For a third time running, the Rolex Fastnet Race has been a story of French domination, Le Tricolor flying on this occasion from the top spot in IRC 1, 2, 3 and 4, the Class40 and IMOCA 60, the Two Handed and IRC Overall.
Even the Chinese boat, Dongfeng Race Team which won the Volvo 65 competition had a largely French crew. This left IRC Zero to American Ron O'Hanley's Cookson 50 Privateer, while, surprisingly, the only British class victory went to Tony Lawson's MOD 70 trimaran Concise 10, in the usually French-strong Multihull class.
Early on, the overall prize looked set to be a big boat affair with both the JV 115 Nikata and George David's maxi Rambler 88 leading until the run back from the Fastnet Rock favoured the medium-sized boats.
Ron O'Hanley's Privateer came close to making it a second Cookson 50 victory, a decade on from the overall win of Irishman Ger O'Rourke's Chieftain.
"This is a great race, an iconic race and we have had a great time even if we haven't won," said O'Hanley. "It was a fantastic start in Cowes - hard to see how you can get 400 boats out of the Solent at the same time! The weather conditions were good, not as light as it was last time and there was no drama coming out of the Solent."
As to where they did well, it was on the run back from the Rock said O'Hanley. "The big boats were leading, but then for a smaller boat to get into the lead was because of the very good conditions - tight reaching, we were planing most of the time and with the canting keel we could put a lot of miles on the clock."
However by Wednesday it became apparent that there was a new contender for the 2017 Fastnet Challenge Cup - the overall prize under IRC.
Didier Gaudoux's JND39, Lann Ael 2, struggled last year when she competed in the Brewin Dolphin Commodores' Cup, however then she was only six months old. Since then the team, based out of La Crouesty in southern Brittany has tweaked the boat considerably with the assistance of sailmaker and former Mini and Figaro sailor Fred Duthil.
"We had a fantastic race. We were lucky with the weather. The conditions were good for the team and the crew," said Gaudoux. "From Fastnet Rock to the Scilly Isles was perfect for us - the wind angle, the size of the waves, etc. It was windy and these boats enjoy big waves. We were doing over 20 knots- a new record for us!"
Prior to this, the French boat had benefitted by going so close in at the Lizard that "we could touch the rocks," said Gaudoux. Like the other boats that did well, Lann Ael 2 went east of the traffic separation scheme off Land's End, benefitting them greatly in terms of the distance to sail and favourable wind shifts. "Our navigator/tactician did a perfect job to tack on the right shifts," said Gaudoux.
The JND 39 is a heavily-chined design from Bernard Nivelt and ate up the miles on the run towards Bishop Rock. "It took 11 hours to cover 170 miles! We were surprised. We were two to three miles ahead of some good competitors at the Rock and by the Scilly Isles we were 30 miles ahead simply because we were going faster," said Gaudoux.
Paris-based Gaudoux was sailing with his son Thomas and daughter Coralie, navigator Fred Duthil, plus Nicolas Deberque, Nicolas Dore, Alois Kerduel, Pierre Louiset, Paulin Nicol and Christian Ponthieu.
As to the Rolex Fastnet Race, this is Gaudoux's fourth: "When I was 16 years old, the Fastnet was a dream. The RORC lays on very nice races. Although it is a long way to come, boats take part from all around the world. We receive a nice welcome and the races are always very well organised."
With the prizegiving for the Rolex Fastnet Race taking place tonight, boats continue to stream into Plymouth. Among them has been the Frers 46, Scaramouche, crewed by Greig City Academy in East London including eight students aged 15 and 18, plus two teachers, two skippers and a team manager.
The boys are almost all first generation Londoners, and embraced the unfamiliar challenge of ocean racing with huge enthusiasm. "It was a real test for them," said team manager John Holt. "They are true pioneers amongst their peer group."
17 year old Montel Fagan Jordan, whose family comes from Jamaica, was a helmsman on board. "I started sailing in dinghies three years ago, but now it's great to be on a big boat. We had some great surfing downwind after we got round the Fastnet Rock."
Bowman Camillo Oribo, also 17, agreed: "The way back was definitely the best bit. We flew with the spinnaker up. We don't get too tired once we've established a watch system."
IRC Z: 1. Privateer - Cookson 50, Ron O'Hanley (USA); 2. Lady Mariposa - Ker 46, Daniel Hardy (GBR); 3. Bretagne Telecom - Mach 45, Nicolas Groleau (FRA)
IRC 1: 1. Lann Ael 2 - JND 39, Didier Gaudoux (FRA); 2. Pata Negra - Lombard 46, Hermann de Graaf (NED); 3. Ino XXX - HH42, James Neville (GBR)
IRC 2: 1. Pintia - J/133, Gilles Fournier / Corinne Migraine (FRA); 2. Lisa - First 44.7, Michael Boyd (IRE); 3. Elke - First 40, Frans and Carla Rodenburg (NED)
IRC 3: 1. Dream Pearls - JPK 10.80, Arnaud Delamare and Eric Mordret (FRA); 2. Timeline - JPK 10.80, Marc Alperovitch (FRA); 3. Bellino - Sun Fast 3600, Rob Craigie (GBR)
IRC 4: 1. Night and Day - JPK 10.10, Pascal & Alexis Loison (FRA); 2. Foggy Dew - JPK 10.10 (FRA), Noel Racine; 3. Cocody - JPK 10.10, Richard Fromentin (FRA)
IRC Two-Handed: 1. Night and Day - JPK 10.10, Pascal Loison (FRA); 2. Ajeto! - J/122e, Robin Verhoef and John van der Starre (NED); 3. Bellino - Sun Fast 3600, Rob Craigie and Deb Fish (GBR)
VO65: 1. Dongfeng Race Team (CHN) - Charles Caudrelier; 2. MAPFRE (ESP) - Xabi Fernandez; 3. Team Brunel (NED) - Bouwe Bekking
IMOCA 60: 1. SMA - Paul Meilhat/Gwenole Gahinet (FRA); 2. St Michel-Virbac - Jean-Pierre Dick/ /Yann Eliès (FRA); 3. Malizia - Yacht Club de Monaco - Boris Herrmann/Pierre Casiraghi (MON)
Class40: 1. V and B - Maxime Sorel (FRA); 2. Imerys - Phil Sharp (GBR); 3. Campagne de France - Halvard Mabire (FRA) and Miranda Merron (GBR)
MOCRA Multihulls: 1. Concise 10 - MOD 70 trimaran, Tony Lawson (GBR); 2. R-six - HH66 catamaran, Robert Szustkowski (POL); 3. Hissy Fit - Dazcat 1495, Simon Baker (GBR)
Full results: www.rolexfastnetrace.com/competitors/race-documents/results