Today six boats are now meeting twice a year and a seventh will be joining us next year.
So came the invitation. In the fall of 2015, Kaspar and Joerg (GER 34) invited me to come over and race in the Régates Royales in Cannes, offering to organize a boat to keep it simple for us. Before I knew it, fellow crewmember Dave Harker, his wife Jenn and my wife Susan were organizing flights and an Airbnb for the Cote d’Azur. Not an unpleasant task during the Canadian winter. We decided to combine racing and a vacation.
As the regatta got close however, there was a slight change of plans. Although initially a classic had been organized for us to race, last minute changes meant that we were to race Max’s Evolution GER 81, phénix, as CAN 78. Although I’d never seen an Evolution or Modern before it sounded like fun and we greatly appreciated Max’s generosity in lending us his boat. So off we flew.
We were delighted to arrive in beautiful Cannes and immediately were struck by the attention the Regatta was getting in the media and on billboards throughout the city. GER 81 arrived on Saturday and we immediately met George and Arne who kindly drove the boat to Cannes from Berlin. Within an hour, George, Max and others helped get phénix in the water and we began to rig her up. Dave and I marveled at the complexity of the rig, having only previously raced CAN 22 which I had restored to its original 1962 classic rig configuration. Shortly after launching, when George, Dave and I set out to leave the launching area to sail over to the mooring, “our maiden voyage”, we found ourselves firmly stuck on the bottom. After 20 minutes of help from everybody in about 4 different languages, we got on our way. I fervently hoped this was not a foreshadowing of things to come.
By the end of that day we had met Kaspar, Thies, Edi, Henning, Jens and many more who were all very friendly and helpful. Although George was going to race with Dave and me, he was needed on another boat (FRA 43) the first two days, so my wife Susan kindly stepped in for two days of racing. For the first race we were excited to be racing in a fleet of more than six 5.5s. I was mentally taking notes on the various rig configurations of other 5.5s for when I restore CAN 77, Lady Luck (previously USA 77) in 2 years. The first start was an eye opener as we watched three to four boats collide at the pin end of the line. Because we were in a borrowed boat, we quickly bailed out of that situation as not to damage Max’s boat. Nevertheless, it was exciting getting to know how the boat raced and Max was kind to call across the water several times with recommendations on how to tweak his rig. We were definitely not sailing a classic.
Over the first two days of racing, Dave, Susan and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We knew we didn’t have the boat racing up to its potential, but we were nonetheless sailing on the Mediterranean with a fleet of 5.5s – Wow! Throughout the series, post-race camaraderie, beers in the tent and dinners out with other racers were thoroughly a delight. It was fun getting to know Edi and his crew plus sharing stories with Uli and Jorg as they also were getting to know their boat GER 78 . We also talked with many about coming to Canada next year to join us for the North American 5.5 regatta in June. Both Kaspar and Thies expressed the strong likelihood of coming over.
George was able to join us for the last three days of racing where slowly but surely we got to know phénix and had a few more moments of glory on the race course with finishes as good as a third but mostly half way back and more in the fleet. Racing with George and Dave was fun as we figured out how to work together and on a number of occasions learned how not to do things. Laughs were plentiful.
After the last day of racing things wrapped up at the awards gala, complete with a live band, women on stilts with fire sticks, food and drink galore and wonderful camaraderie yet again. We also had enjoyable conversations with Arnaud and his wife and son from FRA 38, Adrien Polaillon and his young crew of FRA 50 (whom we could never catch…) and Alain and his crew from the rocket ship SUI 227.
By Saturday afternoon we had phénix back on her trailer and managed to pass Max’s final inspection. It was a relief to have been able to return the boat the way we found her and delighted that we had had the opportunity to race an Evolution. We bid George a final farewell as he headed back to Berlin with Max’s boat in tow. Everyone was so helpful, so kind and patient with us.
Thank you All for the invitation, thank you Max for lending us your boat , thank you George for racing with us two crazy Canadians, and thanks to those others who helped make our trip so enjoyable. You all have a great 5.5 thing going on in Europe!!