Overnight conditions in the Rolex Fastnet Race have ranged from tricky to impossible.
While this morning at the 0600 update, Mike Slade's ICAP Leopard was approaching Lizard Point, the bulk of the 300 strong fleet is now past Portland Bill, the headland to seaward of the 2012 Olympic sailing venue, and were halfway across Lyme Bay bound for the next significant headland, Start Point.
For Slade's mighty 100ft long supermaxi, the night has been one of mixed fortunes, her speed ranging from relative standstill - 4 knots against the tide midway across Lyme Bay at 2300 - to considerable pace, 26.5 knots at 0500. She is way behind her record pace from 2007 when in the early hours of the first morning she was already around Land's End, halfway across the Celtic Sea to the Fastnet Rock.
The IMOCA 60s have been doing a good job to stay in contact with ICAP Leopard and this morning the two female skippers hold the top spots - Dee Caffari on Aviva, and Sam Davies and Sidney Gavignet on Artemis Ocean Racing - with Aviva 18 miles astern of the supermaxi. From on board Artemis Ocean Racing, Sam Davies reported conditions as being grey and murky. 'Artemis is crashing along upwind on port tack, I have just come off watch and Sidney and Gareth are on deck, trimming and driving. We can see four other boats off our leeward quarter, but the visibility is not too good.'
For the bulk of the fleet astern, last night they faced a classic Rolex Fastnet Race situation with a mighty eastbound current between Portland Bill and St Albans Head combined with insufficient breeze to make headway against it. The majority spent the evening at best at standstill while another group led by Cracklin' Rosie, Roark and Jackdaw attempted to break south, only to be washed southeast with the help of the tide.
By the early hours of this morning, the tide had turned favourable but there were distinct winners and losers from the overnight waterborne game of snakes and ladders. In IRC Zero A for example, La Floresta del Mar and Sjambok had managed to sneak past Portland Bill and were away while Fraxious and Flicka IV, who had turned south early, had dropped back to 25 miles astern, no closer to the finish than they had been six hours earlier.
The progress of the fleet can be followed by the tracking system fitted to all of the boats racing at http://fastnet.rorc.org/2009-fleet-tracking.html