Chris Sheehan's PAC 52 Warrior Won rounds the Fastnet Rock at dawn this morning © ROLEX/Carlo Borlenghi

Chris Sheehan's PAC 52 Warrior Won rounds the Fastnet Rock at dawn this morning © ROLEX/Carlo Borlenghi

Rolex Fastnet Race: Fastnet Rock expressway


24/07/2023 - 17:05

Yesterday's trickle of yachts competing in this special 50th Rolex Fastnet Race last night turned into a torrent. Bryon Ehrhart's monohull line honours favourite led the single-hulled fleet around the Fastnet Rock shortly before 21:00 BST but the 88ft long canting keel weapon was only seven miles ahead the first IMOCA, Yoann Richomme's Paprec Arkea, with 2021 winner, Charlie Dalin's MACIF a further nine miles astern.

This morning the boats reaching southwest to Bishop Rock have been sailing into building breeze the west side of a dying depression currently centred over the west English Channel. This has created some compression in the fleet with Lucky reeling in the two Ocean Fifty trimarans ahead of her, while in turn she was overtaken by the foil-borne IMOCAs Paprec Arkea and MACIF by the time this trio reached Bishop Rock at around 05:00. Since then they have turned their bows back into the Channel and been sailing towards the centre of the depression, awaiting a favourable shift before gybing out.

The MOCRA class defending champion, Adrian Keller's Irens 84 catamaran Allegra, rounded the Fastnet Rock at 22:35 BST, followed three hours and 50 minutes later by Ken Howery's Gunboat 68 Tosca and the rest of the doublehanded IMOCA fleet. Notably three female IMOCA skippers were holding fifth to seventh positions, led by Sam Davies (with Nicolas Lunven) on Initatives Coeurs; Davies' former Team SCA crew Justine Mettraux (with Julien Villion) on Teamwork; then Clarisse Cremer (with Alan Roberts) on L'Occitaine – all doing very well among the 27 IMOCAs still racing.

Just before midnight the Polish VO65 Wind Whisper, freshly returned from the Ocean Race, was second in IRC Super Zero to round the Fastnet Rock but leads the class overall under IRC ahead of American Clarke Murphy on his chartered VO65 Team Jajo. This group could enjoy a possibly race-winning run/broad reach to Cherbourg.

This morning at 10:11:52 Pip Hare and Nick Bubb onboard Medallia, rounded the Rock. They are still trying to recover ground after an episode at Hurst when Medallia's headsail furler went awol, destroying their J3 headsail and forcing them to turn downwind to effect a repair, losing them vital miles. "I am massively disappointed, but you have to take what you're dealt," said Hare. "We have worked pretty hard. You get challenged by left field stuff like that and you learn new things all the time that you wouldn't have learned otherwise."

Out in the mid-Channel that opening night they saw 35 knots, gusting 40. "The waves were absolutely massive, but this boat is made for stuff like that. We just rode through them – it was quite comfy, I found myself smiling at point. I thought 'oh, you're strange!'"

Medallia lost out last night in the second transition, not helped by having to use their storm jib instead of the J3. "We should have been doing 23-24 knots but we were doing 16-17 knots and there was nothing we could do." Then, naturally, approaching the Rock, the wind died to nothing.

Of the Fastnet Rock, Hare added: "We were very pleased to see it. It was grey, drizzly, gusty and then as we got the Rock we got headed – basically like every single time I've been there! It's great to be pointing south again. We are a bit fed up with our orange sail...."

In IRC Zero, a powerful trio continues to dominate with Max Klink's Botin 52 Caro leading around the Rock at 05:11 BST ahead of Warrior Won at 06:01, Teasing Machine at 06:24 and RORC Commodore James Neville's Ino Noir at 07:15. But under IRC corrected time it is much closer with Caro just 8 minutes 19 seconds ahead of second placed Ino Noir, and Teasing Machine a further 23 minutes 10 seconds back.

Still leading the Class40, is Italian Ambrogio Beccari on Alla Grande Pirelli who rounded the Rock at 09:35:37. A worthy second 18 minutes and 41 seconds later was La Boulangere Bio with the top-placed female skipper across all the classes - Amelie Grassi, recently returned from the Ocean Race. Among the 18 boats still racing from 22 starters, Alberto Bona, recent winner of the class' Les Sables-Horta-Les Sables race on IBSA was holding sixth place at the Rock, in a group tightly compressed, chasing Beccari.

"It has been okay," Bona said of the race so far. "The first night was a bit rough, but we were taking care of the boat. Then we had a very nice second night and were making over 22-23 knots. The boat is okay (touch wood). At the moment the wind is back and we have 15 knots." However rounding the west side of the TSS off the Fastnet Rock, the Class40 leaders encountered a transition and here Bona found the right side of the course to catch up and wriggle through and, although it is tighter than ever between the chasing pack, technically he is now up to second with the much anticipated Italia Class40 1-2 in this race looking more likely.

