Following the arrival of the 100 foot supermaxi ICAP Leopard (GBR) this morning, so the first of the Mini Maxis arrived in Plymouth this afternoon in the form of 2009 Rolex Fastnet Race winner, Rán (GBR).
The Judel Vrolijk 72 campaigned by Skype co-founder Niklas Zennström crossed the line off Plymouth at 12:53:44 BST, in an elapsed time of 2 days 3 minutes, and 44 seconds.
"It was a good race in that we had good boat speed all the time," commented Zennström. "The worst thing with offshore races is that you sail into an area with no wind and you sit there, but we didn't have that this time. In the places where we thought it would be very light, like the transition around Land's End, we had good pace. But it was tough. Halfway to the Rock, and all the way back there was no visibility, lots of wind and rain - everything was very wet. But if you go fast, that makes up for it. It was great racing and we were doing 20-22 knots of boat speed all the time in big waves. We pushed it pretty hard."
Rán benefitted from the retirements yesterday of 80-foot Beau Geste (HKG) and 68-foot Alegre (GBR). According to Gavin Brady, Beau Geste was forced to pull out when some cracking developed in her deck and with conditions set to build around the Fastnet Rock and the onset of night, they chose to err on the side of prudence, the boat this afternoon was back in Gosport. "We were really surprised, because we were doing 15-16 knots of boat speed side-by-side with the VO70s, and everything was business as usual," said the former America's Cup helmsman. "If it had been a moderate forecast, we might have tried to fix it. It was disappointing, a tough decision to make, because we were in a good position at that point of the race."
While they had been putting miles on Alegre behind them, Rán was on Beau Geste's tail when she retired. Navigator Steve Hayles says they would have had a tough time holding on to Beau Geste reaching back from the Rock; however, despite lively conditions with the wind peaking at 30 knots, their luck with the weather could not have been better for their rounding of the Rock. "We were in a perfect situation where we reached in, and on the beat out to the Pantaenius Buoy the right shift started to come, so we reached both ways - we were very well-placed timing-wise."
According to Zennström, before the race start the forecast was indicating that this year's Rolex Fastnet Race would not just be a big boat race, but a `very big' boat race, so they were looking ahead at Beau Geste, ICAP Leopard and Rambler 100, rather than at the smaller boats behind them. With two of these retired, Rán looks to be a strong contender for successfully defending her Rolex Fastnet Race title this year. Navigator Steve Hayles qualified this: "In reaching races, it could be boats like the canting-keel Cookson 50s, but they have too much to do, so it might be a whole different size of boat. But to be honest, the forecast shuts down from now. At the moment it certainly looks good for us, particularly against the next boats in."
After the Volvo Open 70s arrival early this morning, later there was an equally close finish between the first three IMOCA Open 60s. This contest for the boats best known for being sailed singlehanded around the world in the Vendée Globe, was won by 2004-5 Vendée Globe winner Vincent Riou in his orange PRB (FRA). She was less than four minutes ahead of Virbac Paprec 3 (FRA) skippered by Jean-Pierre Dick, two-time winner of the Barcelona World Race, in turn less than two minutes ahead of two-time Velux 5 Oceans solo round-the-world race winner, Bernard Stamm on his Cheminées Poujoulat (SUI).
"It feels good, very good," commented Riou of his win, his second having previously been first home in the IMOCA 60 class in 2007. "We are glad to have had a good result, especially as there was a lot of contact between the boats for the whole duration of the race.
"Passing the Fastnet Rock itself was special because it was very windy and grey, and then suddenly the Fastnet just appeared out of the fog as we were going past with 30 knots of wind - it was rather lovely."
Frenchman Marc Guillemot, who finished fourth aboard Safran (FRA), summed up why the Rolex Fastnet Race was special. "It is a very nice course to go to the Fastnet and to come back because there is a lot of variation in the conditions and the sea and also there are three or four of the best IMOCA boats here, so it is always interesting to race against them."
While Safran finished 45 minutes after PRB, they had been level at Bishop Rock. Guillemot admitted that they had had subsequently chosen the wrong sail to get them to the Lizard, allowing the others to get ahead.
Virbac-Paprec 3 had been leading at the Scilly Isles but did well to come home second after they had broken their starboard primary winch, causing them a few complications in the cockpit. "It was pretty close and interesting too with sometimes quite a lot of wind or little wind, shifty - it was a nice race," said Dick. "It was complicated with the current, but this is the nice part. It is more like the Tour de France a la Voile. It is a nice race, so I am happy to have done it."
The next boats set to finish in Class Zero are the STP65 Vanquish (USA), while the Swiss TP52 Near Miss late this afternoon was off the Scilly Isles. But based on times taken at the Fastnet Rock, Ràn remains ahead on corrected time. In IRC 1, the Swan 62 Uxorious IV (GBR) leads under IRC, while of the eight boats to have rounded in IRC 2, the A40 Vitaris Response (FRA) was in front.
With an area of high pressure encroaching over the Celtic Sea, the wind is forecast to continue veering into the north and then northeast tonight and lightening over the next 24 hours, with, in stark contrast to what the frontrunners experienced, precious little wind at the Fastnet Rock tomorrow afternoon.
As of 1900 BST, 13 boats have finished the race; approximately 273 were still racing, and 28 have retired.
The Rolex Fastnet Race finishes in Plymouth Harbour. The main trophy for overall victory in the Rolex Fastnet is the Fastnet Challenge Cup. In addition, there are more than 30 other trophies that will be awarded at the prize giving on Friday, 19 August 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 will berth.