In the Rolex Fastnet Race, an intriguing dust-up is taking place between the world's fastest racing yachts. Following an excellent start, the 40m trimaran, Spindrift 2, led the Multihull division along the south coast of England last night, but earlier this morning off Land's End it was the Sidney Gavignet-skippered MOD70, Oman Air-Musandam, that had moved into the first place, despite being half Spindrift's length.
Rolex Fastnet Race: Spindrift 2 makes her mark as the first boat to round the Rock closely followed by Banque Populaire
Crossing the Celtic Sea, it was then the turn of the 31.5m trimaran, Banque Populaire, to edge ahead. But at the Fastnet Rock, Spindrift 2, just managed to get her nose in front, rounding at 14.03:08 BST with the Armel le Cleac'h skippered Banque Populaire right on her transom.
'It is a great match,' enthused Spindrift 2's co-skipper, Yann Guichard, this afternoon. 'Right now, Banque Populaire is just 300m to windward and we are doing the same speed and the same angle.'
In theory the bigger boat should be faster, but Guichard says that in the 18-19 knot winds they have, the smaller Banque Populaire benefits from being lighter. 'We are too heavy, so it is really close. We gybed first and she gybed just to windward, so it is like a match race - it is definitely not over yet.'
Now she's cracked off, Spindrift 2 is making 35-36 knots of boat speed with an ETA into Plymouth of 02:30 BST tomorrow morning. Sadly as there has been less reaching this year, this will be substantially outside of her 32 hour 48 minute race record which this boat set two years ago.
With the wind resolutely in the northwest, the leading monohulls are hard on the wind as they head out west across the Celtic Sea. The Jochen Schuemann-skippered Esimit Europa 2 continues to lead the on-the-water battle of the 100ft maxis from Mike Slade's ICAP Leopard, both boats soon to tack north. Given the wind direction, several boats have continued west while staying to the south of the Scillies. This includes the Baltic 78, Lupa of London, which remains ahead on handicap in IRC Canting Keel, followed by the two VO70s.
In this particular match race, the women's Volvo Ocean Race team on Team SCA has managed to stay ahead of the Ian Walker-skippered Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, since passing them at Start Point.
'It was a night full of tacks and sail changes,' reported Team SCA's Sam Davies. 'It has been physically hard work, but our training is paying off and we have done some nice manoeuvres.' Directly upwind, Team SCA's ETA at the Fastnet Rock is not until 0400 BST tomorrow, as the gradient wind is getting lighter and with the wind from the northwest the Fastnet Rock is effectively in the lee of Ireland.
Davies reckoned that she had had one hour's sleep last night, although as navigator she is not part of the watch system. Unusually, as the VO70s are racing this year under IRC, the crew is not allowed to stack the sails and so there has been more emphasis on the crew sitting on the rail.
The Mini-Maxi competition in IRC Zero continues with both American Hap Fauth's Bella Mente and Niklas Zennström's Rán both also heading west, waiting to tack north, but with Bella Mente now five miles ahead of her rival. Since this morning, the US Mini Maxi, with a crew that includes Volvo Ocean Race winning skipper Mike Sanderson and Northern Irish navigator Ian Moore, has taken the lead in IRC Zero.
French boats still dominate the smaller IRC classes. Nicolas Loday and Jean Claude Nicoleau's Grand Soleil 43, Codiam, continues to lead IRC One, but in IRC Two it is Samuel Prietz's A-40, Vitaris, that has taken over from Nutmeg IV since this morning. At present there is the unusual situation where the leader in IRC Two is ahead of the leader in IRC One, both boats now due south of the Traffic Separation Scheme off Land's End.
However the overall leader of the Rolex Fastnet Race under IRC rating has now passed on from the IRC Two leader to the IRC Three leader, still Jean Jacques Godet's J/120, Rhapsodie V, now lying six miles astern of Vitaris. Noel Racine's JPK 10.10, Foggy Dew, remains ahead in IRC Four, approaching the longitude of Land's End.
Currently lying seventh in Class 2 is Scarlet Oyster, whose skipper Ross Appleby reported that they hadn't had a great start yesterday, but had regained some ground since. 'At Portland Bill we just sneaked through there before the tide shut us off as the breeze was a bit light.' From their position just off the Lizard, Appleby said they were able to lay the south-west corner of the Traffic Separation Scheme just off Land's End.
Appleby was concerned by the weather ahead in the Celtic Sea with an area of high pressure forecast to encroach over the area tomorrow. This was leaving with him the decision of whether to sail directly towards the Rock in lighter conditions, anticipating a shift to the southwest, or to stay further east, in better breeze but sailing more miles. 'It is a bit of a Catch 22,' mused Appleby.
On board Scarlet Logic, despite being upwind since the start, the crew had managed to get some sleep in last night. 'It is quite comfortable on deck. The stand-by guys have been able to sleep on the rail a bit. It wasn't too wet.'
Meanwhile the Rolex Fastnet Race Village in Plymouth Yacht Haven is beginning to fill up with press, friends and relatives of crew, waiting for the boats to start arriving.