It remains deliciously tight still in IRC One, where Tom Kneen's team of overall 2021 Rolex Fastnet Race victors on his JPK 1180 Sunrise are struggling to shake off the chasing pack as they managed so magnificently two years ago. With 50 miles to go to the Fastnet Rock at 09:30 this morning she was just 10 minutes 25 seconds ahead of German Dirk Clasen's Humphreys 39 Ginkgo, and a further 29 seconds ahead of their friends and rivals on Ed Bell's 1180 sistership Dawn Treader.

However there remains some serious competition in their rear-view mirror, including early leader the Fournier family's J/133 Pintia and past winner Jacques Pelletier's Milon 41 L'Ange de Milon. With the breeze in the north this group has been virtually laying the northeast side of the Fastnet TSS, however, thanks to the ridge over southern Ireland, the wind is expected to drop off to five knots prior to an enjoyable run to Bishop Rock with the wind back up to 20 knots.

The IRC Two leaders are half way outbound across the Celtic Sea. On the water, Philippe Garardin's J/120 Hey Jude was 100 miles from the Fastnet Rock at 10:06, some 39 minutes ahead of the Sun Fast 3600 Fujitsu British Soldier led by Major Henry Foster. However under corrected time it is a different story with Hey Jude some 27 minutes ahead of Maxime Mesnil's Cherbourg-based J/99 Axe Sail, followed by Sam White's JPK 1080 Mzungu! And then the British soldiers. Since yesterday afternoon IRC Two yachts have prised the lead of IRC Two-Handed from IRC Three entries, with Axe Sail and Mzungu! leading at present from Jean-Francois Hamon's Sun Fast 3300 Festa 2.

Lying in 43rd after she sought shelter on Saturday night and ripped her No4 jib in Hurst Narrows, Cougar of Cowes, the Reflex 38 campaigned by London School of Sailing was passing Land's End this morning. Skipper Ruaraidh Plummer explained: "We've just had a couple of hours of peace and quiet, but we're coming into the rough stuff again. All's well. Since we ripped our No4 we had to stick our storm jib up, so we ended up sailing with full storm sails...still overpowered. We went and hid in Studland Bay for a few hours to wait for the worst to blow through, because we figured it is a marathon not a sprint." At sea their anemometer had been showing 37 knots, gusting more for a while. When they set sail again yesterday morning it was calmer and they caught the tide at Portland Bill and Start Point, then taking the inner passage at the Lizard.

They were planning to follow the majority up the west side of the Land's End TSS, as opposed to the 25 knots and wind against tide going up its east side. "The forecast is looking unusual - windy until 21:00 and then backing from north to northwest so we will be tacking on that shift. Then there is a big hole of who knows what coming on. We may have our spinnaker up heading north to the Rock at some point," concluded Plummer.

32 miles behind Hey Jude is IRC Three's on the water leader Gautier Normand's Archambault 35 Locmalo, which since yesterday has overhauled Tim Goodhew and Kelvin Matthews on their Sun Fast 3200 Cora. In this class there has been a split around the TSS off Land's End: the lead group went east of it while this morning at 07:45 Richard Palmer's JPK 1010 Jangada, the 2022 RORC Season's Points Champion, led Connie Stevens' J/105 Jacana and Henri Laurent's Sun Fast 3200 Coeur de Chauffe around its southwest corner.

IRC Three, like the two classes ahead of them, have been laying as they cross the Celtic Sea, but they are expecting to be headed later today as the trough to their north edges out into the Celtic Sea to their northeast, leaving them on the breeze (again) to get to the Irish coast. Everyone will be keen to arrive and be out of there as soon as possible before a large anticyclonic area of light/no wind develops over the western Celtic Sea between the Fastnet and Bishop Rock tomorrow morning, meaning that they may also find themselves upwind (albeit briefly) coming back from the Rock. Perhaps to avoid this Chris Williams on the HOD35 Saltheart has taken an extreme easterly path and is leaving Bishop Rock to starboard on his outbound trip.

Behind them IRC Four competitors are just setting out on their overdue Celtic Sea crossing and have been erring towards the western option at the Land's End TSS. However the class' big time leader, François Charles' Dehler 33CR Sun Hill III did manage to take the eastern route this morning, chasing the JPK 960 Elma of Marc Willame, which now leads on the water, with Sun Hill III ahead on corrected time. Leading out to the west is Chris Choules' well-sailed Sigma 38 With Alacrity, with Samuel Dumenil and Antoine Runet on the JPK 960 Casamyas on their hip. Again, in this class a handful of boats are attempting an extreme west option in an attempt to side step the light conditions ahead of them.

The next arrival into Cherbourg is expected to be Erik Maris' MOD70 trimaran Zoulou early this evening.
For further information, tracking and all the latest news, please go to the Rolex Fastnet Race website: and race social media channels.

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