After more than four days alone at sea the leading boats passed the Scilly Islands early this afternoon, with Rob Craigie (Sunfast 3600, Bellino) holding a 4.5 mile lead on Conor Fogarty (SF 3600, Bam), with Ian Hoddle (GameOn) third on the water. Both were pulling away from the pack, maintaining speeds of over 7 knots, with only 80 miles to the finish. The leader in IRC Class 2, Louis-Marie Dussere’s JPK10.10 Raging Bee, who led on corrected time for much of the race, is 30 miles behind Bam.
While all the leaders in Class 1 routed outside the Traffic Separation Scheme west of the Scilly Islands, Class 2 split each side of the exclusion area, making for an interesting tactical separation. Early signs are that the boats that went west may have gained an advantage which could decide the nail biting match race between Deb Fish (Sunfast 3200, Exocet) and Jeremy Waitt (JPK10.10 Jangada) that has played out over the last three days.
While the leaders have enjoyed better winds than predicted for their return from the Fastnet Rock, the slower boats in Class 3 have had to sit through yet another calm. At midnight last night Charles Emmett (Sigma 36, British Bulldog) reported he was approaching the Rock and expected to be rounding it around 0200. However, before getting there he was becalmed just as the tide turned against him.
Six hours later, Emmett was finally able to report: “Wooohoooo - as the rock bears 130 degrees I can say that I am finally round it at 0600. I was ome mile away and tacked to round it at 0045, so it has taken five hours and 15 minutes to cover one mile! That's sail racing.”
Will Sayer (Sigma 33, Elmarleen) was becalmed at the same time and both are now well separated from the boats in Classes 1 and 2. Both are also well behind their class leader, Ludovic Melnyk’s JPK960 Sous Mama, however, with their significantly lower handicap they still have a chance of beating their French rival on corrected time. The only other Class 3 boat still in the race is is Neil Payter’s Yamaha 33 Solent One. He is still outward bound in the Celtic Sea, around 100 miles from the Fastnet Rock, but, remains determined to complete the distance and finish.
Given the gruelling nature of the race and the severe weather encountered in this inaugural edition – competitors endured headwinds of over 35 knots on two separate occasions – it’s not surprising that a large number have retired. Nevertheless, all returned safely to port without outside assistance and the proportion of boats still racing – exactly 50 per cent of those who started – is still significantly higher than the last windy edition of the fully crewed Fastnet Race, in 2007, where only one in five boats reached the rock. The French skippers have done particularly well in this respect, with only two of the nine entries dropping out.