Plymouth Fastnet 500 – Race report

1200hrs, Sunday 13th August saw the start of the Plymouth Fastnet Race. A South- south westerly 14-16 knot wind greeted them as they made their way out of the western entrance of Plymouth Sound towards the Eddystone Lighthouse. The sea state and winds were to increase overnight as the fleet made their way to the west.

Overnight there were a number of key updates after what was a very challenging period at Lands’ End. #superbigou reported issues with their canting keel following a bang As they came off a wave, which brought their race to an end. Co-owner Will Claxton from Padstow Boatyard said he was “really gutted, as we were about to bear away on to a fast reach too!” Thankfully everyone is safe and the Open 60 will be back with us next year for one of the big races!

Having been in the hunt throughout yesterday and into the night, the crew on David Goulden’s ‘Bandit’ found the going very hard. Unfortunately they have been unable to recover sufficiently and so ‘Bandit’ have made the sensible call to turn around and fight another day. All ok on board, if not a little sick.

For the rest of the fleet, the first night proved to be just as challenging. As of 2030hrs a big call was being made as to how the teams would deal with the 3 x TSS, ‘do we go north or do we push west’. Within 2 hours it was clear that, with just 5 miles between them, only 1 would head north over the Eastern most TSS. Splitting from their rivals, ‘Sunfire’ were not taking any prisoners and threw their first dice!

By 0700hrs, the teams hit a pretty huge transition zone, which was to see the 2 leaders, ‘Manu’ and ‘Sunfire’, scrapping for the best angles they could find for over 2 hours. By 1115hrs ‘Manu’ Crossed ‘Sunfire’ within 5 miles to regain their lead. Based on their rating, this would be a marginal net gain to ‘Sunfire’. With just 3 on board, the question now is how much this first tough night has taken out of ‘Manu’ and will they be able to keep their speed up with ‘Sunfire’ breathing down their necks.

With the Fastnet Lighthouse in sight, ‘Manu’ continued to stay between ‘Sunfire’ and the rock, not letting them out of their sights. At 2245hrs a right shift saw a marginal gain to ‘Sunfire’ which put them on a higher lay line to ‘Manu’. A left shift then got ‘Manu’ back in a prime spot at 0200hrs when she tacked to cross ‘Sunfire’. As they approached the mark, ‘Manu’ made twice as many tacks as ‘Sunfire’, effecting their elapsed time sufficiently to give ‘Sunfire’ the lead for the first time in 24 hours. As they round the Fastnet rock at 1000hrs and whilst ‘Manu’ lead on the water, bragging rights go to Steve Andrews team on ‘Sunfire’ as they lead ‘Manu’ by a projected corrected time of 59mins 23seconds.

All is to play for, the breeze is light and shifty, and whilst only 3-up, ‘Manu’ has a distinct weight advantage, but will it be enough to keep the full squad onboard ‘Sunfire’ behind them and extend to regain their projected IRC lead.

Following the mark rounding a tight cover from Manu has reversed into a tight cover from Sunfire as the teams bore away for the homeward leg across the Celtic Sea. Conditions were to get lighter and lighter as the day progressed, worse, it was to become variable as the wind would begin its 24-hour transition from Northwest to Southeast. Once clear of the Fastnet TSS, Manu made the first call to gybe along the lowest edge of the no-go zone to stay in breeze as long as possible, Sunfire duly followed. Being further up the course, Sunfire were able to take advantage of the first right hand shift and gybed onto starboard. Manu followed some 5 miles to the east-northeast, which essentially put the 2 RWYC boats level. Advantage Sunfire! Being far enough to the East, Manu was able to stay in breeze longer and by 1630 had managed to hold a 2-knot advantage for the 4 hours since gybing, putting them back in the lead and by midnight had re-established their 5-mile gap to Sunfire. Looking further back up the course Mona were making steady progress towards the rock, albeit directly upwind. By 1910hrs they were able to take their time for rounding the rock, in daylight, at 7knots. Interestingly, their social media does show that they have 2 stow-aways, who will have been a great relief to the crew through night 1 of this ‘500 race! The breeze overnight has been challenging, with barely 5 knots recorded and the transition now being fully active will not see much more until much later today where it will go on the nose for the remainder of the race. Sunfire has remained in the predatory position of being in sight of Manu and direct astern. Their overnight speed has constantly been higher and throughout the night Manu will have seen the masthead light on Sunfire getting taller and taller. Sunrise, and Manu only had to look over their port quarter to see that, following a hugely challenging overnight spell of concentration and strategy, Sunfire were now abeam and ahead not only on corrected but also on the water. As of now, it would appear that Manu have recovered from what must have been an exhausting past 12 hours with almost 2/3 less crew co-manage the conditions and have picked up the pace to rechallenge for first the lead on the water and to then extend. Throughout the night and way out to the Northwest, Nova has been making excellent progress against her rivals constantly achieving twice the boat speed as they manage to find something in the dying westerly breeze. Now it is a battle to see who can get to the next phase of this race first. By 1900hrs we expect the North-easterly gradient to gradually veer to East and by Thursday morning settle at Southeast. So with this in mind there is a new throw of the dice, do you head north of the rhumb line to make the most of the live conditions or head south to pick up the stronger new breeze early…

Thursday saw the closest finish yet in the ‘500 race, with just under 1 hour 8 minutes separating both boats on the water. Both enjoyed a fresh Easterly breeze as they traversed the sound and entered the Cattewater to finally finish an epic second edition of the Plymouth Fastnet 500. Videos of both finishes are now available on the https://www.facebook.com/rwycracing Facebook page. During which time Nova was battling to find some consistent breeze due south of Penzance. With light and shifty winds overnight, Nova was making slow progress East towards the finish, often under 2 knots SOG. But if we know anything about this crew, they are resilient! This morning however paints a very different picture as they enjoy a building southerly breeze and are averaging 4 knots in the right direction! Currently around 18-20knots, the breeze is only going to build and free their angle to make their final stretch into the finish line off the RWYC clubhouse the most enjoyable it could be.

It has been without question a herculean effort for this crew, with very little around them to gauge their performance, they have managed to sail a strong course and have kept fighting when others have fallen by the wayside.

We expect Nova to cross the finish line at any time from 1800hrs this evening and we hope for a tremendous welcoming cheer from their many followers, who must win the top accolade for being the most supportive social media following of the entire race!

A reminder, the prize giving is planned for 1900hrs this evening. We will confirm later today once we are assured of Nova’s finish time.

Friday evening saw the GT35, Nova crossing the finish line in an elapsed time of 5 days, 4 hours and 25 minutes. After what was a testing sail up the southwest coast all the way from Lands’ End with variable wind conditions, the 4-crew onboard Nova were in very good spirits as they reached across the sound and into the Cattewater to claim 3rd place overall in the ‘500 race. With that we bring 2023 to a close and look forward to next year, when we will be running the 3rd edition of the ‘500 in once again in August.

Results

1st – Steve Andrews ——- Sunfire

2nd – Daniel Flannagan —- Manu

3rd – Sean Koehler ——– Nova

Photos; Credit – Jerry Lock – Fotocraft.net

Adrian Gray
Race Director
Rear Commodore Oceanic

25th August 2023

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