The world's two fastest offshore racing trimarans had to endure the world's slowest finish in the early hours of this morning in the Rolex Fastnet Race.
Rolex Fastnet Race 2013
Having jockeyed for the lead since leaving the Solent on Sunday, the Dona Bertarelli and Yann Guichard co-skippered Spindrift two was ahead past the Lizard in the early hours of this morning, only for the wind to switch off within two miles of the finish. Even the world's largest racing trimaran, with her 47m tall wingmast, was unable to find any wind when it counted.
As she parked, with Plymouth tantalisingly near, Armel le Cleac'h and the crew of the 31.5m trimaran Banque Populaire were able to ghost in. As the navigation lights on the French Vendée Globe hero's maxi-trimaran grew ever bigger, at one point closing to within half a mile, it looked like she might sail around Spindrift 2. However, at the last moment, the frontrunner found the lightest zephyr to ghost across the finish line at 02.53.58 BST.
Due to the upwind and light conditions this year, Spindrift 2's elapsed time of 38 hours 53 minutes and 58 seconds was more than six hours slower than the course record that this same boat managed in the race two years ago.
Despite being so close, it was another 22 minutes 41 seconds before Banque Populaire crossed the line.
For Dona Bertarelli this was her first ever offshore race, although the conditions at the finish were more akin to those she experienced when she won Switzerland's top yacht race, the Bol d'Or Mirabaud in 2010. 'We're very pleased, very happy to be here because the outcome was not certain,' she said, admitting that she had mentally prepared herself for a more gruelling race in more wind.
'We knew it would be difficult, especially with the light conditions, but we managed to manoeuvre well, keep up good speed and have the right sails up to stay ahead of Banque Populaire.'
Yann Guichard was relieved with the outcome, following the tense, albeit slow finish. 'We are so happy to win the first race for the team with this boat. It is not easy to manage 14 people on board, so it is great to win here.'
Guichard felt the only part which hadn't gone according to plan was when they had gone up the west side of the Traffic Separation Scheme off Land's End, while both Banque Populaire and the MOD70 Oman Air-Musandam had gone up the east side.
'We spent too much time on starboard tack and lost 10 miles there, but we were first around the Fastnet Rock and then downwind we had a battle with Banque Populaire, at the same speed, same angle - gybe, gybe, gybe...'
Armel le Cleac'h, who has finished second in the last two Vendée Globe solo round the world races, was pleased to have arrived so close to Spindrift 2, despite his maxi-trimaran being 8.5m shorter.
'Off Land's End we went with Oman Air in a good wind direction and were six miles ahead of Spindrift, so we were very close at the Fastnet Rock, just one or two minutes behind. After that, we had great speed in 20-24 knots, when we were doing 35 knots. We were very happy because we didn't lose distance to Spindrift. After that it was a better angle for them, but as we approached Plymouth we saw that Spindrift had no speed, and that really motivated us! To finish 20 minutes behind is very good for our team and for our crew: we thought Spindrift would be much faster than us.'
In the canting keel monohulls, Esimit Europa two was first monohull around the Fastnet Rock at 01:17 BST this morning, followed 38 minutes later by Mike Slade's ICAP Leopard. They are currently half way back to Bishop's Rock. However it is the Volvo Open 70s that lead the class. The mostly female crew on Team SCA rounded the Fastnet Rock at 03:19, 28 minutes ahead of the Ian Walker-skippered Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing. In addition to leading IRC Canting Keel, Team SCA is currently an impressive third overall under IRC.
With IRC One still en route for Fastnet Rock, they are seeing the first of the breeze backing into the southwest. As a result they are no long tacking and so the IRC One leader, still Nicolas Loday and Jean Claude Nicoleau's Grand Soleil 43, Codiam, has become the latest boat to take the overall lead under IRC rating.
Ahead of her, the 72ft Mini Maxis in IRC Zero have rounded Fastnet Rock with Hap Fauth's Bella Mente passing at 05:22 BST, 1 hour 5 minutes ahead of Niklas Zennström's Ran two. Bella Mente continues to lead the big monohull class on handicap. Johnny Vincent's 52ft Pace is expected to be the next IRC Zero arrival, just before lunchtime.
Most recently a deluge of IMOCA 60s have been rounding the Fastnet Rock. In the battle between the latest generation VPLP-Verdier designed sisterships, MACIF and Maître CoQ, the former regained the lead just before reaching the Fastnet Rock at 07:30 this morning. They remain locked in their own private match, with Alex Thomson and Spanish co-skippered Guillermo Altadill 3.5 miles astern in third, aboard Hugo Boss.
The Class 40s leaders are now three quarters of the way towards the Rock and it remains the brand new Spanish boat, Tales II, of Gonzalo Botin, that holds the lead. Race favourite, Sebastien Rogues' GDF Suez, is lying second, with another brand new boat, the Tom Humphreys-designed, Vaquita, in third.
Among the Figaros it comes as little surprise that Xavier Macaire and Yves Ravot's Maluel is ahead, as Macaire finished second in this year's Solitaire du Figaro. After spending most of the night heading on a long leg west from the Scilly Isles, the boats have just tacked north. With this Henry Bomby and Richard Tolkien on Rockfish, have moved up to second place.
'We were quite slow for the first part of the night but we managed to get back into it,' said Bomby. 'We are tracking, while it looks like others aren't.
'All of yesterday we were within 100m of Sam [Matson] and Robin [Elsey]. They kept on attacking us and we just managed to hold them off. But it was really pleasant with lots of sunshine and really flat sea.'
Bomby, whose sponsor, Mitch Tonks, has just opened a restaurant in Plymouth, is expecting to reach the finish on Thursday afternoon. Compared to the Figaro class' singlehanded three-week-long La Solitaire, which he sailed in June, being doublehanded has been a big change. 'I've had more sleep and more to eat than I did in the entire Solitaire!'
As the big multis were finishing, so backmarker, Gerard Jonker's Nicholson 43, Emily, racing in IRC 4, had only just passed Plymouth, still outbound towards the Rock.
At breakfast time they had just reached the Lizard. 'It was a long first night, but we stayed offshore a bit when a lot of our competitors stayed inshore,' Jonker reported. 'The crew is in good spirits, especially as we have scrambled eggs this morning for breakfast. As we approach Land's End, the wind looks to be going light again, so at the moment it looks like we could take a week to finish the race.'
Fastnet Race website