In the Rolex Fastnet Race, the pace was brisk for the first forty-eight hours but, has now slowed due to high pressure encroaching into the Celtic Sea and towards the south of Cornwall, just west of the finish in Plymouth.
Since yesterday afternoon there have been just been five finishers: the last two IMOCA 60s completed the course with Alex Thomson’s Hugo Boss reaching the line at 22:10:01 BST yesterday while DCNS 1000 arrived at 00:22:22, skipper round the world sailor Marc Thiercelin racing on board with Luc Alphand, the 1997 World Cup winning skier who in 2006 also came first in the Paris-Dakar rally.
Between the IMOCA 60s, the Oakcliff All American Offshore Team entry on the STP65 Vanquish crossed the finish line at 00:19:35, while Lloyd Thornburg’s orange-hulled Gunboat 66 catamaran Phaedo pulled into Plymouth’s Sutton Harbour after arriving at 03:03:24.
Phaedo’s captain Paul Hand, from Tasmania, commented: 'The most exciting part was the hull flying out off the Needles and the more anxious moments were during the beam reach up to the Rock in 35 knots of breeze, with 20 knots of boat speed and one hull in the air. No one was sleeping that much then...'
Hired guns, navigator Ian Moore and tactician Andy Beadsworth, were crucial in Phaedo reaching Plymouth so quickly, getting the most benefit from the tide and smallest wind shifts. Nonetheless, just short of the finish line their progress was slowed as they had to wait for the tide to turn.
The Phaedo team also played a vital role in the rescue of the Rambler100 crew, as off southwest Ireland it was their media boat which picked up the five crew, including skipper George David, after they had been in the water for 2.5 hours, having drifted away from their capsized supermaxi.
The only arrival since dawn this morning has been Franck Noel’s TP52 Near Miss from Switzerland which crossed the line at 10:46:05 BST. Skipper, French match racer and offshore sailor, Benoit Briand was pleased to have finished. 'Last night we were stuck off the Lizard with tide and no wind. We spent four hours in a circle of one mile!'
Like the boats that finished yesterday, Near Miss’ timing around the Fastnet Rock went well, coinciding with a wind shift from the southwest to northwest. Briand said the most wind they saw was 25-29 knots, on the approach to the Rock. 'The wind was okay, but the waves were ‘enough’ for the boat.' The conditions abated for them last night as they rounded the Scilly Isles.
Unfortunately they lost their main competition, Johnny Vincent’s TP52 Pace, after she retired on the first night. Subsequently, they spent most of the race sailing on their own.
'We were very happy to sail this legendary race,' Briand summarised. 'For us it was a challenge. Our TP52 is not made for offshore racing and we are very happy with the way we were sailing. We come back without damage, we had a very good time, and we sailed well. The boat is in good shape and we very much enjoyed this race.'
Another boat that reached Sutton Harbour yesterday was RORC Commodore Andrew McIrvine’s First 40 La Reponse, which retired overnight on Monday with steering trouble.
'We were charging along about one-third of the way up the Celtic Sea with gradually increasing breeze, gusting 30 knots and quite big waves and we were down to a jib top and a reefed main, going really well,' recounted McIrvine. 'I was sitting on the rail and the next thing I knew the boat had tacked and I was half under water. The wheel had just gone loose and wasn’t connecting with the steering at all.' They managed to deploy their emergency steering, but sadly their race was over.
This morning, several of the boats rounding the Scilly Isles were more or less becalmed. Jonathan Goring, owner of the Ker 40 Keronimo reported that there was a band of very little wind around 10-20 miles from this group of islands off the southwestern end of Britain. They had just managed to keep moving in the light patch with the German-flagged Rogers 46s Shakti and Varuna and had been first into the new breeze.
Similarly, the crew of the Ross Applebey’s Oyster 48 Scarlet Oyster were becalmed on their approach to the Scilly Isles, although Applebey said the reprieve had come when a light easterly had filled in. 'We hope the wind holds until the finish - that is what the GRIB files have suggested. But, we’ve had consistently less wind than forecast all day today, so it is hard to tell. It would be nice if we don’t park up again, as kedging a mile from the finish line could be a bit stressful!'
The next boats due in are the Lithuanian Volvo Ocean 60 Ambersail and Chris Bull’s canting keel Cookson 50 Jazz, both of which had just passed the Lizard mid-afternoon today. Meanwhile the remaining slower Class Z boats are still approaching the Lizard with on-the-water leaders in IRC 1, which are currently include the trio of the Ker 40 Keronimo, the Andrews 56 Norddeutsche Vermögen Hamburg ,and the Swan 62 Uxorious IV, all more or less neck and neck. On the water leaders in IRC 2, Quokka 8 and the French J/122, were making slow progress to the south of the Scilly Isles.
As of 1700 BST the Rolex Fasnet Race had 18 boats finished, 266 still racing, and 30 retired.
Rolex Fastnet Race website