A shut-down of the wind and a foul tide just short of the finish line made for a challenging few hours for the Royal Ocean Racing Club race team as an armada of Rolex Fastnet Race competitors descended on the finish line. Between 0000 and 0200 this morning 105 boats, or just over one third of the record-sized fleet, crossed the finish line.
Patrick van de Ven, sailing doublehanded with Igor Quik on the X-43 Lady of Avalon (NED) in IRC 2, arrived at 00:54 BST this morning. Yesterday, while lying 20 miles shy of the finish line, they had been forced to anchor, along with two other boats, for ten frustrating hours. To manage this involved their tying together all their available warps, sheets and guys in order for their anchor to set in the 70 metres of water.
"When we put up the sails and got running, we looked behind and there was this massive fleet of smaller boats coming in with the wind," recalled van de Ven. "It was beautiful - there was this big cloud of red and green lights behind us. We were happy we were in front of them."
Another Dutch doublehanded pair, John van der Starre and Robin Verhoef, on the newly-launched J/111 J-Xcentric (NED), racing in IRC 2, had less dramatic, but no less a frustrating finish yesterday afternoon. Finishing just one minute behind a fully crewed J/111, they were forced to anchor 200 metres from the finish line for one-and-a-half hours.
Van der Starre and Verhoef led the 36-strong double-handed division for most of the race. They eventually lost first place in the double-handed class to the Sigma 33c, Elmarleen (GBR).
This was their first Rolex Fastnet Race and Van de Starre said he was impressed: "This is a great challenge of tactics, handling and everything. There is so much in it - I had a really good experience. Racing double-handed is about management - everything has to work well, you need a good autopilot, all the preparation in advance should be perfect, and we had it very well organised." The duo had a small problem that left them unable to charge their boat's batteries (and therefore unable to use the all-important autopilot) for 36 hours.
Today the class winners have been announced. With Niklas Zennström's J-V72 Rán (GBR) claiming the overall IRC handicap prize ahead of Mike Slade's 100 foot maxi, ICAP Leopard. Rán also won Class Z ahead of the Oakcliff All American Offshore Team on Vanquish (USA) and the TP52 Near Miss (SUI).
In most other classes, France dominated. IRC 1 saw victory go to regular RORC race competitors Nicolas Loday and Jean Claude Nicoleau on their Grand Soleil 43 Codiam (FRA), ahead of Laurent Gouy's Ker 39 Inis Mor (FRA) and the First 47.7 Moana (BEL) of Francois and Mathieu Goubau.
Class 3 was claimed by two JPK 10.10 designs: Noel Racine's Foggy Dew (FRA), overall winner in the RORC's Myth of Malham Race earlier this year, ahead of Vincent Willemart's Wasabi (BEL). France also dominated Class 4 in the familiar form of Jean Yves Chateau's Nicholson 33, Iromiguy (FRA), overall winner of the Rolex Fastnet Race in 2007, ahead of Persephone (FRA), Yves Lambert's Stand Fast 37/Tina.
One exception to the Franco-Belgium domination of this year's race was American Rives Potts, whose 48 foot McCurdy & Rhodes-designed Carina won Class 2, ahead of two French boats - the JND35 Gaia and the J/122 Nutmeg IV.
Despite his boat dating back to 1969 and originally having been the Nye family's replacement for Carina 2, back-to-back winner of the Rolex Fastnet in 1955 and 1957, Potts is a boatyard owner in Connecticut and has been constantly tinkering and upgrading Carina since he acquired her in the early 1990s. Less obvious is that he is also a five-time America's Cup sailor and winner, having competed on Freedom in 1980 and subsequent campaigns with Dennis Conner through until 1995, and who completed the 1979 Fastnet Race aboard the winner, Ted Turner's maxi Tenacious.
"It is fabulous," said Potts of his win. "This is a 71-boat class with some very good boats in it and we feel very fortunate. Our navigator Dirk Johnson did a fabulous job. He was always looking for where there was the most pressure and the least current. The race was probably 90% going to weather and that is our strong point. Had it been more off the wind I'm sure the lighter, more modern boats would have left us in the dust. It was a good race for us."
With Rolex Fastnet Race and Bermuda Race wins behind her, Carina is now off to Australia to attempt to obtain the last piece of what Potts described as the "triple crown", namely the Rolex Sydney Hobart.
With 248 finishers and 41 retirements, 25 boats remain on the race course this afternoon, with the prizegiving for the Rolex Fastnet Race due to take place this evening at the historic Royal Citadel. The Citadel, home to the 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, overlooks Plymouth Sound and Sutton Harbour, where the majority of the fleet are berthed.
CEO of the Royal Ocean Racing Club, Eddie Warden Owen commented on this year's Rolex Fastnet Race: "It's been a really interesting race because it offered everything: It's been a tough race - not just because of the wind conditions on the first two days, but also tough getting back for the little boats, because they had very little wind and parked up.
"And we had the Rambler incident (capsize and subsequent rescue of her 21 crew) and we had to get our act together very quickly because the first boat (the 40 metre trimaran Maxi Banque Populaire) arrived after 32 hours, so we'd only just got here and got the place set up.
"The fact that the Volvo guys finished within five minutes of each other is amazing. And the Class 40s had a really close finish as well. Just rounding the rock now are Maybird and Morwenna, the two classic pilot cutters - they are having their own battle out there. They'll finish in three, four days time. This Fastnet has been full of opportunities for people, an experience for everybody involved in it."