Friday afternoon and at the time of the Rolex Fastnet Race prizegiving at Plymouth's Royal Citadel, one third of the competitors still remain at sea. Of 299 starters, nine have retired and 194 have reached Plymouth, leaving 106 yet to finish.
While Niklas Zennstrom's Ran 2 has won the 2009 Rolex Fastnet Race overall under IRC and in IRC SZ, so Amanda Hartley and Jamie Olazabel's Swan 56 La Floresta Del Mar, claimed IRC Z. Meanwhile the three smallest IRC classes looked set throughout this race to be a clean sweep for France, until the very last few miles of sailing for the Class 3 leaders late this morning. At 1200 GMT, when Fabrice Amedeo's promising X-332 Bateaux Mouches du Pont de l'Alma had just six miles left to go, she was rudely pipped at the post on handicap by David Lees' High Tension 36, Hephzibah, storming towards the finish line, 17 miles astern of her. The final results of IRC Class 3 are yet to be decided.
A win in IRC Class 2, conducted with equally clinical precision to that of the seasoned pros on Ran 2, was that of the team on Prime Time, owned by the trio of Jerome Huillard, and brothers Jerome and Marc Alperovitch. Having previously campaigned an X-302 they traded up to their present A-35 yacht one and a half years ago with the specific aim of racing it offshore, the highlight of their program being the Rolex Fastnet Race.
"The perception is that it is a very well-known race," confided Marc Alperovitch of how the Royal Ocean Racing Club's biennial classic is viewed across ‘la Manche'. "This impression comes from the 1979 race and people are aware that there were casualties. I think it is a race with a significant impact, particularly within the sailing community – they all know it is a difficult and competitive event."
The Prime Time team is experienced at inshore racing, having previously competed in the Rolex Commodores' Cup and have already cleaned up this season in France winning the top inshore events, SPI Ouest and the Obelix Trophy. However, as Alperovitch explained, they lacked offshore experience. "On other boats they have 50 or 60 Fastnets between the crew. On our boat, we had only one." Their crew is entirely amateur with the exception of Mini sailor, Sebastien Marquet.
And their secret? "Everything is about preparing the boat for the race," says Alperovitch. "To give you some examples: Some of us get seasick, but there is this medicine you can take, but it may make you sleepy. So we tested it at home beforehand, to see if it did this. We tested the food we were going to eat back in May. We designed the way we were going to store the bags in the boat back in November last year. Everything was prepared. To me, we knew we were fast because we race a lot inshore. The question was: how are we going to adapt ourselves for offshore racing, as it is a different game? Anyway the secret is preparing, preparing, preparing."
Their approach to taking gear on board, resembled what Volvo Ocean Race teams do, each crewman having identical bags with their contents pre-defined and highly limited. "Phone chargers were forbidden, etc. The crew could bring along heavier items but they would end up in the bin! Really I am a bit of a maniac on the boat!" admits Alperovitch, who otherwise seemed mild-mannered.
Nonetheless their regime of precision worked and their ultimate corrected time was more than one and a half hours faster than David Walters' J/39 Jackdaw that lost out in a most extreme manner, when their final run into Plymouth took around 15 hours longer than expected, as the wind shut down yesterday.
But Alperovitch says he was most worried by his fellow countrymen on Parsifal as while they were becalmed, their rivals were speeding along at 5 knots. However the wind turned switched around and while Prime Time managed to make 6-10 knots to the finish arriving at 00:20:01 GMT this morning, Parsifal was becalmed and crawled home to finish ten hours after them, dropping them to fourth in Class 2.
Among the other arrivals over the last 24 hours, have been two of the On Deck Farr 65s. Spirit of Juno arrived this afternoon crewed by members of BLESMA, the British Limbless Ex-Service Men's Association, while sistership Spirit of Minerva reached Plymouth yesterday evening, sailed by a crew of 16-18 year olds from Bishop Wordsworth's School in Salisbury. "About six of them were quite badly seasick but they covered each other so well," commented skipper Michael Collier, adding that all was well by the time they had rounded the Fastnet rock and could turn downwind. "They loved it and can't wait to do it again," added Collier of his young crew. "Half are staying with us to take the boat back to Portsmouth."
With the winds off the Cornish coast still light, the sky overcast and intermittent light rain courtesy of a dissolving warm front, patience will be required for the remaining competitors still at sea. Late afternoon the two back-markers had only just rounded the Pantaenius offset mark up by the Fastnet Rock, with 240 miles still ahead of them and a Sunday finish looking likely.
The Rolex Fastnet Race Prizegiving was held this evening at the Royal Citadel in Plymouth. Niklas Zennstrom of Ran 2 was awarded the Fastnet Challenge Cup and a Rolex Yacht-Master timepiece for his win in IRC class overall. A number of other trophies were presented and as some of the classes have yet to be decided, Ian Loffhagen, the Racing Manager announced another prizegiving on Saturday at 6pm.