The Start to The Lizard
Eddie Warden Owen, Chief Executive of the Royal Ocean Racing Club walks the first 186 miles of the course from the start to Land's End. The 608 mile race from Cowes around the Fastnet Rock and back to the finish at Plymouth has many races within the race, how the 300 boats deal with these challenges will affect their performance in the Rolex Fastnet Race.
Starts are always important, the leading boat in a class can dictate tactics and keep an eye on the competition behind. The start in the confines of the Solent means that there are often boat on boat tactics at play and the race to the Needles has many opportunities to make gains or losses. Playing the tide and pressure and trying to slingshot out of the HurstNarrows is the game of chess to get into the open sea before the competition, the prize.
After leaving the Needles channel the fleet has to negotiate a number of headlands on the way to Lands End. Around these headlands the tide accelerates to great advantage when the tide is with the boats but to be avoided at all costs when the tide turns making long term strategy very important.
The first headland that the fleet will head for is Anvil Point, off Swanage and there is no let up on tactics. The aim is to hit the strong tidal race that runs diagonally off the headland and stay in it as long as possible to make big gains. Approaching from offshore for more tide or going inshore for the chance of getting a favourable shift are the tough decisions that have to be made.
From Anvil Point, the fleet will head across Weymouth Bay towards Portland Bill and historically it has always paid to stay offshore, the wind has always been lighter closer to the shore. The timing of the race is such that the leading boats will normally get around Portland Bill before the tide turns, assuming they have enough wind.
The leading smaller boats may make it before the tide turns and in doing so will have a huge advantage of those who come later and get foul tide. Some may be forced to anchor against the tide and watch the competition slip away. Rounding Portland Bill can be a crucial moment in the Rolex Fastnet Race.
Across Lyme Bay
The long leg across Lyme Bay is nearly 20 miles offshore, so the boats are away from the influences of land, for the faster boats, this may well be at night and it is likely that the gradient wind will come back and it will pay to be offshore. For the faster boats they may well be under spinnaker for this leg.
Another headland were tidal considerations will come into play and prior to approach, tacticians will be weighing up the options; deciding whether to go offshore or inshore. If there will be sea breeze in the morning, it will start first inshore but this requires forward thinking, to be in the right place to benefit from it.
There are huge tides off this point and lots of rocks, it is a very dangerous spot but the route to The Lizard is away from the land and the gradient breeze will probably be on the nose or just cracked off, depending how far west the wind goes. The lead boats will be lining up the Rock, even from here. As they leave land to cross the Irish Sea, however, they won't even be half way through the Rolex Fastnet Race.