While it is hard to draw attention in the Rolex Fastnet Race away from the fast and the glamorous at the front end of the fleet, we must spare a thought for the smaller boats among Sunday’s 337 starters. As the mighty Ultime trimaran Maxi Edmond de Rothschild was arriving in Cherbourg having devoured the 695 mile course in just over one day, Alaistair Cooke’s Sigma 36 Sundance was heading backwards on the tide at 2 knots, unable to round Start Point still with 570 long miles left to sail.
Over the course of today Brian Skeet and Nicolas Malapert racing doublehanded on the Sigma 38 Marta faced a similar problem as they passed Start Point, only to see it again as they were drawn backwards at the mercy of the tide. “There was absolutely no wind overnight – we were pretty much dead in the water,” described Skeet. “When there was some wind we were following it around. There was a lot of mist and fog that came in. It was quite hard work. There was no chance of kedging because it was too deep, so we had to keep moving.”
Their robust Sigma 38 is well used to severe conditions. In fact the design went into production after winning a competition run by the Royal Ocean Racing Club to design a yacht that could stand up to being raced in the most inhospitable weather following the 1979 Fastnet Race tragedy.
“It was hard work, but not too bad,” continued Skeet of their first 24 hours. “That’s what the boat is designed for so she looked after us. It was okay. There was no damage to us or to the boat. It was just hard work. At least we are over the worst of the weather now.”
The latest arrival into Cherbourg, finishing at 1522 BST this afternoon, was the on-the-water leader in the MOCRA class – American Jason Carroll’s MOD 70 trimaran Argo, which sailed a relatively lonely race after Giovanni Soldini’s near sistership Maserati retired after her exploded winch.
“The start in 27 knots was spectacular, but everyone pulled off a good port tack start and was safe, which was good,” recounted Argo’s British multihull legend, Brian Thompson. “It was pretty bumpy out there and great racing. We were alongside for Sodebo for a little while and obviously alongside Maserati for a really long time, all through the day. It was sad to see them having to retire.”
Thompson said that Argo’s rounding of the Fastnet Rock was the best of his many, many roundings, both in this race, other races and his record attempts. “It was such clear skies and a pleasant 10 knot breeze. The sun was shining, it was warm: It was Mediterranean sailing on the south coast of Ireland.”
Argo is the first boat in the fleet to take the longer route around the North of the Casquets TSS en route to the Cherbourg finish line. “That was because we had five knots of tide against us on the final approach,” explained Thompson. “If we had come the other way we would have been VMG running with five knots of tide against us. Another factor was that the wind that was there – 8-10 knots – was up by Start Point. After going around the TSS, we then crossed the worst of the tidal stream [heading south] at high speed.” The last hour was their fastest doing 30 knots, excitingly with 5 knots of tide beneath them.
However leading the multihull class under the MOCRA rule, remains Adrian Keller’s Irens 84ft performance cruising catamaran, Allegra, which Thompson felt looked untouchable for the class win.
Among the IMOCAs, Charlie Dalin and Paul Meilhat on board Apivia continue to hold a monster lead of 45 miles over second-placed Charal, sailed by defending Rolex Fastnet Race champions Jérémie Beyou and Christopher Pratt. This afternoon Apivia was close to the Cornish coast, just passing the Lizard. All of the IMOCAs are now around the Fastnet Rock with Clement Giraud and Erik Nigon on board Compagnie Du Lit / Jiliti bringing up the rear, rounding shortly after midday.
At 14:42 BST Luke Berry’s defending champion Lamotte – Module Création led the Class40 around the Fastnet Rock with a 21 minutes lead over second placed Italian Andrea Fornaro on board Tales (punching above his weight, given the age of his boat). “We have about 12-13 knots,” said Berry an hour before rounding. “They have got a bit more behind, so they will come back on us a little bit.
“I think we got the wind shifts the right way. In these conditions we are not slow. On the way back it won’t be as tactical, it will be more about speed, which will make it a bit more tricky for us with the AWA at 80-85°. There are four Mach 4s behind us and they go quite a bit faster in that. It will open up in the Channel again in 20 knots: Off Cherbourg there is not much wind either… We will try and hold on as much as possible but it will be tough against these faster boats.” Lamotte – Module Création’s Cherbourg ETA is the early hours of Thursday morning. “We’ll pray for the tide to be with us, but it will depend on our speed. I am very happy to be in this position at the halfway mark,” Berry concluded.
The big IRC Zero boats, notably the Polish duo I Love Poland and Sailing Poland continue to hold a powerful grip on this class as well as the overall IRC prize. This afternoon they were approaching Bishop Rock while still well ahead on the water, the ClubSwan 125 Skorpios was approaching the west side of the Casquets TSS with an ETA into Cherbourg of around 2100 BST this evening.
RORC Commodore James Neville’s INO XXX was the first IRC One boat to round the Fastnet Rock at 1430 BST this afternoon, holding a 3.5 miles advantage over the second placed Elliot 44CR Matador of Swede Jonas Grander.
“It was a tough first 24 hours, pretty horrible,” recounted Neville of their start and first night. “We got ourselves quite nicely south. It was just tough – very wet, everything was soaking – just what you love! We did a few sail changes and kept the boat moving. The shifts were pretty good and we came in up the east side of the TSS at Land’s End. Then the weather improved and we had some tide under us going north. Now the Irish Sea is beautiful, a real glamour. We are reaching into the Rock in about 12 knots. It is a beautiful afternoon.”
The breakaway IRC Two leaders on the water, the JPK 10.80s Sunrise of Britain’s Tom Kneen and Il Corvo of Dutchwoman Astrid de Vin, had 40 and 50 miles to go to reach the Fastnet Rock respectively this afternoon, making good progress in the southwesterly breeze. Over the course of today, Sunrise have firmly risen to the top of the class although the other 10.80s, Eric Fries’ Fastwave 6 and Richard Fromentin’s Leclerc Hennebont/Cocody have been strongly on the ascent.
A mid-Celtic Sea drag race is taking place for bragging rights to be out in front of IRC Three, with Sun Fast 3600 Fujitsu British Soldier on the left side of the course slowly being caught by Louis-Marie Dussere’s JPK 1080 Raging-bee² and Philippe Girardin’s J/120 Hey Jude, with class favourites and defending champions, Alexis Loison and Guillaume Pirouelle’s JPK 1030 Léon close behind. This trio also leads under IRC corrected time, although it is impossibly close between them.
The IRC Four front runners this afternoon were half way across the Celtic Sea making around 7.5 knots. Here David le Goff’s JPK 10.10 Raphael continues to lead both on the water and under IRC corrected time from Harry J. Heijst’s S&S 41 Winsome. Pulling up the field over the course of today have been the JPK 10.10s, the Pinteaux family’s Gioia and British favourites and doublehanded Richard Palmer and Jeremy Thwaite on Jangada.