The 'when will they arrive?' lottery has begun this afternoon in sunny Sutton Harbour, the new arrival point for the Rolex Fastnet Race in Plymouth.
While a line honours victory for Mike Slade's 100ft super-maxi ICAP Leopard might seem obvious, the brand new Hong Kong 80-footer Beau Geste of Karl Kwok is closing on them. At 03:00 GMT this morning they were 35 miles behind and by 14:00GMT were only 24 miles astern. Over the course of the late morning and early afternoon the smaller boat was occasionally sailing three knots faster down the course.
The reason, according to round the world race veteran, Steve Hayles, navigator on Niklas Zennström's Ran 2, is that the boats astern of ICAP Leopard have enjoyed stronger wind from the northwest. “This breeze built from behind, it came down from the Fastnet Rock, so it has been a bad bit of timing for them. It was just unfortunate. We have more headed breeze and more of it. But to be honest we are suffering the same thing with the two STP65s behind us. We feel pretty happy with what we have done. We have stopped the rot here recently.”
Hayles says they are expecting the wind to veer towards the north in the next six to ten hours and to go light. “The breeze is going to drop below ten knots for sure. We will go around Bishop Rock at about 18:00 GMT. The last 90 miles to the finish, the routing has us doing it in nine hours, but my own thinking is that it is going to take 14.” So a breakfast time arrival in Plymouth. Significantly, and regardless of the slow finish, Hayles is quietly confident of Ran 2 winning under IRC handicap, which she is leading at present.
The IMOCA 60s still remain in contention, with BT IMOCA 60 around 22 miles astern of Beau Geste. Despite being sailed doublehanded, this afternoon she has overtaken the fully-crewed Artemis Ocean Racing. The first IMOCA 60s are expected home tomorrow mid-morning.
Since yesterday the cycle of the wind has changed phase and while en route from Land's End to the Fastnet Rock yesterday, the fastest boats were heading north awaiting a shift to get them west; today the bulk of the fleet has been heading west waiting for a shift to get them north. Some of the outbound boats have even taken the unorthodox approach of going to the west of the Scilly Isles, rather than the conventional shorter course to their east. Many have been heading so far west that the faster boats returning from the Rock, have seen them coming the opposite way. “Earlier this morning we saw several. I am surprised to see quite so many – it is a pretty aggressive punt out to the west for those boats,” said Hayles.
One of the boats heading out west was Tanguy de LaMotte's Initiatives Saveurs-Novedia Group, the new leader in the Class 40. According to Papua New Guinean round the world sailor Liz Wardley who is sailing on board, they were obliged to dive so heavily west because of the wind direction. “We had a huge lift on starboard, more than we expected and so we really had to wait for a huge knock before we could tack over. So yes, we are quite far west.” They finally tacked back to the north at around midday.
“We are hoping the wind is going to lift us a little bit more, so we can make the Fastnet in one tack, because we are 10 degrees low,” continued Wardley, adding that at around 15:30 GMT they had 16-17 knots from the west, with the wind building the further north they sailed.
Further behind, Katie Miller and Hannah Jenner, two-handed on Miller's Beneteau Figaro 2, Hot Socks, were enjoying the conditions off Land's End. There the wind was southwest and Miller was hoping that it wouldn't build as they are unable to use their water ballast at present since the pump “has just died”.
They are recovering from a difficult first night when they had to make two attempts to anchor off Portland Bill in 45m of water. If getting the anchor down was a problem, getting it up for the two of them was even harder, the operation taking more than 45 minutes. “We are going to be muscle women by the time we get back,” commented Miller, who says that the Rolex Fastnet Race is personally proving to be as tough as the singlehanded transatlantic race she completed recently. “The race is so short compared to the Atlantic that you are constantly pushing the boat as hard as you can, so you almost sleep less than you would on your own.”
In terms of the handicap standings, little has changed since this morning in the larger classes where Ran 2 remains ahead in Class SZ. La Floresta del Mar leads Class Z three quarters of the way towards the Fastnet Rock, while Codiam is first in IRC 1, half way to the Rock. However Mike Moxley's HOD35 Malice has taken over the lead in Class 2, despite a large dig out to the west , with David Lees' High Tension 36, Hephzibah ahead in Class 3, the latter 10 miles northwest of the Scilly Isles.
The latest forecast indicates that the first boat home will be ICAP Leopard, sometime before dawn tomorrow.
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