A French whitewash seems on the cards among the IRC results in the 2013 Rolex Fastnet Race. The overall leader continues to change by the hour, but at present nine of the top 10 finishers on handicap are French.
FOGGY DEW, FRA37310, Owner: Noel Racine, Design: JPK 10.10, Class: IRC 4
As anticipated, Géry Trentesaux, one of France's best known keelboat sailors, well remembered on this side of the Channel for helping turn the 2006 Commodores' Cup in France's favour, performed well in his powerful MC34 Patton Courrier. He seems likely to remain in the top five overall under IRC and is in good shape to claim honours in IRC Two.
'The boat is very good,' said Trentesaux. 'We didn't sail so badly, but ours is a small boat, so it was quite difficult. We were lucky to have some reaching between the Pantaenius mark and the Scilly Isles. We hit 15 knots - not bad for a small boat. This time it is a race for the small boats, like Foggy Dew and Night and Day.'
Trentesaux says that he has promised his wife that this will be his last Fastnet, but he has fond memories of the race. 'It is magic - you start from Cowes and you have got the Celtic Sea and the Fastnet Rock and come back and drink a lot of beer in Plymouth!'
For Jean Jacques Godet, skipper of the J/120, Rhapsodie V, competing in this Rolex Fastnet Race was almost psychotherapy. 'The last time I did the Fastnet was in 1979 and I have very bad memories of that and I wanted to break that. Now I've done it...'
While the 1979 race was his last Fastnet Race, his first was in 1971, and he sailed three races as part of the Admiral's Cup on board Ron Amey's Noreyma.
Godet, who comes from a dynasty of Cognac makers, only acquired his J/120 in the last two years. This he sails out of La Rochelle with a crew including his two sons Jean-Édouard and Maxime, who work the bow on Rhapsodie V, while Vendée Globe sailor Yannick Bestaven calls tactics.
Aside from his sombre memories, Godet was otherwise thrilled by the results, which earlier this morning had Rhapsodie V as the overall IRC leader. 'It was very interesting - a great race. There were a few options, because the wind dropped a little bit when the ridge came in and we played the north side of the course where the wind was a little stronger, because our boat isn't fast when the wind is below eight knots.'
Rounding the Fastnet Rock, the wind dropped and the fog descended. 'We passed the Rock during the night,' said Godet. 'I think we only saw the lighthouse 500m before we arrived at it. It is still a magical place.'
At present the top placed British boat under IRC is Andrew Pearce's Magnum 3, one of four Ker 40s competing.
'Tactically it was an upwind race, which caused us some concerns, because this type of boat is more of an off-the-wind, surfing boat. We were thinking this race would be better for the classic 40 footers.'
Pearce said that they thought they had done the right thing by diving into Lyme Bay to take advantage of an anticipated header, however it was the boats that stayed offshore that won out. 'It would have been better to be five miles offshore, which Hooligan and Baraka did. They came out ahead of us.'
For the Magnum 3 crew, the crossing to the Rock was uncomfortable, upwind and in the rain. However they subsequently enjoyed a blistering ride back under fractional spinnaker. 'We were coming down there at 17 knots, on our ear, in the driving rain and a black-as-ink night - it was very challenging. We had to rotate drivers every hour or less, because it was very difficult.'
Magnum 3's big break was making a late call to go east rather than west of the Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) that lies west of the Scilly Isles. 'We switched sides and came out about 10 miles ahead of the competition,' said Pearce.
Pearce praised his crew, who gave it their all. 'The guys were hiking out on every surf, because we knew there was everything to play for. When you are at the front end of the fleet you have to do that.'
Favourites come out on top in Class40s
The strong fleet of Class40s arrived in Plymouth over the course of yesterday afternoon and into the evening. Victory in the end went to race favourite Sebastien Rogues and his powerful Sam Manuard-designed Mach 40, GDF Suez, recent winner of the Les Sables-Horta-Les Sables race. His crew included leading Figaro sailor Fabien Delahaye.
'It was a difficult race,' said Rogues. 'We didn't make a good start, but afterwards on the big leg on starboard to Land's End we gained places.'
Their big decision was how to cross the Celtic Sea outbound to the Rock. While Bruno Jourdren, the Sonar paralympic silver medallist from Beijing, headed east on Lord Jiminy, GDF Suez went west, eventually reaching the Rock downwind under spinnaker. But like several of the IRC frontrunners, they made their biggest gains due to their excellent reaching ability returning from the Rock.
GDF Suez's main competition in the Rolex Fastnet Race came from the strong Spanish crew on Gonzalo Botin's Tales II, a brand new boat created by Botin's well known yacht designer brother, Marcellino. Tales II led all the way to the Fastnet Rock, only being overhauled by GDF Suez en route to Bishop Rock.
'The Spanish guys are very very fast upwind,' observed Rogues. 'We were second, three miles behind them, at the Fastnet Rock, and we passed the Pantaenius mark five minutes behind them, and, after that, we had a beautiful reach back under gennaker and one reef in the mainsail, never doing less than 14-15 knots. It was perfect. Our boat likes those conditions and we love this race!'
While his crew included old Spanish hands like round the world sailor Antonio Piris, and top Spanish navigator Nacho Postigo, Botin admitted that this was his first Rolex Fastnet Race. 'It was great! I've never sailed here before. It is very interesting with the tides. The weather was very clement this year, because the Fastnet Race can get quite rough.'
Botin was pleased with how his new boat performed against GDF Suez, which he rates as the top Class40 at present. He believes they were overtaken principally because the GDF Suez was more familiar with their boat. 'They knew the right combination of sails at the right moment and we didn't. I am very happy with the result.'