Long, slow finish
Typically the Rolex Fastnet Race is all but concluded by the Friday morning, five days after the start. But by this morning, only around one third of the fleet have reached the finish off Plymouth, for the Royal Ocean Racing Club's 608 mile long biennial offshore classic.
Even in Class Zero, around one third of the boats have still to finish. Here, the winner is almost certainly the Swan 56, La Floresta Del Mar of Amanda Hartley and Jamie Olazabel. At present, they are almost 1.5 hours ahead of second-placed Tonnerre de Breskens of former Rolex Fastnet Race winner Piet Vroon.
La Floresta Del Mar was previously Filip Balcaen's Aqua Equinox, winner of the Rolex Swan Cup in 2006, but the Madrid-based Anglo-Spanish couple "fell in love with her" and bought her two years ago to replace their Grand Soleil 46.
In addition to the boat's past race credentials and an extensive refit, to make her suitable for offshore rather than inshore racing, notable about Hartley and Olazabel's Rolex Fastnet Race campaign was that they put together a crack crew including many of the very best Spanish sailors. Their team included Jordi Calafat, the 470 Gold medallist from the 1992 Olympics, most recently with the America's Cup defenders Alinghi and on Telefonica Blue for the recent Volvo Ocean Race, America's Cup bowman Jaime Arbones, multiple round the world racer Guillermo Altadill and race veteran Pachi Rivero.
"It started a year ago after the Rolex Swan Cup that we decided to go for the Rolex Fastnet Race, but we wanted to do it properly," says Olazabel of their campaign. "Thanks to the help and willingness of all the crew members, we were able to put together an amazing team and an extremely competitive one. They were the reason for our success, because people were willing to make the effort."
As to the Rolex Fastnet Race itself, Olazabel says the conditions weren't the best for them and they particularly struggled in the light conditions. "Our competitors were more efficient downwind and it took us such a long time to get to the rock! It was three times longer to go up than to get down." However with their elite afterguard, their tactics were good and on Tuesday afternoon on their return from the Fastnet rock, they took over the Class Z lead from Bill Blain's J/133 Batfish III. "Tactically I think our crew has done a fabulous job, even though the conditions haven't been the best for us," says Olzabel.
According to Amanda Hartley there weren't too many squabbles on board between the ‘rock stars' who were placated by a well-stocked larder of Spanish food. They hope to now compete in the Rolex Middle Sea, an event they almost won last year.
The French yacht Codiam is looking equally comfortable for a win in IRC Class 1. Codiam is a familiar feature of the Royal Ocean Racing Club's top events. This is the team's third Rolex Fastnet Race and they have twice been part of French teams competing in the Rolex Commodores' Cup. While some of the crew, mostly from La Baule mid-way up France's Atlantic coast, have changed this winter, so too has their boat, their trusty IMX45 replaced by a new Grand Soleil 43.
Like La Floresta Del Mar, Codiam took a long tack out into the English Channel from Portland Bill, before heading back into the Lizard, after the tricky first night when they had to anchor for about 40 minutes. Overnight on Monday, they took over the handicap lead in IRC Class 1 from Cyrille Legloahec's A40RC Batistyl, their French team mates in the last Rolex Commodores' Cup. At present, although only one third of the boats have finished in IRC Class 1, Codiam is the handicap leader by almost two hours.
"I think our strength was good analysis of the weather all the way up to the Fastnet Rock," said skipper, Nicolas Loday. En route up they sailed between the Scilly Isles and Land's End but took a long tack out to the west en route to the rock. "But we had some trouble with the Scilly Isles. We went a bit to close where there was less wind. We are happy for the owner who, unfortunately, was not on board."
Nicoleau says the chances are good for them returning to the UK next year in one of the four French teams due to take part in the Rolex Commodores' Cup.
At present there are a considerable number of boats still trying to round Bishop Rock before tackling the final leg of the race back past the Lizard and into Plymouth. However with an area of high pressure creeping over this part of the race course, these final miles are likely to be long and tortuous. The back marker, now with the Bristol Channel pilot cutter, Morwenna having turned back, is Richard Rastrick's Warrior 35, The Fox, which at 10:00GMT had just rounded the Fastnet Rock with 286 miles still to sail
As of Friday at 11:00 GMT, 120 yachts had finished, 171yachts are racing, and eight yachts have retired from the race. The Rolex Fastnet Race prize giving will be held this evening at 1700 at the Royal Citadel in Plymouth.
Friends, family, press and supporters can visit http://fastnet.rorc.org/2009-fleet-tracking.html and click the tracking page to follow the race and results.