IDA LEWIS DISTANCE RACE REPORT

ENVOLEÉ has made a monumental move from the waters of San Francisco Bay to her new home, racing on the Eastern Seaboard. Owner, Nathalie Criou, is no stranger to sailing in various venues, with an incredible sailing career on the West Coast of the US and in Europe. The 2014 Yachtswoman-of-the-Year, has many prestigious races under her belt including the Race to Alaska, the Single-Handed Transpacific Race, La Solitaire, and the Bermuda 1-2.

Nathalie’s latest contest with her Figaro 2 was the annual Ida Lewis Distance Race, with a spectacular start and finish off Newport, R.I. The object of this unique race, is that the committee selects a course in the vicinity of Newport and Block Island that will keep the race roughly 24 hours long based on the predicted weather conditions.

Nathalie Criou paired up with Satchel Douglas aboard her Figaro 2, ENVOLEÉ, in the 2023 Ida Lewis Distance Race. Photo credit: Stephen R Cloutier.

Nathalie Criou paired up with Satchel Douglas aboard her Figaro 2, ENVOLEÉ, in the 2023 Ida Lewis Distance Race. Photo credit: Stephen R Cloutier.

Nathalie paired up with Satchel Douglas to race in the PHRF Double-Handed division of the Ida Lewis Distance Race. Leading up to the race, Nathalie observed that the forecast included a small weather system passing through the course. As every racer knows, finding a groove in a transition zone is difficult and strategic work that is instrumental to winning or losing a distance race.

The start of this year’s race was postponed for two hours due to a severe weather forecast, but began Friday, August 18 at 1 p.m. The course lengths varied by division, and ranged from 129 to 203 nautical miles, with the double-handed division course length set at 182-nautical-miles.

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ENVOLEÉ on the YB Tracker at the start of the 2023 Ida Lewis Distance Race.

Breezy conditions continued despite the delay, with wind speeds consistently around 20 knots, gusting around 27 knots with lulls of 16 knots. Nathalie has plenty of experience in the wind aboard ENVOLEÉ, including her infamous gale comeback during the Race to Alaska. However, the sea state was horrendous during the long upwind legs of the Ida Lewis Distance Race. Most mark roundings involved sail changes, which were wet and tiring given the sea state.

ENVOLEÉ secured a commendable fifth place in the division, with Nathalie describing the race as, “Super tough competition with exceptionally good sailors in the division, including another Figaro. This makes for great racing. We lost sight of our fleet, and then found them again weaving our route in and out of theirs.” It was a physically tough race due to the conditions, but also mentally, you have to say ‘on’, knowing there’s a mark to round every 5 hours and dodging sleep for 24 hours.

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Nathalie feels at home in the breeze and at the helm during the 2023 Ida Lewis Distance Race.

Despite the interesting courses, there were very few choices to be made during the race, Nathalie said, “As it was, it was an upwind/reach/downwind parade and boat speed was key”. This differs from much of her offshore racing experience where, mark roundings are more infrequent and there is much more ‘play’ in the course. The key strategic decision was which side of Block Island to go. Nathalie and Stachel chose to go through the west side as the flood pushed ENVOLEÉ into the Sound. When the tide switched, the ebb also helped them back out on the other side of the island.

Throughout the race’s numerous mark roundings and changing weather patterns, ENVOLEÉ’s UK Sailmakers inventory proved its mettle. Nathalie has meticulously outfitted her Figaro 2 with a set of Titanium upwind sails and relied on UK Sailmakers’ spinnakers for the downwind stretches.

Full race results are available here.

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ENVOLEÉ on a downwind leg side-by-side with sixth place finisher, Sunfast 3600, LOBLOLLY.

If you’re thinking about making your own jump from one coast to the other, or beyond, Nathalie emphasizes that one key to success is familiarizing yourself with the local current patterns. She said, “On the West Coast, there is a North to South current in the summer and South to North in the winter along the coast, but strong ebb currents are otherwise present in bays, rivers, and very close to shore.”

Article Lead Image Credit: Stephen R Cloutier.

Heather Mahady
Heather Mahady

Heather Mahady is the General Manager of UK Sailmakers International. She is based on Vancouver Island in the Pacific Northwest, and is a passionate sailboat racer, sailmaker, and sustainability advocate.

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