After an extremely quiet 24 hours, from last night boats have been streaming into Plymouth, with over 50 boats finishing between midnight and noon. There have been some tight finishes in this Rolex Fastnet Race between the Volvo Open 70s and the IMOCA Open 60, but the closest by far occurred in the early hours this morning in the Class 40, where the top five boats arrived within six-and-a-half minutes of one another.
Having led for the majority of the race, there was a deserved win for Tanguy de Lamotte aboard his Rogers-designed Initiatives - Alex Olivier (FRA), which arrived two and a half minutes ahead of the new Kiwi 40 Peraspera (ITA), in turn just 30 seconds in front of Red (GER), skippered by Mathias Mueller von Blumencron, former Editor in Chief of Der Spiegel magazine.
Having led for most of the race, Initiatives - Alex Olivier was overtaken by Peraspera at the last headland coming into Plymouth and it was only because their last tack into the finish took them further south of the Plymouth breakwater, that they won. "We could go on one tack to the finish line and that is where we pulled away and overtook them again," recounted de Lamotte. "It was a literally a few hundred metres before the finish line. So it could have gone any way, anyone could have won it."
Finishing 3 hours and 13 minutes astern of the Class 40 leader and 12th in Class 40 was the Class 40 Dragon (USA), skippered by Michael Hennessy, who recently sailed his boat in the Transatlantic Race 2011. "It is pretty exciting stuff," said Hennessy of the close finish. "We had a tough race. It is challenging because no one on the boat knows English waters at all and local knowledge played a big part from Bishop Rock on. We had a couple of lead changes after that and the last one went against us."
Hennessy is a regular competitor in the US-equivalent of the Rolex Fastnet Race, the Newport Bermuda Race. "That is great, but this is far more tactically challenging. You break it down and there are eight segments to this race and each has its own unique challenge to it. This was a really tactically challenging race and far more competitive than I had anticipated. It is the best race I have ever done."
Overnight the leaders in IRC 1 arrived in Plymouth, welcomed this morning by a prolonged and torrential rain. At present, French boats are looking to be the strongest contenders on handicap with the familiar Grand Soleil 54 Codiam (FRA) of Nicolas Loday and Jean Claude Nicoleau ahead of the Laurent Gouy's Ker 39, Inis Mor (FRA).
Inis Mor skipper Laurent Goyh said, "It was good. Going out of the Solent was fast and quick, but it was hard getting to the Fastnet (rock)." Goyh, whose last Fastnet Race was in 1997 aboard a Grand Mistral one-design maxi, said he felt they had sailed an extremely good race, despite running out of wind for 30 minutes at Bishop Rock, and was frustrated that their result wasn't better.
Peter Rutter's Quokka 8 (GBR), the UK IRC National Champion, arrived in at 07:31:12 this morning in IRC2, the boat on this occasion part of the seven-strong fleet entered by charter company Sailing Logic. Rutter and Sailing Logic's Philippe Falle were sailing Quokka 8 with a youth crew. "We did very well indeed," said Rutter on his arrival. "It was superb racing, as always with the Fastnet. It was quite a rough second night. After Bishop Rock we watched the whole fleet sailing up to us, we stopped and we managed to get slightly inshore of the rest of the fleet and then got 4 miles ahead in the space of about 1.5 hours, which was pleasing."
Just ahead of them on the water but sailing in IRC 1, was the Scheveningen-based Swan 42 Baraka Gp (NED) skippered by Piet de Graaf and sailed by a crew comprising many family members. "I think we sailed pretty well, especially in the first part of the race," said elder son Dirk de Graaf. "We worked well and our navigator and tactician did good preparation. We were off Land's End in a good position. In the Irish Sea we had some tough conditions and we saw 30 knots."
The Swan 42 is not known for being an offshore boat and it was the boat and the crew's first Rolex Fastnet Race. However the team had prepared extensively including competing in the North Sea Race earlier this year, along with some other qualifiers. "We have sailed some offshore (races) before, but not as big as this one. This is the best race I have ever done," concluded Dirk de Graaf.
At present the weather is being dominated by the Azores high bringing northerly winds across the race course. Over the next 24 hours the high pressure is expected to turn more into a ridge, and by tomorrow morning this will be on an NE-SW axis straight across the middle of the race track, with precious little wind in its vicinity through until Saturday, making for a slow finish for the tailenders.
As of 1200 BST today, 82 boats have finished the race; approximately 200 were still racing, and 32 have retired.